The Early Indigenous use of Flora and Fauna
Eastern Australia has a long history of human occupation with archaeological evidence in the Gold Coast and hinterland region going back tens of thousands of years. These early indigenous family groups divided the land into many portions often using mountain ranges and rivers as boundaries These separate groups owned and cared for everything within these boundaries and along with their stories and legends, was passed on from generation to generation. While they may have spoken different dialects of the same language, they shared a distinctive pattern of life. This included seasonal food gathering from the rainforests to the ocean, the knowledge of regional bush medicines, cycles of ceremonial events and belief in an ancient and strict customary law. Their customs, traditional laws and complex value system controlled their everyday lives. Living in small family clans and constantly moving camp, they left a small ecological footprint. By only hunting and killing animals they intended to eat, there was always an abundance of birds, animals and seafood to choose from. Although they would gather in large numbers for cultural and ceremonial reasons, it was always when an abundance of local foods were available to share. If an areas resources were depleted in any way, the area could be declared an increase site and spelled to allow it to fully recover. They were also known to replant yams and other edible plants to ensure a steady supply for when they next visited the area. While the different family groups had extensive knowledge of all the flora and fauna in there local areas, some plants and animals were particularly useful.
The fruit of the coastal Pandanus trees could be eaten after extensive cooking; the fibres of the leaves were used to make dilly bags, sieve bags, mats and baskets. The air roots could be cut off and chewed on one end to make paint brushes and were also burnt to produce charcoal and then mixed with the juice of Orchards to make a black paint. The inner bark of the cotton tree (native hibiscus) and coastal Stinging tree also made a strong fibre that was used for fishing line and nets and ropes.
The tuberous root of the Bungwall fern that grows in swampy areas was soaked, roasted and ground into flour before being cooked as a cake and eaten with meat or fish and was a staple in their diet. The hardwood from Acacia trees was used to make digging sticks, spear shafts and points and other tools and weapons with some species having edible seeds as well.
The bark from the coastal Melaleuca (paperbark) tree had many uses including, waterproof coverings for huts, floor mats, antiseptic bandages and the preparation and serving of food. Possums not only supplied an evening meal, their skins were dried and sewn into warm blankets for those cold winter nights.
The Scrub Python (carpet snake) also made a good meal and the fat could be mixed with charcoal and used to polish the skin. Flying foxes colonies were also raided and made a fine meal.
Some animals like the Echidna were considered a great delicacy and after special preparation, were eaten by the elder family members. The knowledge and use of regional Fauna and flora by the local indigenous communities is extensive and continues to be passed on to this day. To learn more about their culture and lifestyle we suggest you might try the following;
Local books on indigenous culture
Kombumerri - Saltwater People Ysola Best - Alex Barlow
Bundjalung Jugun Jennifer Hoff
Aboriginal Pathways in SE QLD & the Richmond River J G Steele
Tom Petrie’s Reminiscences of early Qld Constance Campbell Petrie
Australian Aborigines Their Life & Culture Fredrick D Mc Carthy
Mutooroo Plant Use by Australian Aboriginal People Glen Leiper
Wild Food in Australia A B & J W Cribb
Two Representative Tribes of Queensland John Mathew - A Keane
Bush Food Aboriginal Food & Herbal Medicine Jennifer Isaacs
The Language of the Wangerriburra J Allen & J Lane
The Broadbeach Aboriginal Burial Ground Laila Hagland
Some books are available at:
First Australians...........ABC Shop
Ten Canoes……............ABC Shop