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  • Writer's pictureReconciliation Manningham

Victorian bush yields tucker and more

Updated: Jan 4, 2023

Bracket fungus to make bread or fire.

She-oak for boomerangs or cushioning.

Coastal wattle for soap.

These are just a few examples of native plants that Aboriginal people used for food, shelter, cleansing and play, according to horticulturist Jamie Simpson.

Simpson, a keen enthusiast in bush flora, demonstrated how some native varieties meet everyday needs, during a talk to Reconciliation Manningham’s members and friends.

He enthralled the audience of 80 with practices that can contribute to sustainability efforts. “The land provided everything the Aboriginal people needed,” said Simpson.

Jamie Simpson holding a sample of bracket fungus
Jamie Simpson presenting the bracket fungus

For example, the bracket fungus that can be found growing on eucalyptus trees has a highly flammable inside material. With a flint, it can be used to produce long-burning embers to light up a campfire. Another use is for food – dried out, it can be eaten raw or cooked and tastes like bread.

The She-oak, while known for its wood for boomerangs or shields, has pine-like leaves that have been used for years as a natural cushioning material with the additional benefit of repelling snakes. There’s also the coastal wattle whose leaves can be crushed to produce some suds and used as soap or facial cleanser.

Simpson reminded the audience on the importance of regenerating the land. Aboriginal people traditionally practised moving regularly from one location to another to allow nature to renew till they return to the same place.

“The land remembers what happened to it,” Simpson said. “Being responsible means paying respect to the earth.”

An exciting prospect Simpson presented is the commercial opportunity of some native plants. “Bush foods have great industry potential. A kilogram of native Yarra River mint could fetch a wholesale price of up to $50,” he said. It is certainly an enticing thought for green thumbs especially if local restaurants are encouraged to offer dishes using bush ingredients.

The next time you’re walking around your local park or reserve, look out for native plants, be inspired to grow a couple at home or perhaps work you’re your local council to organise a bush food garden. Propagating knowledge is part of what Simpson said will keep the culture of bush foods alive.

About Jamie Simpson

Jamie Simpson is a well-known horticulturist and presenter on native indigenous plants. He has written a book ‘Bush Foods and Survival Plants of Southeast Australia’ to capture the knowledge he has amassed from conversations with different Aboriginal groups and looking at archives since the 1980s. More on Jamie here.


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