marshes in the estuarine river
provide rich nutrients for birds and fish.
lizards of Oz, and other treats
Building on the knowledge of
Australia's Aborigines, TV's "Survivor tribes" scavenge for bush
By Toby Saltzman
If there is truth in the virtual challenge of Survivor: The Australian
Outback, it should play out as the Ogakor and Kucha tribes forage
for bush tucker -- the indigenous herbs, spices, mushrooms, fruits,
flowers, vegetables, animals, birds, reptiles and insects of far
north Queensland. Besides building safe shelter and kindling fire,
the ability to find, process and eat foods scavenged in the state's
diverse desert to rain-forest microclimates is the triumph of die-hard
survivors in Oz, as the locals dub their land down under.
Of Survivor's quirky characters hell-bent on backbiting to the
million-dollar finale, those ravenously determined to win are destined
to swallow more than bug-infested figs. Those with staying power
will inevitably meet the bush-tucker challenge with Aboriginal sensitivity,
able to distinguish edible food from poisonous.
Survival was no game 50,000 years ago when Aboriginal tribes passed
hunting and gathering acumen down from father to son. Knowing to
recognize and harvest safe fruits after they had ripened past the
budding toxic stage was as crucial as knowing how to find and purify
water or when to avoid warm streams and mangrove marshes likely
inhabited by crocodiles.
When the Aborigines snared a kangaroo, wallabee or emu with a swift
boomerang, tribal didgeridoos droned victoriously through the wilderness.
While the Survivor tribes aren't allowed to feast on these high-protein,
low-fat animals, which are now protected in the wild though farmed
for popular consumption, they are allowed to cull crocodiles, lizards,
snakes, rabbits and myriad small creatures thriving in the abundant
land and sea. The Aborigines' methods were primitive, but their
habits were studied. Year to year, they marked proven hunting grounds
with etchings on stone or wood; here a lizard, there a snake. In
lean times, scattered tribes sustained each other, bartering nuts
for wildlife. Without refrigeration, they learned to dry fruits
and roast or grind seeds for long storage.
Survivors may recoil at the thought of chewing mangrove worms or
goanna lizard (which taste like chicken) or snake (evocative of
tuna), but grim reality will undoubtedly force them to be as fastidious
as Aborigines in searching for bush tucker. The smartest Survivors
will align the quest for safe food with the quest for "immunity."
So where do they start? First by creating worthy tools. Digging
sticks from sturdy ironbark trees. Boomerangs fashioned from Plumbrush
wood to stop rabbits or possums in their tracks. Spears from the
spikes of grasstrees to spear fish and small animals. Strong throwing
spears from the flexible branches of mulga and gum trees to pierce
the tough hide of crocodiles. Ropes and nets woven from the fibrous
threads of kurrajong plants to catch insects and fruit-eating bats
known as flying foxes, reputedly delicious when barbecued. Various
timbers to sustain fires: dense woods that retain heat for cooking
whole animals; lighter woods that become ash for cooking grubs,
moths, fruits and vegetables. Freshly shaven twigs to spear foods
over fire. And coolamons, or wooden dishes, scooped from the soft
trunks of bean trees.
Where do they search? Everywhere. At the river's edge, witjuti
grubs crawl among the roots of trees. An indigenous staple for millennia,
these giant white larvae, which taste like peanut chicken when roasted
over flames or sautéed in macadamia nut oil, are a good source of
calcium and iron. In shallow rivers, crocodiles snoozing in sunshine
may be tricky targets, but they provide protein-rich steaks, not
to mention bags and boots. The estuarine waters at the mangrove's
edge are fertile breeding grounds for shrimp, bugs, varied marine
life and birds that feed on them: magpies, geese and yolla or mutton
Should the Survivors venture to where the rain forest meets the
reef, they will find yabbies (tiny freshwater crayfish), saltwater
crayfish, mud crabs and possibly coral trout, clams and oysters.
Farther out at sea, the prize is barramundi. This big tropical fish,
which begins life as a male and matures into a female, is a delicacy
of dense white flesh.
Inland, the Outback abounds with bush tucker. The flourishing macadamia
produces versatile, nutritious nuts, edible raw or ground to flour.
The green bungwall fern, distinguished by metre-long fronds, has
a tuberous root that can be roasted, ground to flour and baked into
Savvy Survivors will peel the irritable fuzz of sandpaper figs
before eating, and search out anti-scurvy fruits high in Vitamin
C: green Kakadu plums (reputedly nature's highest fruit source of
Vitamin C), purple clustered Illawarra plums and shiny quandongs.
Also called Australia's native peach, quandongs are valued for their
kernel oil as a salve for itchy scalps. Salad lovers who gravitate
to spinach-like warrigal greens (as Captain Cook did in 1770) better
blanch the leaves first to remove toxic oxalates. Bush cashews,
peanuts, and chestnut-like bunya-bunya nuts, found in the female
cones of prickly leafed trees, also need boiling.
However, the challenge unfolds along the treacherous terrain flanking
far north Queensland's Herbert River, Survivor's culinary winner
will have shown bush-tucker finesse. He or she will have turned
lemon aspen into tangy marinades for fish and seafood, bush tomatoes
and tart riberries into tasty chutneys, mounds of ground nuts and
seeds into damper (bread baked in hot ashes), hordes of wattleseed
into flavourful drinks and desserts. And thrown plenty of shrimp
on the barbie.
Learn the intricacies of surviving on bush tucker.
Check out the Oz Website: www.australia.com
Australia Tourist Commission: 1-800-DOWN UNDER
Toby Saltzman is an award-winning travel writer and photographer.
She is publisher and editor of www.travelterrific.com.