Culture Studies

Indigenous Agriculture: Time to go Back

Author of Dark Emu, Bruce Pascoe (a Bunurong man), is working to re-engage the Australian continent with traditional harvests. Plants that were grown by the First Nations for centuries in huge farms still exist today, and thanks to Mr Pascoe the public can start to experience their benefits. With the guidance of knowledgeable people like Mr Pascoe, appreciation for native plants that are not only nutritious but perfectly suited to our climate can be cultivated.

Pun intended.

Some of the things that I have learned from Bruce Pascoe’s information, both on the internet and on shows that he has been a guest (like Gardening Australia), involve the plants used and how they were grown.

Some* Plants Grown by Australia’s First Farmers;

(* Obviously I don’t know about ALL of them, these are just the ones I’ve heard of)

Kangaroo Grass
Hardy, drought-resistant and an excellent substitute to genetically-modified wheat grass; Kangaroo Grass had been used by Australian First Nations people for centuries as a staple ingredient of their bread. When the Kangaroo grass is young, it also makes for excellent fodder for livestock. Kangaroo grass is also one of the plants in Australia that benefits from fires, and grows in a wide range of soil types. It requires no fertiliser or pesticide to grow successfully – it grows plentifully in the wild, where it’s allowed to. (fire also worked to ‘weed out’ unwanted plants)

By refusing to exhaust stores of Yam by over-harvesting, Yam crops were a gift that kept on giving. Should modern Australians wish to receive the same benefit then all they have to do is identify (or plant) a handful of yams, wait, and keep a count of how many there are.

Lilli Pilli
A small, bitter fruit that grows in suburb-friendly trees. I last saw it used as a garnish for a cocktail, but the berry is very high in antioxidants. This tree is resistant against fire.

Kakadu Lime & Kakadu plum

Lady Apple, Cluster Fig, Water Spinach, Lotus root, Water Lily,

Wild Passionfruit 
When crushed, the seeds have a hot and spicy flavour – a good substitute to pepper

Native Gooseberry
Said to taste like cherry tomatoes when ripe, the Native Gooseberry also has pain relief properties.

Lemon Myrtle
A zesty, almost sherbet-flavored plant

Lemon Aspen
Another delicious fruit, with a flavour crossed between a Grapefruit and a Lime

Sweet Sarsaparilla
Can be made into a tasty beverage. Sources say the leaves were used as a tea, and was thought to have medicinal properties.

Wild Parsnip, Sea Celery, Macadamia Nut, Native Cherry, White Elderberry, and MANY more, were cultivated in different parts of the continent (Based on climate – the East Coast is more humid than the West coast due to topographical influences)

Honestly just looking through the list makes me wish we had all these flavours in our every day food. I would hate for it to be over-commercialised BUT if it were to be sold in a mass-produced way, then I will join Mr Pascoe in hoping that the industry directly benefits the surviving Indigenous peoples whose ancestors grew these crops in the first place.


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