• Native ingredients have been a fundamental part of her life. (SBS Food)Source: SBS Food
Before European settlers arrived in Australia, there was a thriving food culture, one that happily sustained the Aboriginal people for tens of thousands of years. However, that food culture, often referred to as bush tucker, has been largely ignored over the past 200 years.
1 Jul 2008 - 9:00 AM  UPDATED 31 Mar 2021 - 11:22 AM

It's estimated there are up to 5,000 native food species (almost 20 per cent of Australia’s native flora and fauna) that were utilised by the Aboriginal people.

Traditional bush tucker is innovative and unique: food sources extend from the swollen abdomens of honey ants to witchetty grubs; goanna to nectar-bearing flowers such as the bottlebrush.

As much of Australia’s native fauna is unsafe to be eaten raw, many different techniques were employed to render them palatable. Vegetables and seeds were pounded and sometimes hung in bags under running water to wash them clean of poisonous attributes.

Most of the animal meat is cooked on open fires, while bark troughs are used to boil foodstuffs. The use of these traditional native foods has been severely hampered since the arrival of the European settlers.

The loss of traditional land, coupled with the availability of non-native foods, has resulted in a near abandonment of this style of cooking. Up until the 1990s, the only native Australian food product being commercially cultivated was the macadamia nut.

Fortunately, Australia’s native foods have seen a revival over the past couple of decades. This new industry is based on a number of advantages: native foods are naturally adapted to Australia’s environment, they are ecologically sound, and they are more resistant to Australia’s extremes in temperature and rainfall.

In addition to the botanical produce, there is a wider availability of native Australian animal products on the market. It's not uncommon to find kangaroo meat in the aisles of the supermarket (the sale of kangaroo meat was only recently legalised, however it has quickly become popular due to its lean meat).

Many restaurants are also embracing emu, crocodile, yabbies and eels, in addition to flavouring their dishes with bush tucker spices. There are now producers all over the country supporting these new industries, from Tasmanian pepper to Victorian eel farmers and, in particular, an innovative group of growers in South Australia who have initiated significant plantings of quandongs, bush tomatoes, and native citrus.

Food Safari takes a closer look at bush tucker

Read our article Bush food fighters

View our Native Australian recipe collection here.

Native Australian essentials
Tips: Native Australian
These expert tips will help you achieve the perfect balance of flavours.
Utensils: Native Australian
Find out which special utensils you’ll need on hand during cooking.
Key ingredients: Native Australian
Make sure your kitchen is stocked with these essential ingredients.