• Make damper a bread staple. (Luisa Brimble)Source: Luisa Brimble
Damper symbolises cultural restoration for First Nations people. Try your hand at making it during NAIDOC week.
Melissa Woodley

4 Jul 2022 - 8:55 AM  UPDATED 4 Jul 2022 - 10:06 AM

NAIDOC Week is a national celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, history and culture, and runs from July 3-10. Join the conversation #NAIDOC2022 

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Bush damper is a food tradition that's been shared among First Nations peoples for thousands of years. Beyond its crusty exterior and spongy interior, damper represents cultural identity through food. 

Co-founder of Warndu, Damien Coulthard, and Aboriginal cook, Arika Biara Errington, hope to amplify the voices of First Nations peoples by encouraging more people to make damper at home.

Find out what makes damper so special, and which native edibles they like to add to their damper recipes.

What is damper?

Bush damper is a type of bread, said to be originally made from flour of crushed native seeds. Back in the day, millstones were used to grind the seeds into flour and water was added to form a dough. The damper would then be baked in or heated over hot coals.

Forget sourdough, native damper is the bread you should be making
Mabu Mabu’s Nornie Bero will show you how to master damper and you'll never look back.

The importance of damper

Damper has always been a way for Coulthard, a proud Adnyamathanha and Dieri man, to bring people together.

"When I think of damper, I think of Country, I think of family and I think of experiences," he says. 

"When I think of damper, I think of country, I think of family and I think of experiences."

Some of Coulthard's fondest childhood memories are of cooking damper over the fire at his grandparents' property in Nepabunna in South Australia. Times spent around the fire, eating and hearing stories were the foundation for him to learn about his identity as a First Nations person.

This experience resonates with Wakka Wakka and Wulli Wulli woman, Arika Biara Errington.

"It has always just brought me peace," she reflects. "I can feel myself being with my ancestors… I may be alone in my kitchen or writing down recipe ideas, but it feels like they are with me, kneading the dough, telling me what to flavour things with and what they work best with."

How to make damper at home

All that you need to make damper is flour, water, oil and salt. Errington advises not to over-knead the dough and suggests swapping "water out for any type of milk for a creamier texture if that's what you prefer".

Last year, Errington launched a business, Tukka By The Bush, selling DIY damper kits with native Australian bush edibles. 

"I noticed a lot of foods that said they have native Australian bush flavours in them were usually not even enough to have the flavour come through," she explains. "Bush flavours need to be the feature of the food, not an addition."

Coulthard adds, "If it's your first time trying native ingredients, the flavours can be quite strong so start out small and make it subtle."

Both Errington and Coulthard suggest adding wattleseed, strawberry gum, lemon myrtle and even bush tomatoes to your damper recipe. Errington also loves adding pepperberries for sweetness and for their beautiful, deep purple colour that gets blended into the dough.

"When people ask me to recommend them a flavour to add to their dampers, I let it come to me through asking my ancestors, thinking about the person wanting the damper, who they are, what they need out of it and how will it benefit them," she says. "Bush food is healing. It's not just the fuel for our bodies, it's the medicine that helps our bodies work."

Damien's damper

An all-round show-stopper, this one. Impress your mates with your bread-making skills, with little skill at all! Try playing around with any bush spice until you find your favourite. This is best cooked in a fire but an oven will do just as well.

Why we should be making more damper at home

"Damper is an important part of our history," Coulthard says. "It's about cultural restoration, respecting intellectual property and bringing people together; Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal."

Coulthard loves educating kids about the historical importance of damper and runs school workshops where he teaches students how to wrap the damper on a stick and cook it over a fire. 

Errington is also passing her knowledge on to the next generation.

"My daughter makes damper at her preschool and has begun teaching those around her, including her teachers, about bush foods and our culture and language which I absolutely love because it isn't something I was allowed to do at her age," she says.

Arika Biara Errington with her father, Bill, daughter, Willa, and mum, Tjanara.

The best way to eat damper

Fresh and hot with lashings of butter and golden syrup, of course!


Love the story? Follow the author Melissa Woodley here: Instagram @sporkdiaries.

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