Bush foods and bush tucker of the Aboriginal people of Central Australia usually fell into these groups:
1. Food from animals including kangaroo, emus, wild turkey, rock wallaby, possums, snakes and lizards and anteaters.
2. Food from plants including wild orange, wild passionfruit, wild fig, bush tomato, conkerberry, mistletoe, bush banana and bush coconut, quandongs, pencil yams, mulga apple, bush plums and sultanas.
3. Edible seeds including mulga seeds and wattle seeds.
4. Grubs and insects including witchetty grub, cicadas, caterpillars. Other grubs are found in various tree species such as river red gum, coolibah, ironwood and the prickly wattle.
5. Honey and nectars found in the honey ant, honey from the native bee, nectar from the flowers of the bloodwood and corkwood trees.
6. Water - the search for water in the dry desert conditions was essential for survival. Water could be found in soakages, tree roots and hollows and the very scarce permanent water holes.
Wild Orange (Merne Atwakeye)
This fruit hangs down off its plant on long stalks turning a yellow green tint when ripe. Its creamy white flowers open during the night and wither before the end of the next day.Nicest when they are picked when orange inside and then eaten straight away.
Bush Yam (Anaty)
The Desert Yam is another staple food of the Aboriginal people of Central Australia. The yam can be hard to locate as it can be growing up to 80 or 90cms underground. The yam is cooked by placing coals over it for about 20 minutes and then peeled before being eaten.
Desert Raisin Fruit
When ripe the fruit of the desert raisin looks like a small green tomato. These fruit ripen from July to August each year. If left on the bush the desert raisin will dry and eventually resemble dried raisins.
Bush Banana (Alangkwe)
Bush bananas are found on a winding vine that climbs up trees and shrubs. They have creamy flowers and green leaves. The flowers and young fruits are eaten raw. The older, mature fruit can be cooked lightly in hot earth. The bush banana is often featured on artwork and in Aboriginal mythology.
Bush coconuts are found on the Bloodwood tree. The size of an apple with a rough exterior, a small grub can be found inside after breaking the fruit open and is usually eaten. The white flesh is also eaten.
The quandong grows on a small tree or shrub. The flowers are small and green but the quandong fruit is bright red and has a stone inside it.
Conkleberry or Conkerberry (Anwekety)
The conkleberry comes from a tangly, spiny shrub with white flowers. The black (sometimes dark red) berry is very sweet and contains 2 small seeds. The berries are only available on the bush for a short period of a few weeks. However the berries can be picked from the ground and soaked in water before being eaten. The conkleberry features on many works of Aboriginal art that are featured in this website.
Kangaroo, Goannas and Perenties
Still long time favorites of the Aboriginal people in Central Australia. Kangaroo is hunted in the modern way and cooked in the traditional way of tossing it in the fire first to singe off the hair and then put in a hole and covered with hot coals to cook. The tail and feet are usually cut off before cooking. 'Roo Tails' can be made into a nice stew or soup. If you would like to try it this recipe might be nice.
Goannas are caught on the ground and cooked in a similar fashion to the kangaroo. Toss in the fire to singe the skin and then lay the goanna on top of the hot coals until cooked.
Perenties are lizards and can be caught in trees or rabbit burrows or just walking around in creek beds. They are much bigger than goannas but cooked in the same way.
Aboriginal women will gather Honey Ants from nests found under Mulga Trees. The nest may extend as much as a metre or two deep into the ground and so it takes of lot of digging to get a handful of ants! The ants gather nectar from insects and then store the honey in their stomachs.
On the left is a photo of a Honey Ant. On the right, Mavis and Jessie Bird show their skills at finding honey ants under the Mulga tree.
Grubs and Insects
Probably the most 'famous' of the grub family, the witchetty grub is an important desert food. It is seen as a delicacy and can be taste tested by many locals and tourists as part of their visit to Central Australia. The grubs are found in the roots of the witchetty bush which is found around Alice Springs and Central Australia. Aboriginal women and children most commonly dig for them. They can be eaten as is or very quickly cooked in the coals of a fire. Some people say the witchetty grub has a taste like an almond.
Edible seeds as bush tucker include the Pigweed Seed and more commonly and well known - the Wattle Seed. The pigweed seed is a staple food in the region and found on the ground in a plant that may spread up to a metre wide. The black seeds are produced in abundance and can be first roasted and ground into a paste or ground into a paste and then roasted. The wattle seed come from a shrub and the flowers are a bright, golden yellow. These also are roasted and ground into an edible paste. or they can be eaten straight after roasting in the pod. Many recipes now call for wattle seeds such as this wattleseed damper.