Move over Ant and Dec, the Travel Children are bringing you their own Bush Tucker Challenge. Fear not if you are of a squeamish disposition: the Travel Children’s challenge is mostly of the vegetarian variety! But before we get started…
What is Bush Tucker?
Anyone who has ever watched the reality show ‘I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here‘ will be very familiar with the concept of bush tucker. Put simply, it’s any bushfood native to Australia which Aboriginal Australians used for sustenance. Some of the more famous items of Aussie bush tucker include macadamia nuts, witchetty grubs (beetle larvae!) and sweeting tasting honey ants.
You can even buy many native Australian animal foods in the supermarket, like kangaroo, emu and crocodile. If you are visiting Australia and would like to try some bush tucker for yourself, just grab these meats and throw them on the barbie! Alternatively there are a number of places where you can go on a walkabout and learn more about this aspect of indigenous culture.
Australia Walkabout Wildlife Park
Less than an hour north of Sydney is the Australia Walkabout Wildlife Park. The older Travel Child was lucky enough to visit with his school. He found out lots about the local Guringai people and Darkinjung people and how they lived off the land. He learnt that:
“The local people have survived on bush tucker for tens of thousands of years. They know how to use plants for medicine and what is too dangerous to eat. I got to try a termite: it tasted really crunchy! We were also given honeycomb from local native bees which was so yummy”.
The Australian Walkabout Wildlife Park also plays host to a ‘Wild Night Out’ where you can spend a night in the bush surrounded by native Aussie wildlife. We plan on experiencing this in the next few months, so watch this space!
Lake Macquarie Bush Tucker Tour
On the shores of Lake Macquarie, south of Newcastle, a group of local volunteers maintain a reserve where indigenous plants used by the Awabakal people can be found. Together with the Travel Children’s scout group, we were invited on a guided bush walk to discover the secrets of this area.
Lake Macquarie, or Awaba, is the largest coastal salt water lagoon in Australia. Historically, seafood was a major part of the local indigenous diet. The shores of the lake would also have been home to bountiful bush tucker plants. With increasing development, however, these areas are shrinking. So Osmond Reserve in Swansea takes on even greater importance as a place where visitors can learn about indigenous culture close to the city.
Entering the reserve between the Australian and Aboriginal flags, we were introduced to the many uses for bush tucker. Almost all of the plants grown here can be eaten, used for medicinal purposes or made into traditional handicrafts. Our guide also advised us of the safest way to eat bush tucker plants. Before going ahead and munching down that tucker, rub it on your lips to test for an adverse reaction. Then move it over your teeth. This stimulates your taste buds to make sure it doesn’t taste awful! I would like to point out, however, that unless you have an expert guide, please don’t eat wild foods. Many things that look good to eat are in fact dangerous.
Taste of Indigenous Australia
We then enjoyed a bushwalk around the pretty lakeside reserve where the native plants were pointed out to us. First up the kids tried some river mint. The kids declared that it tasted like toothpaste, but the indigenous people would use it in their cooking and to treat coughs and colds. There are other familiar plants like bush rosemary which you can use as a skewer for cooking meat over a fire.
The reserve is home to a number of fruits, like quince, sweet apple berries and rye berries, all of which can be eaten straight from the tree. There are even edible flowers, including the attractive native hibiscus, which you can eat raw or make into a tea.
One of the most versatile plants is the aromatic lemon myrtle which local people sucked to maintain their electrolyte balance! It can also be used in cooking, in desserts, as a tea, burned to keep mosquitos away, and as a salve for sores! The Travel Children just enjoyed smelling its delicious lemon fragrance.
Another useful plant is the bulrush or cumbungi. The bottom of the stalk is edible and the Travel Children said it was sweet tasting and crunchy. But other parts of the rushes have numerous uses including as a medicine, leech repellant, string, bedding and for weaving.
With some of the group having been bitten by mozzies, our guide identified swamp lily as a way to soothe their bites. Described as the Australian aloe vera, its leaf fibres have antiseptic properties. You have to be careful not to ingest it though, as the plant is toxic if eaten.
There were so many useful plants growing in the reserve that we didn’t have time to explore them all. We will definitely visit again to enjoy more of this hidden treasure on the shores of the lake.
We would really recommend experiencing this aspect of Australian life on your visit to the country. It is definitely worth seeking out opportunities to engage with indigenous culture, which has evolved over a period of 50,000 years. From eating bush tucker to witnessing aboriginal art, you will be immersing yourself in the world’s oldest continual culture and enjoying a uniquely Australian experience.
Would you take part in a bush tucker challenge? Have you gone on a walkabout in Australia? Let us know in the comments below.