Bush tucker delights waiting to be found

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Tom ZaunmayrPilbara News
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Fervor head chef Paul Iskov and Ngurrangga Tours owner Clinton Walker digging for bush onions.
Camera IconFervor head chef Paul Iskov and Ngurrangga Tours owner Clinton Walker digging for bush onions. Credit: Tom Zaunmayr

The Pilbara may seem a harsh landscape where not much will grow, but scratch beneath the surface and you will find a world of tastes and treasures hidden right in plain sight.

The North West Coastal Highway is a major route for thousands of cars, caravans and trucks but no one thinks to stop and look around the roadside.

If these drivers knew what was out there, they would all be going home with a boot full of fresh food picked straight from the ground. Free, healthy, abundant and environmentally sustainable food.

To most of us it is known as bush tucker and we may think it only grows in special places, which for some foods is true, but a lot of the food eaten by traditional owners for thousands of years is widely available all across the landscape.

Ngurrangga Tours owner Clinton Walker said the Pilbara winter was the perfect time to start heading out and looking for native foods.

“My people have been living here for 50,000 years so we’ve had to eat something,” he said.

“A lot of the fruits and berries and stuff will come out in the cooler months because... our cooler months are like (the southern) spring.

“From a climate point of view, it’s the perfect weather for growing foods.”

One such food found in abundance on a recent trip was the bush onion. To the untrained eye these are no more than a mundane single sprout of grass growing on the plains.

Just below the surface however is the prize, and they are sprouting up everywhere across the recently inundated landscape at the moment.

Bush coconuts, caperbush, tomato and saltbush are all readily available now, as are the seafood — cockles, crabs, oysters and fish.

One of the more surprising foods, and a staple of life for much of the 50,000 years of indigenous habitation in Australia, is spinifex.

From the seed, which can be found at this time of year, a flour can be made to produce damper, putting indigenous Australian’s among the first bread-makers in the world.

Bush tucker has long been viewed as second-rate by many in Australia, but chefs are slowly starting to realise the potential of what has been growing under our noses since first settlement.

One such chef is Fervor founder Paul Iskov, who said it was common sense for us to start using our local foods more.

“It would mean we’d have an Australian cuisine almost,” he said.

“If one day people come here and we’re eating kangaroo, quandongs, wattleseed, different berries... it sort of represents Australia.

“I definitely see that happening, I see us eating kangaroo instead of beef as a great thing. It is super healthy for us and there is no impact on the land.”

Mr Iskov said eating bush tucker would provide substantial health and environmental benefits as well as improving our connection to country.

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