BUSHFOODS AND SELF SUFFICIENCY
Bushfoods are being contemplated at the end of this report, though historically it should be considered in the beginning. The original custodians used firestick farming technology. Brian Morley, from the Royal Botanic Garden’s Aboriginal Resource Trail explained “the old people changed the continent by fire and have helped develop the plants and animals to cope with this. They have helped develop the nature here using fire, and this is the only continent to do so.”
The land where the botanic gardens are situated on is a traditional corroboree meeting place of the
Kulin Nation tribes, the traditional local land custodians. One 300 year old Banksia tree still resides there, and provided nectar for sweet drinks and a place to hunt possums, who would also come for the nectar.
A community garden is also a meeting place, and from my site visits, a positive outdoor common space.
Meeting places occurred across the Kulin Nation landscape. In a holistic sense, nature provided a
community garden to the Aboriginal people, and full of animals, plants, and clean water, was completely
self sufficient. Indigenous cultures should be credited as the original advocates of the holistic perspective.
Bushfoods and fibre plants still grow in remnant patches or native forest reserves in Melbourne. Some are commonly planted in gardens across Melbourne, while others are threatened with extinction. As well as their natural value, remnant bushland has a cultural value.
Natasha Van Velden (Cultivating Community) explains that indigenous bushfoods “provide habitat and not just food.” Bush tucker, medicine, and fibre plants, and ‘natural therapy’ were provided together.
A number of respondents cited the planting of indigenous and native gardens
as evidence of a move toward sustainable and waterwise gardening practice.
Natasha Van Velden from Cultivating Community also explained the benefit to
self sufficient gardening: “Exotics need a lot of water. We could save water
by surviving more on indigenous plants to supplement our diet.”
Graham Mumbulla from the Maya Healing Centre suggested that they could be
considered as a herbal contribution.
The peri-urban Peppermint Ridge Farm offers a strong integration of permaculture and bushfoods in their gardens and educational programs.
Explaining how fire was created from friction of particular sticks from particular trees, Brian Morley explained that Aboriginal culture had “a classic oral tradition, information was turned into song, stories, and dance to be passed down to future generations.”
Graham Mumbulla, from Maya Healing Centre, an Aboriginal healing centre in Thornbury, highlighted a breakage in the traditional oral pass down: “A lot of young lads, weren’t told by their parent or their parents weren’t aware, so it hasn’t been handed on down the line. One uncle would always put flowers at front of the house, and I would say to him, if you can’t eat it, don’t grow it.”
At Thornbury Primary School, a move toward including useful indigenous plants as part of the kitchen garden program is also being developed. Natasha Van Velden, who is the garden teacher at the school, explained that “Indigenous educator Uncle Phil was going to put medicinal plants in, as well as bushfoods and some fibre plants.”
Aboriginal cultural plants need preservation, and returned rights to lands would help empower broader culture preservation. Answers are beyond this research scope, but are highly relevant when considering local social equity and self sufficiency. Graham Mumbulla suggested that “you need to know different plants and how to survive.”
While explaining the various uses of digging sticks, Brian Morley explained that “most things our people used had more than one use”, which is one of the main tenets of permaculture, developed much more recently in comparison. Brian Morley, also highlighting a sustainable self-sufficiency, commenting that often “the old people used every part of the plant.”
Brian Morley also taught that the ‘old people can help and guide us in today’s world”, offering relevant advice on large world problems. Changes in climate have come and gone in the histories of Indigenous cultures. “In the climate change debate, countries should look back at their Indigenous people and incorporate some of their philosophies.”