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Celebrating native foods, protecting cultural stories and giving back to the community is what Damien Coulthard is all about.
Damien comes from Adnyamathanha Country and has always felt a strong connection to his culture and heritage. Now, Damien co-owns a wellbeing brand, Warndu, which sells sustainable, native products and exists to regenerate culture, community and Australian soil.
Damien was born in Quorn, a rural farming town in the heart of the Flinders Rangers, South Australia. During school holidays, he and his family would go on camping trips to Nepabunna where his grandparents lived. These expeditions were the foundations of his cultural awareness and knowledge of his roots.
"Those trips were my introduction to Country, to learning about my Aboriginal background," he says.
Whether he spent time with his nan in the kitchen, or collected wood and learned how to cook over fire, these experiences on Country helped form his Aboriginal identity. They were also significant in helping Damien understand his family's connection to land.
"It was hearing stories about my aunties and uncles and my father, their childhood and what they used to get up to," he explains. "Then visiting different significant cultural sites, say rock art and rock etching, and then other significant spots in the way of land formations, whether it be a hill or a mountain."
Much of this information was passed on to Damien through food foraging excursions in the Flinders and Gammon Ranges.
"It was foraging for natives, such as the quandong, and walking back and then sitting in the kitchen with my nan, just listening to her speaking with her story about the quandong and the significance to the Adnyamathanha nation," he recalls.
These native peaches are the fruit of the Flinders Rangers and part of his family's kinship system.
"When I think of the quandong, I just automatically think of place, I think of family, I think of my grandmother, and then I think of connection to land and kinship," he says.
His nan would turn these quandongs into a pie, which she would always have waiting when the family visited. It became tradition for them to enjoy each slice with a big scoop of Golden North ice cream and was something Damien always looked forward to.
When reflecting on his grandmother's quandong pie, Damien is reminded of everything she stood for.
"She was respectful of living things and all people regardless of where they started in life, and where they end up or what colour they are or what they're wearing," he says.
"When I think of the quandong, I just automatically think of place, I think of family, I think of my grandmother, and then I think of connection to land and kinship."
Through his business Warndu, Damien hopes to pay tribute to the values that his grandmother left behind. He wants Warndu to become a brand that recognises Aboriginal cultural heritage, celebrates a diversity of cultural expressions and pays respect to customs and stories.
Damien and his partner cook and author Rebecca Sullivan also want to use food as a vehicle to educate others. He explains, "That story can be about celebration, but we also want to talk about the key areas which impact Aboriginal Australians and the social determinants of health, employment and incarceration and delve into those reasons to why we are suffering in that area. Where does it stem back to?"
Damien fears that some Aboriginal people are losing their knowledge about how to care for the environment, which could result in the loss of native plants or animals. To prevent this, he hopes to further develop relationships with communities and wild harvesters and empower them. "We can ultimately give back to the community and say, 'This is an amazing resource, this is when you can harvest, how you can harvest, how you can cook'," Damien explains. "'This is the creation story, and this is how it relates back to your kinship'."
Damien also wants to educate the next generation of leaders about Indigenous cultures, which are very much strong and alive. He believes getting children interested in culture through food will drive the habits and behaviours of their parents and propel them to further explore native food.
For Damien, this journey starts with his own family. "It's really important that I'm proactive in learning and continue to learn and stay connected to my cultural heritage so then I can provide experiences for my son so he can grow up confident knowing who he is, where he's from. He can articulate through valuable experiences and then make empowered decisions," Damien says. "I want him to be someone who can transition through life and be proud and confident with who he is and know his family lineage."
Serving up his grandmother's infamous quandong pie is one of Damien's favourite ways to share his Aboriginal culture with family and friends. He values the process of making the pie, but more so the memories of eating raw quandongs with him nan and their kitchen conversations. To Damien, no one will ever be able to make this pie quite like his grandmother.
Love the story? Follow the author Melissa Woodley here: Instagram @sporkdiaries. Photographs supplied by Rebecca Sullivan.
- 2 cups (300 g) self-raising flour
- 1 cup (150 g) plain flour
- 200 g butter, chilled and chopped
- 125 ml iced water
- Pinch of salt
- 2 tbsp cream
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 tsp ground wattleseed or lemon myrtle (optional)
- Sugar, for sprinkling on pastry top
- 500 g fresh (or frozen and thawed) quandong, for sprinkling
- ¾ cup caster sugar, plus extra
- 1 cup orange juice (just enough to cover the quandong)
- Combine the fruit with the sugar and orange juice, stir, cover and let stand for at least five minutes, or, if you have time, leave overnight. This will create a thicker filling.
- Transfer the quandong mixture to a saucepan and cook on low for 10–15 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Preheat oven to 180°C. To make the pastry: Place flours, (spices if you choose) and butter in a large bowl and rub with your fingers until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add water and mix with a butter knife until the pastry just comes together. Divide into 2 portions and roll each out to a 28 cm circle on a well-floured surface.
- Line a lightly greased baking tin with one circle of pastry. Prick the base with a fork. Fill with quandong filling, and trim the edge of the pastry. Cut remaining pastry into smaller circles using a 7 centimetre round cutter.
- Mix the egg and the cream together. Brush the edges of the pastry with the mixture. Lay circles of pastry over the pie, overlapping slightly. Brush the top of the pie with the egg mixture. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 30–35 minutes, or until golden.
Note: Warndu sells quandong in freeze-dried kibble so you can enjoy this flavour year-round. Sometimes this is misspelt as quandong.