By Junjirrba Wawu Kaitbal

Yundu yalada, ngayu budi Jingirdba-Wanuginbi
Ngayu Julay warra, Kubirri warra bama. Nyaku bubu Julaymba, Buru, Jinkalmu

Ngayu binalku Kuku Yalanji mayi jilbamun gudday.

My name is Jingirdba-Wanuginbi, I'm a KukuYalanji decent and my traditional lands are the Daintree River and Mossman Gorge in Far North Queensland.

This is the journey of food.

Map of Daintree National Park in FNQ

Baking Wattle Seed Bread

The Myths
The way our people innovated and developed tools and technologies was born out of both necessity and sustainability. I would argue that this is the only way true innovation can be achieved and the proof is that we as Indigenous people are alive and still practicing our cultures, some that date back over 100,000 years.

As western societies begin to understand and recognise the value Indigenous people have to science and sustaining the earth, the myths and negative stereotypes of Indigenous peoples start to fade away. Australia now needs to recognise and accept that Indigenous Australians were first to it all. They are, and always will be the first scientists, first astronomers and yes, even the first chefs.

If we as Indigenous people were to place value on our science and knowledge systems like western science, then the value of Indigenous culture would be inconceivable. There is so much you can learn from Indigenous people. And there’s no time like the present.

Despite popular beliefs, the art of cookery didn’t start in China or Greece. In fact Indigenous Australians are the oldest chef’s in the world, and their unique love for cooking dates back thousands of years. Did you know the cooking techniques like underground oven pre-dates that of the Asian and French cooking techniques by more than 14,000 years. Furthermore, the Mortar and Pestle was one of the earliest inventions Aboriginal Australians used to make bread.
Indigenous author, Bruce Pascoe, claims Aboriginal people were more than just ‘hunters’ and‘gatherers,’ as commonly portrayed after European colonisation in his book 'Dark Emu, Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident' and I would 100% agree.

Pascoe says Indigenous Australians were the first people to achieve many things and that even included baking.

'We were the first to invent bread by 15,000 years. The Egyptians began cooking bread 17,000 years ago and one Australian grain grinding dish has been dated at least 34,000 years of age.'

Bruce Pascoe

Bush foods were such a vital part of Aboriginal culture, that many traditional dances were created to ensure the next generation could understand and continue to teach the importance of particular native foods. The way we as Kuku-Yalanji people cultivate food is out of respect and responsibility for the next generation. The seasons mark the ceremonies and the ceremonies mark the time for cultivating the land. We have five seasonal categories, known by the typical weather patterns of that period.

  1. Kambar: proper wet season Late December to March
  2. Kabakababa: winter rain season April to May
  3. Buluriji: cold season June to September
  4. Wungariji: hot season October to November
  5. Jarramali: stormy season Late November to the middle of December

A Kuku-Yalanji ceremony called Mayi-Wunba depicts the process of how to cultivate native honey and how it is a vital part to the rich ecosystem in the area. The dance tells us how to find the right trees for honey, the process to gather honey and what animals are attracted to honey. The fact that this song has been around for thousands of years is sharing the value our people placed on Wunba, and also how they understood the important role Wunba had in sustaining the environment.

Mayi Wunba ceremony at Laura Festival

The western world has slowly come to recognise honey as something more important than a sweetener. Whether or not bees were created for human enjoyment -without them and without honey, we’d live in a world where plants could not grow and fruit could not ripen.

Did you know that 80% of the food we consume relies on pollination? Don’t you think that is something to celebrate and knowledge that should be passed on?

Imagine if Australian’s fully embraced the Indigenous culture and allowed themselves to see the world through the eyes of an Indigenous person. Imagine the positive impact this would have on the health and well-being of our people. What if we were to eat from the bush again and our ceremonies and customs were celebrated by all. I think the only way we will see a shift in the current discourse, in how western society treats our Bubu (land) is if they reconnect to their own Celtic, Sami or Occitan cultures, and see from their own eyes, how important their Bubu is to their ancestors, and how the ceremonies pass on knowledge.



Trade Routes
Trade was vital to our communities and in some areas across Australia, it improved the quality of life for members of family groups. For various reasons, food was not traded over large distances however other highly valued or scarce resources were traded. There is evidence that indicates cross cultural immersion took place, and trading that took place thousands of years ago had prevalent relevance in the 21st century.

An example held by the communities along the Arnhem Land coast have a long history of trading trepang (Sea cucumber) - dating back to the 1600's and trade with the Macassans of the south Sulawesi.
The traditional trade routes allowed the development of good relationships between neighbouring language groups. They provided an avenue for settling disputes between Warring groups, who would meet to discuss Dreaming laws and also to share gifts as a sign of respect.

It is widely documented that one prominent trade in the northern east coast regions in Australia was shell and beads. In fact, the shell and bread trade was so big it was considered a currency.

A short video about the shell currency and the money ring

The trade of food is fascinating, and even more fascinating is how food is integrated into Indigenous Songlines. When I hear about the spice trails and the old Silk Road, I often think that maybe because Australia is such a massive country - Indigenous Australian’s may have in fact inspired travellers, explorers and stowaways from all walks for like in the art of cookery.

I’ve heard stories of how the Ned Kelly gang learnt about tracking from Indigenous peoples, and how mob from Northern Queensland showed the best spots for Chinese’s gold miners to grow rice. I’m sure that Indigenous peoples would have shown them bush foods and cooking methods and that ended finding its way to China and Italy, for instance bread, and the use of the Morter and Pestle.

It's widely understood that Kuku-Yalajni people from Far Northern Australia were part of a traditional trade routes connecting them to other Indigenous communities in the in the pacific region.

Junga is the Yalanji term for wealth

The basic ‘concept’ of money can be a challenge in itself for many Indigenous people, particular those from cultures where sharing is a part of their predisposed responsibilities.

Ngujakura lore, for example, connected five Kuku-Yalanji clan groups over Far North Queensland and created effective ways of communication and trade. However, when‘white-man’ law was imposed, the established system of Ngujakura wasn’t allowed to be practiced. This was because the racist laws implemented wouldn’t give Indigenous people the opportunity to participate in Australian society, let alone have a bank account. Developing their trade system was prohibited and learning to manage newly introduced money wasn’t an option.

We have survived the cataclysmic forces of nature and even a brutal British invasion. We have established intricate trade routes that link us to how we communicate and share as a collective, rather than individualist. You can’t just simply change a value system which has been passed on from 80,000 years or more, because the consequences as we’ve seen are detrimental and continue to impact future generations. My wish is that all Australians evaluate what they hold as important values and I hope they learn to value the environment and see the wealth in sustaining our earth.

Learn more about Junga here:

Link Walker, Kuku-Yalanji Man from Mossman QLD

Ancient Cookery
Even with modern technology, we are only just beginning to interpret different types of tools and what they were used for, where the material to make them is sourced from, or even what they can teach us about cultural and ecological landscapes of the past.

The everyday life of our people was far more complex and intricate than many people have imagined. Diverse groups of people invented tools and technologies that wouldn’t be comprehended nowadays. For instance, Indigenous knowledge of how gravitational waves impacted our environments.

My people are believed to have inhabited the rainforest for more than 9000 years. Anthropological research shows there may have been three or five groups within the tribe, with the groups inhabiting rainforest areas, rivers, coastal frontages, and mountain peaks.

The Kuku-Yalanji culture is very distinct and uniquely adapted to the Daintree Rainforest environment. The natural world around the people was understood to be linked closely to them - for example if an unseasonable weather pattern emerged this could be seen as a consequence for a human action. The rainforest was often described in ‘human terms.’ Changes to the environment were interpreted as changes occurring to themselves. The rainforest was the source of all food, shelter, resources and other social structures.

Here is a 360 video of traditional methods of making spears which would be used to cultivate mainly seafood and small animals in the region.

If you were asked who the world’s first bakers were, what would your answer be? Most would think ancient Egypt was where bread was first baked around 17,000 BCE. Yet there is evidence to show that grindstones in Australia were used to turn seeds to flour 30,000 years ago. Archaeologists found the evidence for this at Cuddie Springs in New South Wales. Here it was found in the shape of an ancient grinding stone which had been used to reduce grass seeds to flour. These were the bakers of antiquity. It took Egypt 12,000 years to repeat this baking experiment, so my question is why don’t Australians recognise this amazing discovery?

On Country Kitchen - Kids waiting for a feed

When I hear the words 'sustainable', I think of how Indigenous communities all across the world, have sustained their cultures and the environment for thousands of years. I'm so grateful for the ancient knowledge that is passed onto me by my family and community, as I can now pass these stories onto my kids and continue the legacy of sharing First Nations knowledge. When will our world leaders realise the negative impact that globalisation is having on both humans and our environments? It’s not enough to simply remove more Indigenous peoples from their traditional lands, but making the environments unliveable for our future generations is totally inhumane. Recently the United Nations put measures in to ensure a sustainable future, but I believe it should have been this way since day one.

Indigenous people are the first scientists, inventors and ecologists. It’s our deep understanding of how humans can co-exist with nature that enables us to lead discussions and debates about global sustainability. Despite this knowledge, Indigenous peoples are still rarely thought about when it comes to discussing sustainability. It’s not that westerners don’t understand the value of Indigenous knowledge, (because for the last 30 years the government,scientists and corporations have used our scientific knowledge for their own gain), it’s just that they can’t bear to listen and open their ears to solutions for reversing climate change - that of which, Indigenous people have been talking about for so many years.
It’s almost like for ideas to be taken seriously, it has to have a western voice. Just take ecotourism for example. Before there was ecotourism there was culture tourism, which is very similar, except there is either little or no engagement with Indigenous communities. The recent term ‘biopiracy’ refers to when Indigenous knowledge’s are patented for profit. In most cases these beneficiaries are corporations and governments who have used Indigenous peoples knowledge of bush foods and medicinal properties for their own benefit. An example of this would be the use of spinifex resin in bullet proof vests and condoms – for some, it’s deemed as culturally inappropriate as spinifex resin covers 21% of Australia, so the knowledge of this resource extends beyond just one clan groups ownership.

In other terms, it is ultimately stealing. For far too long Indigenous peoples have had their sciences and culture taken from them, and the impact of forced removal and land damage has been devastating effects that continue for generations to follow. The fact that Indigenous peoples have survived the ice age and a brutal forced British invasion just shows how the Indigenous memory code has survived.

Bruce Pascoe is a man standing up for representation in the agricultural industry, and he wants all Australians to embrace Indigenous agriculture.

I’m sure there are still scientists and farmers who don’t’ understand the important value of Indigenous knowledge. Our people were the first to do many things, but how do we maintain and protect our own knowledge as well as provide economic independence for our communities?

Bruce seems to think that educational pathways into science may hold the key into unlocking economic opportunities, as well as further expanding the knowledge of Indigenous science.

In the future could Indigenous agriculture be the saviour of humanity, or will Australians still not see the important value of Indigenous knowledge? Could Australia as a nation, continue on a point of no return, meaning we can’t save the earth and it will eventually lead to Mother Nature spiraling out of control?

Whatever happens in the future, l truly hope the amazing legacy of sustainable practices and cultivating bush foods from the First Nations peoples of Australia continues.