The Yolngu people in the Northern Territory have a saying about the Australian outback, “We have a library in the land. You can’t destroy it. If you burn it, it grows again. The land is full of more knowledge than you can imagine.” Where the majority of visitors to the Northern Territory’s outback see bush, Indigenous Australians see nature’s supermarket: aisle upon aisle of natural ingredients. Aboriginal people follow a six-season calendar linked to the flowering and fruiting of plants. Passed down through generations, this knowledge determines the time to hunt and gather.
To celebrate how Australia’s first people and the world’s oldest living culture have sustained themselves by “reading” the land for the past 65,000 years, several new restaurants and tours have opened in the state’s cosmopolitan capital, Darwin. The last few years have also seen the launch of the annual Taste of Kakadu Festival, which looks to showcase Indigenous cuisine and takes place every May in the Unesco World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park.
Located about an hour from Darwin, this tour group is operated and owned by members of the Limilngan clan, and aims to offer an introductory taster of bush tucker and herbal medicine.
The two-hour tour allows guests to sample seasonal fruits, try their hand at spear-throwing and gather plants from the bush to make dilly bags – an Aboriginal bag made from pandanus leaves and used to collect bush food. It’s a session where you’ll learn that Billygoat plum packs a punch when it comes to vitamin C – eating just one is equivalent to having 50 oranges – and that nibbling on some green ants, which have a sharp lemon-lime flavour, can help alleviate colds.
Situated along the Esplanade in Darwin is this not-for-profit organisation housed within the heritage-listed Lyons Cottage, the area’s first stone residence. Aboriginal Bush Traders supports several Northern Territory Indigenous artists and communities, including the Tjanpi Desert Weavers, a women’s council created to enable women in remote deserts to earn an income, and the Indigenous Jewellery Project, showcasing jewellery created and designed by several local artists.
An onsite café, whose profits go back into community projects, offers a diverse range of bush tucker, including muntrie (native cranberry), Kakadu plum and finger lime granola for breakfast. Lunch items include the saltbush dukkah, avocado and feta smash – saltbush are tiny seeds common in dry regions of Australia. For the sweet tooth, the café serves quandong (a native peach) lamingtons and lemon slices made with lemon myrtle (a native herb).
Kakadu Kitchen’s co-owner Ben Tyler, who is Bininj, is passionate about his heritage. He says, “I want people to see our ancient land and not just look at it as a rock, to really think about how Indigenous people have survived here longer than any other culture.”
Together with business partner Kylie-Lee Bradford, he created the catering business to champion Indigenous bush tucker through dishes like crispy cat eel tails, water yam sushi and saltbush damper, which are now favourites at the Taste of Kakadu Festival. They also put together a canapé-style menu for year-round operators at Kakadu National Park, and cater for events, providing spreads including crocodile satay, ground-oven barramundi and wild goose cooked in paper bark.