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Australian Cooking With Bush Tucker and Aboriginal Foods

Ms. Inglish has 30 years experience in medicine, psychology, STEM instruction, history, and aerospace education for USAF Civil Air Patrol.

Aboriginal Australian art of an owl and humans or owl people.

Aboriginal Australian art of an owl and humans or owl people.

Bush Tucker and Traditional Aboriginal Diets

Australian Aboriginals have a tradition of their own unique cooking methods, most of the originating in and around outdoor fires. Boiling and barbecuing are newer techniques learned. Aboriginals ate a balanced diet before the invasion of the British Crown, including seasonal fruits, nuts, roots vegetables, wattles, other plant food, many types of meats, and seafood.

The advent of Western culture infringed on Aboriginal diets to some extent. The diet is known as bush tucker. Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals still hunt for turtles, fish, crabs, dugong, mudshells, oysters and other edible animals in the seas. This includes sharks and stingrays from time to time. Out of the bush, they bring fruit and game animals like goanna lizards, pigs, wallabies, kangaroos, possums, and others.

Natural Food Plants in Australia

Aboriginal diets have included a variety of plant food, but the wattle is very well know. The wattle grows throughout Australia and has occurred in at least 100 species used by various Aboriginal groups.

Aboriginals use wattles and other plants in three major ways - 1) food, 2) medicine and 2) materials (tools, weapons, Boomerangs, fibre fishing nets, building materials). A few wattles are fully multipurpose in all of these ways and as such, would please chef Alton Brown very much. These wattles are the mulga, the earpod wattle, and the strap wattle.

Seeds: Wattles have been a popular food from 20+ species. Some were collected and ground into flour. Mixed with water, it was eaten as a paste, like poi, or cooked over hot ash on a griddle or other piece of metal. Other seeds are roasted in the pod, and some pods are eaten while.

Plant Gums: Many wattles produce a kind of gum naturally or as an immune-type response to physical damage.. The gum of several wattle species is edible. For some Aboriginal groups this was a child's snack food. Dissolved in water, the gum makes a drink and can be sweetened with nectar.

Roots: Young wattle roots are better than older roots for food and are generally roasted over a fire. Occasionally, grubs found with the roots and other parts of the plant - especially some pods - are consumed as well.

Golden Wattle, National Flower

Additional Food Plants in Australia

Bunya Pine, originally from Queensland - Its large green cones, contain hard-shelled nuts. They have been very popular. Many are fire roasted and shared with visitors, although they can be boiled as well.

Burrawangs in New South Wales, The Northern Territory, Queensland, and Western Australia - POISONOUS - The seeds appear in large cones and have an orange outer coat. Aborigines cooked the large amounts of seeds available from a single plant, broke them up, and soaked them for three weeks in running water. In Western Australia, only the outer red part was edible and only after being washed and buried for a time.

Cunjevoi in New South Wales - starchy and fibrous, they are POISONOUS when raw. The Aborigines put these stems through repeated roasting and pounding to remove poisons.

NOTE: The word Cunjevoi is present in three different species. Of these three, two are plants of the family Araceae and genus Alocasia and are related to each other.

The third is a sea animal named Pyura stolonifera. "Sea squirt", an Aboriginal name for the marine animal, represents a formerly usual food source in Sydney. However, it is more popular as fishing bait at present.

Marine Sea Squirt - Delicacy and Fish Bait

Gymea Lily in New South Wales - The 13-foot tall stems were cut young in to 20-inch spears that were very thick. Then they were roasted. The roots were roasted and made into a cake. A single plant provided food for a large group.

Rock Orchid in New South Wales - Stems were beaten to break up fibers, then cooked on hot clay stones.

Yam-Daisy in New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, and Western Australia - A radish-like tuber, it grows back every year (perennial). Springtime brings out a yellow flower like a dandelion and in summer the leaves fall while the plant becomes dormant. The tubers have been cooked in baskets in ground ovens, making a sweet juice. Sheep grazing has reduced this plant to almost endangered levels in some areas.

Aboriginal Chef Mark Olive

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Traditional Cooking Method

Roasting Over Hot Wood Coals

Fires were built over which to cook a variety of animal meats and plants. Roasting has been used to cook game such as meat, fish, manatee-like dugongs, and turtles. Often, the meat was covered in coals and ashes until completely cooked.

For kangaroo meat, fur was singed off in the fire. Then the body would be, gutted and the last fur scraped off, and the body returned to the coals to complete cooking.

Cooking Wild Game and Other Foods

Smaller game cooked more quickly; the kangaroo may not have cooked past medium doneness before the fire went out. In addition, partially cooked kangaroo blood was sometimes drunk as as a delicacy, usually by the men.

Some shellfish cooked briefly on coals at the sides of the fire so they could be easily removed first. However cockles (like clams) were mounded up and fire and coals covered them so that the shells would pop open when done.

Today, frying pans are often used over outdoor fires and aluminum foil is often used to wrap food.

Baking In Wood Ashes

Bread were baked in the ashes of the fires. Different woods were used for different foods, because they added their own tastes and some of them not very good. Wattles usually baked in the ashes rather well and witchetty grubs on some wattles required a brief roll across hot ashes to cook.

Goanna lizards were put onto the heated ground under the ashes and covered additional ash Then Aboriginals scooped out ashes to make depressions in which to cook yams and other vegetables. These were covered with additional ashes and coals until cooked.

Ground Ovens

The old ground ovens dug by ancient Aboriginal tribes are still in existence. They were formed by digging pits about 4 feet long and 2 ½ - 3 feet deep and removing any clay. Firewood was placed into the pit and the clay was laid back on top of the wood in balls or lumps.

The hot pieces of clay were removed with sticks. The pit was swept clean lined with green leaves or grasses. Then small game animals were laid on top, covered by green grass and weighted down with the hot clay. Then the whole arrangement was buried in dirt and this caused the game animals to steam cook.

Pigs, possums, and goanna lizards are buried in pits and cook in a couple of hours or longer.

In the well-known Arnhem Land, the thin bark from Melaleuca (tea tree) trees remains an often-used cooking method for vegetables and meat in ground ovens. This is similar to cooking methods of Africa and Hawaii and other regions that use large green leaves, like banana leaves for such pit cooking.

Newer Cooking Methods


Aborigines have learned to boil foods in metal cans and large drums for large communities, aluminum pots, and cast iron cooking pans and skillets.

These cooking pieces have replaced the ground oven in some Aboriginal regions, bit some oven are still used. Kangaroo legs (large) are boiled in pots and one can see feet and claws hanging over edges of cook pots in remote camps - strange at first sight.

Meat and seafood juices are kept after boiling and used for rice stew, like western chicken stock.


Barbecuing has become popular. A metal coat hanger, a piece of wire, or a long cookout fork holds meat or breads dough over wood coals, much like roasting hotdogs over a campfire..

Smoker Grill/BBQ

Smoker Grill/BBQ

© 2008 Patty Inglish MS

Comments & Additions

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on September 28, 2012:

It is pretty interesting and much of it is also tasty, even to people in the US. It makes a great variety for change.

Mura Mura Art on September 28, 2012:

Appreciate a look into the Aboriginal culture and their food!

keely on February 27, 2012:

this is a good as wibsite

shamani67 on November 14, 2011:

Well written hub. I can't fault any of the information you have given. Voted up and useful. Thanks

Springboard from Wisconsin on September 04, 2011:

It's always a fascination to me to peruse through some of the myriad food options that come from so many different cultures. You know, in America we get stuck (and I don't mean that in a TOTALLY negative way the way it may sound) getting to eat only a select number of things. Meat especially, for example, unless you're a game hunter, is very limited. We get chicken, beef, and pork. That's it. You can BUY other animal meats, but you'd better bring a large wallet with you.

It might be interesting, though I'm not sure how well that might go over here, to see an aboriginal cuisine restaurant open up?

I'd at least give it a go.

applejuic3 from San Diego, CA on September 03, 2011:

i love this hub. very informational and something i'm definitely interested in.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on June 18, 2011:

I tired of a lot of American food long ago and started looking around. A lot of fun and good food are out there.

Sarah Jason from Vermont on June 17, 2011:

I really liked this hub, very well written and I can tell theres a lot of passion behind it. I love cooking in terms of culture and going back to your roots (or others roots) in order to get the full experience of cooking the dish.

I really enjoyed this, do write more :)

Vaughan31 on July 27, 2010:

Great hub and well written

salt from australia on March 23, 2010:

I love turtles, not to eat, although I do know that some australian kooris do eat turtle as part of their traditional food.

Lovely writing and a topic I love.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on April 28, 2009:

If you have an Australian Embassy in your country, you could contact them. Sometimes embassies have food and preparation info.

meg on April 28, 2009:

i need to know how aborigines cook the turtles.

kristy on December 10, 2008:

well very nice love it

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on June 12, 2008:

Thanks very much, CJStone! I enjoy looking into natural foods, and plants for food and medicine. Much fun and joy in it.

Christopher James Stone from Whitstable, UK on June 12, 2008:

Amazing Patty: an aboriginal recipe hub! Positively delightful.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on June 09, 2008:

Lifebydesign! - Thanks for visiting. I am finding fascinating material about these indigenous peoples and I think they can teach us a lot. It's overwhelming really.

Lifebydesign from Australia on June 08, 2008:

Great stuff Patty! There's such a wealth of knowledge in this culture, and some of the indigenous food is so rich in anti-oxidants. I sampled a health product just the other day that was based solely on traditional foods and tasted awesome.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on April 25, 2008:

Thanks Vanessa! I thnk this is all very interesting indeed. If you have some favorite recipes related to Australia, I'n sure people would be very interested.

Vanessa R on April 25, 2008:

This is such a great hub! As an Australian I also have a strong interest in our Indigenous population. It is great to see other people also taking an interest!

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on April 20, 2008:

Greetings, Bard of Ely!

Thank you for all of that information. I want to read all of your work and your friends. I will immediately look up Friend Grog. What fun!

Steve Andrews from Lisbon, Portugal on April 20, 2008:

Hi Patty! This is really interesting and useful information - I am very keen on finding out about natural foods from the wild and have written a series for Permaculture magazine on foraging. I am halfway through writing a book on the wild foods and herbs of the Canary Islands. I have a friend at Myspace who posts as Grog Eater of Weeds and he is very knowledgeable on the plants that can be eaten in America.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on April 19, 2008: