River Cottage Australia

Indigenous Bush Tucker with Noel Butler

Aboriginals survived for thousands of years as hunters and gatherers; living off the land and using native bush food and wild animals as sources of food. Here we look at the different types of bush tucker as seen in River Cottage Australia.

This traditional diet was known to be not only high in carbohydrates, fibre, proteins and nutrients; but also low in fats and sugars as well. An essential part of their culture was having a strong knowledge of the land, living in harmony with the seasons and weather and only taking what was needed daily. This knowledge was crucial as these cycles ultimately affected their survival - hence, their daily diet varied in conjunction with the types of plants and animals available in a specific location and at a particular season. For instance, as Noel grew up in a coastal town his family would hunt by the fish cycle.

Typically, the women would gather the foods for everyday eating such as plants, reptiles and honey, whereas the men hunted for meat on the land and in the ocean. The majority of foods were eaten raw, but some were also roasted or baked.

Types of bush tucker

Aboriginal bush foods and tucker generally fall into two groups: meat from animals and insects and food from plants.

Animal meats:

- Kangaroo

- Emus

- Wild turkey

- Wallabies

- Possums

- Snakes

- Lizards

- Eels

- Fish

Food from plants and seeds:

- Wild orange

- Wild passionfruit

- Wild fig

- Bush tomato

- Conkerberries

- Bush bananas

- Mulga seeds

- Wattle seeds

- Pigweed seeds

- Offal

- Honey

- Pencil yams

- Guandongs

- Bush coconut

- Bush plums

- Honey and nectars found in native bush flowers

- Mulga apples

Background on Noel

Noel was born in Broulee, and moved to an Aboriginal reserve in Ulladullah at the age of 2 and a half along with his 12 other siblings. His father was of aboriginal descent and his mother was Scottish, and together they brought up their large family out in the bush. 

Noel grew up with no electricity and spent much of his childhood foraging for bush tucker and seafood the traditional way and cooking it all on an open fire at home, until Noel’s family bought a fuel stove when he was 12 years old.

Some of the seafood that Noel and his family lived on included abalone, oysters, mussels and pips. If they brought fish home for dinner, they would eat the fillets the first night, eat off the bones the second night, and make a stew from the fish heads the third night- stretching their catch out as far as they could. Noel’s father worked as a fisherman and also made spears and boomerangs to sell in the local area.

At the age of 14 Noel left high school and worked at a sawmill in Neragunda, taking his earnings home for his family. He then worked in a grocery store, a post office and finally found one of his passions in cooking, becoming an apprentice pastry chef. This hard work and passion for baking soon paid off, as he became ‘Apprentice of the Year’. Shortly after, Noel opened a bakery and cake shop, which he owned for several years.

Today, Noel Butler is well known as an Indigenous elder and custodian of traditional Indigenous customs and culture of the Budawang people of the Yuin Nation, South Coast NSW.  Noel Butler is the Principal Educator on Cultural Awareness, Cultural Enrichment and Cross Cultural Education and has been teaching and working with Aboriginal and non aboriginal people for over 25 years.

Digging Art and Stick Cafe

Although Noel doesn’t bake much these days, he channels his passion for food and cooking at his café in Mollymook, called ‘Digging Art and Stick’. With partner Trish they have established a unique cafe where visitors can experience their Indigenous culture through food, aboriginal art and artefacts. Trish does all the painting and the art of many of Noel’s indigenous stories. Noel also creates sculptures, which he carves himself.

Most importantly, however, the café is unique as many of the ingredients used in their food are indigenous bush foods from around the local area including; lemon myrtle, aniseed, bush tomatoes, berries, pigface, wild spinach, lillypillie and wild bush honey. Whenever a particular fruit or bush food is in season, you can pretty much expect to see Noel gathering it for his café.

A big part of the ethos behind the café is supporting aboriginal heritage. As Noel says, he is all about change with aboriginal people for aboriginal people and if it is through cooking and using traditional native ingredients to make cakes and share indigenous culture then that’s the way to go.

Types of food Noel makes:

- Homemade cakes

- Biscuits

- Tarts and slices

- Lumberjack cake

- Wattleseed and lemon myrtle cheesecake

- Wattleseed/ aniseed biscuits

- Date loaf

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