Words By Damien Coulthard, Rebecca Sullivan & Bruce Pascoe
By using native Australian ingredients in your kitchen, you can prepare food that is better for our environment, is more sustainable and celebrates truly local food.
Damien Coulthard and Rebecca Sullivan are a South Australian couple who, through their company Warndu and book Warndu Mai, aim to regenerate culture, community, tradition, health and soil. Warndu means good in Damien’s traditional Adnyamathanha language, which is native to the Flinders Ranges country, with mai meaning food.
Rebecca has completed her Masters in International Rural Development and Sustainable Agriculture and is currently undertaking another masters in Food History. Damien is a teacher, an artist and proud Adnyamathanha and Dieri man. Together they’ve produced a cookbook that makes native ingredients accessible for all Australians through otherwise familiar recipes. The foreword is written by Yuin man and author Bruce Pascoe.
Australia’s history can be told through food; we ate mutton with potatoes – the cuisine of England. Later we ate Chinese because, even though the country distanced itself from the Asian gold miners, the food was fresh and flavoursome. Each new wave of migration had us eating Indian, Italian, Greek, Vietnamese and African foods. Anything but Australian.
Cook these recipes, but remember that you can’t eat our Aboriginal food if you can’t swallow our history. Australian Aboriginal people domesticated, cooked and cared for foods which are adapted to our country’s climate and fertility. Most of those foods are perennial and sequester carbon; handy attributes in a drying climate. And we did it for around 100,000 years.
One day a government will pay Australian farmers to grow these foods simply for the purpose of saving the planet. The old people grew these foods in a deliberate plan to care and sustain. Throw yourself into these flavours and acknowledge the glorious fact that they come from your country, no other. This is the start of an Australian cuisine. Let’s eat our country’s food.
Connection to family is the most important thing to me. It is something that has been taught to me from as early as I can remember: family comes first.
Food is always the glue. In any family. In mine it was camping on country. Sitting together and eating. Pop would find things like witchetty grubs and nori (sweet sap that grows on the acacia trees). He would share them with us and with that came a story that was from his childhood.
Pop’s childhood was vastly different to mine. He grew up in a time where the transition from living in a traditional world to living in a western world was forced. Elders of the community, both male and female, were governed in every aspect of life including the passing on of story, language, food and traditional ways. Such experiences have caused intergenerational trauma, to not just my nation, but all Aboriginal nations across Australia.
Although these experiences are in the past, Aboriginal communities have stayed resilient and strong by maintaining their identity through as simple a thing as the food they eat.
Food, as we all know, is a powerful tool. Its nostalgic power, its ability to promote curiosity and question and, most importantly, its story relating to place or, as we would call it today, provenance. Every single food source to my people has a story dating back thousands and thousands of years. From the red kangaroo to the Urti (quandong). This is not just food; this is our creation, our story, our tradition, us.
When Rebecca and I were on the Amalfi coast, we visited a winery and as I listened to the group’s excitement over a 500-year-old vine from which the wine they were drinking originated, I was astonished. It made me think: Australians get excited at the thought of a 500-year-old vine. Yet here is my food, 60,000-plus years old, and no one seems to hold any excitement for the thousands and thousands of nuts, seeds, plants and proteins.
I want people to have that same excitement for our foods as they did for the age of that vine. Because when my pop was diagnosed with dementia, I knew that source of culture and language would stop, and in an instant another chapter of Aboriginal narrative is lost.
It hit me like a slap in the face. Here I was, a local food advocate and I hadn’t even tried anything truly local to my own country. To my embarrassment, I realised local food surely must be the Australian native plants and animals. And so my true local food journey began.
I met my partner Damien in 2013. My work is about ‘granny skills’ and protecting our elders’ knowledge and heritage. In Damien’s culture that is of the utmost importance, too. History is orally recorded, not written. When Damien’s pop was diagnosed with dementia, Damien really realised what was being lost, and the importance of the work I was doing also.
Everyone eats. Food prompts curiosity, and sitting around a table is a safe place. When we host anything from dinner parties to pop-up restaurants and share these new flavours with people, they ask questions. And those questions lead to conversations, not just about food but also about culture and history, heritage and story.
We pride ourselves on championing Australian native foods and teaching people as much as we can so that some of this information is not lost forever. We believe food is the pathway to change and we are passing on only what we have had permission to do so in a culturally respectful way.
We believe that although we want to see a thriving industry, the intellectual property of all of these foods must always remain with our nation’s First People. It is a complex issue and we, among many others, are working hard to find a positive outcome for all in the near future.
The Australian native food industry has had its ups and downs and, like all trends, seen great successes. But it can’t just be a trend, it needs to be the norm. Without it trickling down to the home, it will never be a sustainable industry. Native food needs to be in every pantry in every home in Australia. Our people need it, our farmers need it, our country needs it and our soil needs it.
1–2 tsp roasted and ground wattleseed
1 cup boiling water
milk and honey, to taste (optional)
Place the wattleseed in a coffee plunger or cafeti.re. Boil the water and pour into the plunger. Leave to brew for three minutes, plunge and pour into a mug. Add a dash of milk, some honey if you like, and drink.
Sea Rosemary, Lime & Murray River Salt Anzac Biscuits
1 ½ cups plain flour, sifted
1 tsp ground cinnamon myrtle
1 cup rolled oats
¾ cup shredded coconut
¼ cup caster sugar
zest of 4 blood limes
2 long sprigs of sea rosemary, coarsely
chopped, stems removed and discarded
½ tsp Murray River pink salt, plus extra for sprinkling
1 tbsp golden syrup or treacle
1 tbsp honey
150 g unsalted butter, chopped
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 ½ tbsp water
Preheat the oven to 185°C and line two baking trays with baking paper. In a large bowl, place the flour, cinnamon myrtle, oats, coconut, sugar, lime zest, sea rosemary and salt, and stir to combine.
In a small saucepan, place the golden syrup, honey and butter and stir over low heat until the butter has melted and ingredients are mixed. Remove from the heat. Mix the bicarbonate of soda with the water and add to the golden syrup mixture. Pour into the dry ingredients and mix together until fully combined.
Roll tablespoonfuls of the mixture into balls and place on baking trays, pressing down on the balls to flatten. Sprinkle with a little salt, to taste, before baking for 12–20 minutes until golden brown. The time will depend on the thickness of your biscuit.
Roo Meatballs & Lemon Myrtle Pasta
1 kg kangaroo mince
1 cup breadcrumbs
½ cup sea parsley, chopped
2 tsp chopped sea rosemary
2 free-range eggs
3 garlic cloves, crushed
½ cup grated parmesan cheese,
plus extra to serve
salt and pepper, to taste oil, for frying
140 g good-quality plain flour
1 tbsp ground lemon myrtle
140 g hard wheat semolina
2 large free-range eggs
pinch of salt
1 onion, diced
2 x 400 g tins of tomatoes
500 ml passata
drizzle of wattleseed balsamic vinegar
splash of Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp barbecue sauce
1 bunch of wild basil, leaves picked, to serve
Start by making the meatballs. In a large bowl, combine the mince, breadcrumbs, sea parsley, sea rosemary, eggs, two garlic cloves, parmesan, and salt and pepper. Roll into balls using about a tablespoon of the mixture at a time. Place on a tray and allow to chill in the fridge for at least one hour.
Remove from the fridge 30 minutes before cooking and roll in a little oil. Heat a large frypan to high heat and fry the meatballs in small batches until golden brown on all sides. Set aside.
To make the pasta, mix the flour, lemon myrtle and semolina with your hands in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and crack in the eggs, then add the salt. Mix to a dough then turn out onto a floured surface. Knead for up to five minutes, or until smooth. If the dough feels too dry, add a few drops of water as necessary. If too wet, add a little more flour. Cover the dough with a tea towel and leave to rest for one hour.
If you have a pasta machine, follow the instructions to make tagliatelle. If not, use a rolling pin to roll the dough into very thin sheets and cut into one-centimetre wide strips about 20 centimetres long. Cook in boiling salted water for a few minutes until al dente.
To make the sauce, in a large saucepan over medium heat, cook the onion with a pinch of salt until soft. Add the remaining garlic clove and cook for another minute. Add the tomatoes and passata along with the balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire and barbecue sauces, and cook over medium-high heat until it begins to reduce, around about 20 minutes.
Return the meatballs to the pan with half the basil and cook for another 10 minutes. Serve with the pasta and the remaining basil and sprinkle with parmesan.
This is an edited extract from Damien Coulthard and Rebecca Sullivan’s book Warndu Mai