An introduction to the world of native and colonial foods and items that were used in a practical way
by Candace Wirth
(Oaks Ranch & Country Club via Mossy Point)
Water Lily filled dam
The Oaks Ranch exploratory walk takes your through the dry temperate rainforest between Mogo and Mossy Point alongside the riverbanks and Sclerophyll forest that envelopes the Aboriginal Heritage listed and protected sites in this sacred area.
Marvel at the ancient ‘She-Oaks’ that give the estate its name, The Oaks. These trees provide food in the form of hard cone-like seeds for some of Australia’s endangered birds like the Yellow Tailed Black Cockatoo and the Red-Tailed Black Cockatoo. These graceful birds are often called ‘rain birds’ as their haunting cry usually heralds rainfall.
The sustained Aboriginal use of Australia’s resources over tens of thousands of years was made possible only because Aboriginal culture has always involved a deep respect for nature and an excellent understanding of nature’s cycles.
There were many foods that were also utilized by early settlers as well such as the large bright red fruit of the Zamia Palm, commonly known as Burrawang Palm.
Experimentation with bush foods by new settlers often had unpredictable results because they did not have the knowledge of the preparation involved that enabled harmful toxins to be leached before consuming. There is many a tale of illness and death recorded in Australia’s early history, and their confusion as to how the indigenous people could cook and eat the young curled fronds of the bracken fern without burning it to ashes. Of course, the Aboriginal people had knowledge of what wood to use in cooking the various available food sources, so they would become edible on completion of the process.
Appleberry fruitswere valued as an Australian bush food for Australian aborigines as well as new settlers. Appleberry is a bush climber with slender stems and narrow (linear-lanceolate) dark green leaves. It flowers profusely from August to January with a mass of tubular greenish-yellow flowers which give way to shiny green, then purple sausage shaped berries.
The flowers attracts honey eaters, and the fruit when ripe has a mealy texture and a pleasant apple flavour with just a hint of aniseed. Appleberries do not ripen until they have fallen from the vine, the ripe fruit are collected from the ground below the plant. Not only are they difficult to spot amongst the undergrowth, they also feature in the diet of many bush inhabitants, and the collector faces strong competition for ripe fruit.
The Aboriginal people had an ingenuous way of preventing the loss of the fruit by picking them while they were still green and hard on the vine, and roasting them over hot coals.
The tubers of most plants, matt rush grass, lilies, wombat berry (all found on the estate) were also commonly used, by roasting and/or pounding to reveal the starch within. In fact, the most commonly used food source, apart from fish and seafood for east coast aboriginal people were tubers of various plants.
Many of the 900 or more wattle ‘tree’ species in Australia are well represented on the walk, and these were not only used for their seeds and gum by indigenous people, but for the grubs that were found in their trunks.
These grubs are also prized by the Yellow Tailed Black Cockatoo. Evidence can clearly be seen on some of these trees of the bark being torn out by cockatoos to reveal the highly prized grub and the hole it resided in.
Interestingly, settlers also found a use for the wattle bark, and it was extensively used in many areas of Australia in the use of tanning of hides because of its high tannin content.
Various trees were sought out for their special properties, Coolamons were made from soft timbers such as Spotted Gum, and digging sticks made from hard timber like Ironbark. Grass Trees were well used for their spear shafts. Mat Rush grass was woven into mats, and in some areas used as a bandaging material for wounds and sores.
This area also reveals that it was used for flint making, with the rock brought from the wilderness area of Bendethera to the west of the coastal lowlands, transported many kilometres from its original site because of its unique suitability for making flints and scraping tools.