By Angus Smith

    Bush food is better for the environment, supports culture, tastes delicious and it’s coming to a menu near you.

    What was on your dinner plate last night – wattle seeds, desert limes or honey ants?

    The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have used native flora and fauna in their cooking for thousands of years, and yet few of these ingredients are in our kitchen cupboards.

    This month’s Game Changers seminar: What’s Missing from the Menu: Bringing Blackfella Foods and Conversation to the Table, focused on how native ingredients can be used more widely.

    Native ingredients were front and centre at the MetroWest seminar with caterers from Charcoal Lane using native ingredients in every dish — from the dips to the relish on the sausage rolls.

    Charcoal Lane is a Fitzroy-based, Mission Australia social enterprise restaurant that provides guidance and opportunity to young people, many of whom are Indigenous.

    Head chef Greg Hampton said that diners are choosing emu, wallaby, crocodile, buffalo, and camel, regularly. “25 years ago I’d put steak and wallaby on the menu and the steak would always sell and the wallaby wouldn’t. Now it’s the opposite.”

    According to Hampton, in the past bush food was primarily seen as survival food – but that is no longer the case.

    “There are beautiful flavours out there, and a wide variety of plants that we use in our kitchen.”

    Australian Indigenous writer and panelist, Bruce Pascoe (from the Bunurong clan, of the Kulin nation), said that a lot of Australians love where they live and feel a bond to the country – this is, at least in part, behind the change.

    “They are people who want to acknowledge the country, they support Aboriginal people and they understand the bond with the earth. Aboriginal people believe the earth’s our mother, a lot of people who spend time in the bush or even in their garden get that sense of the spirit of country and those people.”

    Pascoe adds, “Part of the reticence of Australians not accepting what the country has provided and wants to provide is that we dare not look back at Aboriginal achievement. Because then you have to ask yourself, ‘Why was the country taken from those people who achieved that?’”

    Pascoe believes that if we embrace our history this problem can be solved.

    “Aboriginal history is Australian history, embrace that history and do something about the future.”

    Pascoe and Hampton were joined on the panel by the Director of Garawana Creative, Charles Solomon, and Iramoo Grassland Centre Nursery Manager, Cassandra Twomey. Author, researcher and educator, Dr Tony Birch, facilitated the discussion.

    The monthly Game Changers conversation series is an initiative of Footscray University Town – a partnership between Maribyrnong City Council and Victoria University.

    Game Changers seminars are streamed on Facebook Live via the ‘VU in the Community’ Facebook page. For social media links and more information on upcoming events visit

    Angus Smith is a freelance journalist and Projects and Communications Officer at Footscray University Town.


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