Bring Back Bush Food

February 24, 2021

Courtesy of Tourism Australia © Oliver Strewe


Back in the late 1980s a retired Army officer and war veteran known for his love and knowledge of the bush, captivated Australians with his ABC series The Bush Tucker Man.

The series involved Major Les Hiddins driving around the outback with his trademark hat and big smile, finding and describing native Australian bush food or “bush tucker”.

The show was a precursor to what was to become an explosion of interest in the benefits of native bush products, culminating this week in the launch of a exciting new project involving the University of Queensland and indigenous groups aimed at championing native plants and bush foods.

Spearheading the project is adjunct professor at UQ, Dale Chapman, a celebrated and award-winning indigenous chef, cookbook author, public speaker, television personality, YouTuber and lecturer.

Dale Chapman

The five-year project sees Ms Chapman join forces with Melissa Fitzgerald, a professor of food science at UQ, with the new collaboration aiming to empower Indigenous communities (currently four communities are involved) to develop bush food products

UQ will work alongside each of the four community groups to help them develop and test ideas.

When the products are commercialised, the plan is to have them certified so consumers know the product they are buying is from an Indigenous-run business.

“The project is about empowering Indigenous communities to have more say about their businesses, to grow businesses in both bush foods and horticultural plants,” Professor Fitzgerald said.

“For the communities that we’re working with, they have some bush foods that are not in the mainstream market at the moment and they are interested in developing bush food products from those plants.”

From there, UQ will examine the nutritional value of the products and ensure they comply with food safety legislation.

“A lot of bush foods are nutritionally valuable,” Professor Fitzgerald said.

“They have lots of good nutrients, lots of antioxidants, lots of secondary metabolites that have nutraceutical value.

“The thing about Australian native foods is that they’re adapted to grow in the Australian environment, so their environmental footprint is much smaller than imported foods that are grown here.”

Ms Chapman said when she  first started her apprenticeship, there was nothing like bush food on the menu.

“It wasn’t until I was head chef at Cafe Le Monde [in Noosa], where I really got introduced to bush foods — and that was 35 years ago,” she said.

“My future endeavour is to make sure that bush food is in everyone’s pantry.

“I think there is going to be a range of different products: things in the medicinal areas, things that we’re going to be able to incorporate into our cooking, there’s going to be perhaps nursery items,” Ms Chapman said.

“I think this project actually addresses things that our consumers have always wanted: they want to grow the plants, they want to understand the connection to Indigenous peoples and country.”

Ms Chapman (Auntie Dale) was born in Dirranbandi in south west Queensland on Yuwaalaraay and Kooma tribal lands.

She has lived and worked on Kabi Kabi land, known as the Sunshine Coast, since 1976. She is the founder, 20 years ago of  her business My Dilly Bag, with a dream that is fuelled by her deep cultural pride – to achieve true equality for all Australians.

My Dilly Bag proudly builds awareness of the oldest living culture in the world – the Australian Aboriginal culture – to educate the national and international community and together take positive steps towards reconciliation.

Active in Aboriginal affairs, Ms Dale is a member of the Queensland Indigenous Chamber of Commerce, Slow Food International and Director of Stepping Black Indigenous Australia.

Sher is passionate about Australian bush tucker – its nutrition, its health benefits and its links with traditional life. She’s cooked it, taught about it and, since 2000, has been running her own business – Dilly Bag Bush Tucker Products – selling it.

This year she launched Coolamon Food Creations, an export business that will take Australian bush tucker around the globe.

First stop is India. Queensland Indian palettes have been trialling Dale’s new range of curry sauces, all of them with bush tucker flavours. She’s perfected the brews, arranged distributors and is about to send her first batches to the sub-continent.

And that will be the launching pad for the rest of the world. “We’re going to go everywhere. If you’re going to hit one country, you might as well hit them all – the Middle East, Europe and America,” she said.

It’s not bad for the young girl from Dirranbandi who learned to cook at her mother’s side from the age of four. Dale’s now had 31 years in the food industry and can whip up anything from contemporary Australian to fine French cuisine. However, it is Australian bush tucker that has captured her imagination and dominates her world.

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