‘Tucker’ is an Australian word for food and can refer to food obtained from native plants and animals.
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Before European settlement, over two hundred years ago, Indigenous Australians lived on food foraged from the environment. These foods consisted of seasonal fruits, nuts, leaves, flowers, roots, animals, reptiles and insects. It has been estimated that there were upwards of 5,000 different bushfood plant species across Australia, utilised and harvested seasonally by Aboriginal people. Usually, the men hunted larger animals and fish, while the women collected smaller animals, fruits and greens and dug for tubers. Children s sharp eyes also found small edible berries. Foraging sometimes included long treks for many kilometres on foot (barefooted) over a hot and harsh terrain. However, most areas, including the lush coastal regions, had abundant food supplies. Some of the freshest, most nutritious foods may still be found in our Australian bushland.
Knowledge of what was edible, palatable (or even delicious), the best harvest times and food preparation methods were passed from one generation to another, by word of mouth. Certain types of seeds and tubers were poisonous. Extensive preparation was then required before these foods could be eaten. Sometimes this entailed removing skin and irritating hairs; or pounding the plant material to a pulp, then submerging this in a flowing stream to leach soluble toxins; finally, this material was roasted to remove other toxins that are chemically changed through heating.
Food was eaten either raw, cooked by direct roasting in fire, or cooked more slowly in hot rocks, ashes and coals. The first pioneer white settlers and explorers faced many hardships and when oppressed by hunger, were glad to taste Aboriginal tucker. However, today, over 200 years later, the majority of our population do not even take the opportunity to grow an edible garden, as it is so easy to forage the food shelves of the supermarkets. In the 21st century, it is hard for us to even visualise how much country would be needed to support a food gathering people and with our present population approaching 21,000,000, possibly only a small percent would survive if we had to resort to the bush during an emergency.
Here in this chapter we will be covering a few of the food plants, but not native animals, as these are protected by legislation.
I do encourage people to become familiar with edible native food plants in their surrounds and sample them when opportunity offers, as this awareness may be valuable for the future. Various books are available on wild foods (see references p 129) and an internet search will also provide information.
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