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Queenscliffe Herald Article - November 2005

Bush Foods

By Jill Warneke
Swan Bay Environment Association

The Swan Bay Environment Association places particular importance on the indigenous plants of our area, and in the past the Aboriginal people had an even more practical and intimate relationship with the local vegetation, using much of it for food, for medicines and for tools.

A widely available plant, which the early settlers also used, is bower spinach. Sometimes known as New Zealand spinach it was boiled as a vegetable and enjoyed enough to be sent back to Europe for cultivation. I cooked some for my grandson, who said "Yuk, I'd rather have McDonalds" and secretly I had to agree with him! Nevertheless bower spinach is a useful, prolific ground cover which has tiny yellow flowers, and can be seen around Swan Bay and most other coastal areas.

Many plants have berries and seeds which were eaten, either raw, cooked or crushed. Amongst these are coastal ballart, coastal pigface, noon-flower, sea-berry saltbush, coast-beard heath and kangaroo apple. I have tried the tiny, white, hard-stoned seeds of the coast-beard heath. Eaten straight from the tree when ripe, they are sweet and tasty, but it would take a long time to eat enough to satisfy one's hunger. These seeds need to pass through the gut of a bird to allow them to propagate (although at the Community Nursery we have had some success using acid to replicate the bird's gut). It is not know if a human gut produces the same effect!

Coast wattle has protein rich seed which the Aboriginal people cooked by laying them over a fire. Coast banksia cones were soaked in water to extract the nectar to make a sweet drink. Other tea-like drinks could be made from many plants including white correa and running postman.

The grass tree, which can still be seen in areas of Point Lonsdale, was an extremely useful plant, providing nectar for drinks, roots for eating, adhesive from the resin and wood for spears and firesticks.

Care should be taken if experimenting with wild food. For example the fruit of the kangaroo apple must be very ripe to be eaten safely. The Aboriginal people would have known exactly when to harvest each plant for its particular offering.

Medicinal uses of the plants included the bark of the blackwood for rheumatism, the sap of the austral hollyhock to treat boils and bracken fern to relieve insect stings. Items made from plants included spears, shields, spear throwers and bullroarers, string from the fibres of the austral hollyhock stem and twine from the running postman vine. Use was also made of the plentiful supply of gum, oil, sap and resin.

Many of these indigenous plants are grown at the Queenscliffe Community Nursery. More information on their use by the Aboriginal people can be found in "Grow your own bushfoods" by Keith and Irene Smith and "Koorie plants, Koorie people" by Nelly Zola and Beth Gott. Both books are available from the Geelong Regional Library service.

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