Survival to satisfaction
There’s something about the searing heat of a Western Australia summer’s day that makes one ponder survival.
For a start, you’re given to shade-hopping. The deepest patches beckon and when forced to emerge and traverse to the next spot the effect is like a blown out photographic exposure. The surrounding eucalypts and hard leaved shrubs and grasses, do what they’ve done for millennia, which is derive and preserve all the water they can. The ground is bone dry, the slightest of breezes stirs the air, barely anything moves.
Imagine being dropped here Bear Grylls style with nothing but a parachute cord and a shard of flint. Forget just for the moment that this is in fact Perth’s Kings Gardens, 1,004 acres of Botanic Garden and wild bushland atop Mount Eliza, overlooking the Swan River and sweeping city vistas, with air conditioned fine dining but a few shade hops away.
The thought of being stranded in the Australian wilderness would be daunting, but for the invaluable information of Aboriginal Heritage Tour guide Greg Nannup. His lineage extends back through some of Western Australia’s greatest Aboriginal bushmen to his great-great-great grandfather, Billy, who guided explorer (and later WA’s first state premier) John Forrest to water on his discovery missions.
Greg’s advice on surviving the rigors of the Western Australian bush is fascinating and authentic, even if it’s not imminently applicable to those with lunch at Kings Park’s excellent Frasers restaurant on the agenda!
Still it’s a tourism niche he’s handily carved, with a theatrical repertoire of fascinating stories about the region’s Wadjuk people, one of 14 tribes of the South Western Australian Nyoongar Aboriginals.
Many of the trees and plants standing sentinel in the hot sunshine were central to their daily lives, like the Balga or Grass Tree. These iconic Western Australian umbrella shaped plants with shiny green spear like upper leaves and brown dry matter underneath, make for brilliant tinder. The tree’s resin can be used as glue for fixing spearheads and tanning hides, and the trunk contains edible pulp. If you’ve been bitten by a snake, the pulp can be taken as a detoxifier, allowing you to hopefully make it to hospital on time.
In Western Australian Survival 101 terms, the Balga’s the “Swiss Army Knife of bush plants”.
As the botanical wonders of Kings Park unfold it becomes clear that if one wandered off the track and became lost in it’s vast wildness, by being resourceful you could forage bush tucker for breakfast and beyond.
Greg pulls up the reed like leaves of the Coastal Sword Sedge, the base of which has a crunch and taste like asparagus.
It grows in fresh water, so if you’re lost in the bush and happen upon this plant, start digging.
All around the park are fragrant peppermint trees and lemon scented myrtle that make flavoursome beds for baking fish, salve for chesty colds, or mosquito repellent.
The peppermint’s also a hit with possums, and acts as a natural marinade. Besides if you were lost and managed to catch a nice fat marsupial … you could wrap it in Australian Paperbark and steam it under the ashes of your campfire.
Survival was certainly on the agenda of Western Australia’s early European explorers, hapless sailors many of them who learned the hard way. The bright red berries of the Zamia Palm, a cycad with spreading fronds and pineapple like bunches of fruit, may have looked and even tasted appealing, but soon resulted in stomach aches and poisoning.
But thanks to the millennia of tried and true food testing by the local Wadjuk Aboriginals, Westerners cottoned onto how the Zamia fruit could be transformed into a sort of bread.
Traditionally made by Nyoongar women, the toxic red outer layer was scraped from the fruit, the inner pods placed in woven baskets and then soaked in the river for a fortnight, before being ground to a pulp, shaped and baked on the fire to magically rise as Zamia bread rolls.
Central of course to this survival knowledge was the deeply entrenched concept of Aboriginal custodianship. In the Ancient Dreamtime, the Sprit World chose humans to look after trees and animals, taking only what they needed.
This caused confusion and heartache when colonial landowner’s cut the Nyoongar off from their traditional hunting grounds. With no concept of “ownership”, hunters would take the farmer’s sheep and cattle, resulting in harsh retribution.
In these more enlightened times however, a new kind of custodianship is developing on these ancient plains of the Aboriginal dreamtime, thanks to producers committed to working with organics and sustainability.
For foodies in search of culinary experiences with a lighter footprint, Perth’s hinterland, and in particular the Margaret River region to the south, offers some excellent discoveries.
And with a mind to showcasing the best, new kid on the block, Harvest Tours, presents a day package of eating and imbibing.
The tour is a day packed with wine, food, and watching the parched yet beautiful landscape roll by between locations.
And dressed head to toe in hemp, guide Nicky Batrick-Nolan speaks enthusiastically about how he’s selected local producers with organic, bio-dynamic, sustainable and/or free range principles.
At Clownfish Vineyard, ex-plumber turned vintner, Russell Reynolds talks about growing bio-dynamic wine in one of Australia’s most renowned wine regions.
It’s a trend driven in part by wine makers’ health concerns. Settlers Ridge is another producer devoted to purely organic wine following a family member’s dice with chemically induced asthma. Most notably Peacetree Estate, the smallest commercial winery in Margaret River, turns out just 1,500 cases of award winning hand picked and pressed wines a year. French winemaker Severin Maudeaux consults with wineries in Bordeaux to produce an outstanding range of regional varieties, including an exceptional Pineau des Charentes, a brandy like French aperitif.
While the region experiences extreme heat in the heart of summer, it’s renowned for it’s bountiful harvests.
The little town of Cowaramup is a great place to stock up independently with picnics in mind. Mother and daughter team Mary and Joeleen Fedele win hearts and taste-buds with their provocatively named “Fruity Cow” produce and specialty store. The duo make a range of dips and spreads, sell locally produced organic cheeses and lovingly displayed fresh fruit and vegetables.
Just down the road is gourmet produce store Margaret Riviera, and opposite, the well stocked Margaret River Wine Centre.
For a sit down lunch, Harvest Tours showcases Margaret River Providore, a brand new, modern, rammed earth restaurant, winery and specialty store surrounded by vineyards, an organic olive grove, an orchard, and gardens, all of which keep customers fed and watered as sustainably as possible. It all presents beautifully with visitors bound to depart with Providore made goodies to use in their own kitchens.
The tour progresses to Gabriel’s Chocolates, a fledgling business and the first in Western Australia to import raw cacao beans. While the raw materials aren’t grown in the Margaret River, the ethics are in line with local growers. The cacao beans are hand sorted, roasted, winnowed, refined and conched on site to make single origin limited release batches. It’s a wonderful opportunity to surround oneself with the overpowering aroma of roasting cacao and sample pure chocolate varieties from Equador, Venezuela, Ghana, Java and Madagascar.
The final stop on the Harvest Tour is Yahava Koffeeworks for a late afternoon pick me up. Once again the irresistible smell of freshly roasted beans makes for a heady experience and a fascinating peek behind the scenes of a business producing a luxury product with a conscience.
All in all the Harvest Tour makes for a satisfying day and in terms of reconciling this region’s history of colonization, it’s a positive vision for the future.
It may be safe to assume that from ancient Wadjuk Aboriginal recipes to today’s gourmet endeavors, responsible custodianship of this still quite wild corner of Australia is in good hands.
Kings Park Indigenous Heritage Tour Contact Greg Nannup, firstname.lastname@example.org; 0405 630 606,
Harvest Tours Contact Nicky Batrick-Nolan, email@example.com harvesttours.com.au