FORAGE in Melbourne’s urban landscapes, walking through woodland, billabong, wetland, parkland, and stream to the seashore of beautiful Hobsons Bay.
IDENTIFY AND HARVEST traditional wild flora and fauna that can used for sustainable bushtucker gardens, schools, homes and workplaces.
LEARN how Aboriginal people, colonial settlers, immigrants and modern Melbournians, have harvested traditional foods, medicines, tools and shelter throughout our natural seasons.
DISCOVER how traditional harvesting and land regeneration contributes to a sustainable future as discussed by authors such as Bruce Pascoe (Dark Emu) and Bill Gammage (The Biggest Estate on Earth)
WHEN? Our 2.5-hour tours (schools two hours) are by arrangement at a time of choice.
WHERE? Popular locations are Albert Park Reserve, Elwood or Black Rock (see below).
“Amazing day yesterday foraging through St Kilda, thanks to Melbourne Walks. So much to learn about our landscape, so much “hidden” in plain sight… check out their book Yalukit Willam published with the Boon Wurrung Foundation.” Inner City Book members.
”People thought the route you chose for our walk was fantastic. The content was informative, educative, enjoyable and so interesting.” Port Phillip Reconciliation Action Group.
Popular Locations include:
1. ALBERT PARK RESERVE TO ST KILDA BEACH/YURO YUROKE
Forage while walking from the ancient St Kilda Ngargee tree, a billabong woodland through Albert Park Reserve to the West Beach wetland and Hobsons Bay.
2. HALF MOON BAY, BLACK ROCK
A superb natural environment of cliffs, beachfront and existing historical and archaeological sites including tidal zone, middens, freshwater springs, lookouts, ochre, cliffs and signature plants.
3. ELSTER CREEK TO ELWOOD BEACH
Follow the historic ‘Elster Creek’ wetland to Elwood Beach.
SEE also our Melbourne Indigenous Landscapes Tour.
WHAT DO WE SEE?
Some of the wild foods, tools and medicines we usually encounter on our walking tours include lemon gum, mat-rush, purslane, pigface, lemon myrtle, ti-tree, warrigal greens, kangaroo apple, wattle, lilly pilly, banksia, hopbush, banyan fig, messmate, flax lily, melaleuca, saltbush, eucalyptus, common reed, seaberry, seablight, she-oak, yellow gum, shellfish, wallaby grass and goodenia. What we harvest on any particular day varies on the seasons and weather. Spring, Summer, Autumn are the most productive times of year!
LIST OF MELBOURNE’S BUSHTUCKER FAUNA AND FLORA:
Murumbal or Blueberry Lily/Flax Lily – Dianella: Purple berries have a sweet flavour, which becomes nutty once seeds are chewed. Leaf fibres were used to make strong string and baskets.
Kallara or Tea-tree/Paperbark/Melaleuca Alternifolia: Oil used for antiseptic, disinfectant, hand-sanitiser, colds, insect repellent, infection, acne, nail fungus, skin inflammation, athlete’s foot, dandruff. WW11 soldiers were issued this ‘first aid kit in a bottle’. Used for tea and brewing beer (with spruce) by Captain Cook’s crew.
Beal or River Red Gum – Eucalyptus camaldulensis: Possibly Australia’s most popular native tree. Possum and bird habitat. Bark used for housing, shields, coolamon, and canoes. Kino for burns.
Hop Goodenia –Goodenia ovata: An infusion of leaves and twigs has anti-diabetic properties. Aboriginal mothers infused leaves to help babies sleep.
Hop Bush –Dodonaea viscosa: Used by European settlers as “hops” in beer making. Aboriginal people used parts of the plant as a local anesthetic, chewed the leaves to relieve tooth-ache and bound them to skin to treat stings.
Mookitch or Kangaroo Apple – Solanum lanciniatum: A tall shrub with leaves resembling a kangaroo paw with purple flowers and fruits changing from yellow/green to orange when ripe. An important food for Aboriginal people but only when eaten fully ripe. Sometimes placed in sand to ripen. Contraceptive. Farmed in the Soviet Union to extract an alkaloid for oral contraceptives. Same genus as the potato, tomato, and eggplant.
Billabongs/wetlands: Tubers harvested from Common reed, Cumbungee, knobby club rush, tubers, tortoises, eels harvesting, aquaculture systems, fish stunning.
Taark or Common Reed- Phragmites: Edible roots. Edible young shoots. Necklaces/beads. Spearshafts. Snorkels. Straws, Septum decoration. Weaving bags, baskets.
Native bees: Sugarbag/honey, hunted with gum and feathers!
Katwort or Pigface: Burns and stings. Water supply. Antioxidant. Water supply. Fruit (salty strawberry). Groundcover. Bluetongue habitat.
Warrigal Greens/Botany Bay Spinach: Spinach, pesto, scurvy, vitamin C, anti-oxidant. Early food and scurvy cure of Captain Cook.
Eucalyptus oil: Confectionary, disinfectant, wool wash, cold relief – coughs, chest etc, joint pain, insects. Oil is the first Industry in Australia made in Botany Bay 1788. Bosistos has made it for over a century.
Kangaroo/Wallaby Grass –Themedatriandra. A perennial grass forming dense masses, one of Australia’s most widespread grasses. In summer, Indigenous people gather seeds and grind them into flour which, when mixed with water, was cooked to make damper. Dense clusters of shiny bright brown spikelets form on wiry stems which were used to make twine for fishing nets. Tussocks recover vigorously after fire and this grass was a staple food of kangaroos on the basalt plains.
Lemon myrtle: Antioxidant. Antiseptic. Mosquitos. Anti-inflammatory. Tea. Very popular lemon food flavouring. Coughs, Perfume. Soap.
Munyeroo or Purslane/Pigweed: A ‘super food’ eaten raw for salads or sautéed, It contains very high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids. It can be eaten in salad, stir-fried, or cooked like spinach. It can be applied topically to relieve sores and insect bites on the skin.
Banyan or Moreton Bay: Fig fruit is edible at times of year, used for jam. Fibre is used for nets. Fruit attracts flying foxes in Albert Park Reserve.
Bonyi or Bunya Pines: cones weigh 6-10 kilos, up to 60 nuts, three-year harvest, nuts similar to chestnuts are roasted or ground as flour, trees can live 600 years. Another ancient Queensland nut producer is the Macadamia. This industry employs 5,000 people, produces 46,000 tonnes of nuts annually and contributes over $260 million to the economy.
Wagnarra or messmate: Tools, clap sticks.
Lemon Gum: Tanderrum ceremonies, welcome to country. Smoking ceremonies. Citronella – mosquitos, candles.
Lilly Pilly. Fruit. Jam. Colds and flu. Astringent anti-aging skin care.
Willam or Bark from Melaleuca?Tea Tree: 300 species! Bark (wilam) for rugs, bandaging, mattresses, roofs, cooking, nappies, letter writing, and thatching. Oil from the leaves for coughs, colds, tea. Wood for spears, digging sticks. Nectar from the flowers.
Dilly bags or Matrush or Basket Grass-lomandra: Nets, baskets, nuts, salad, decorations, sugar, edible flowers.
Birrna or Coast Banksia Tree: Flowers as water filters. Flowers sore throats. Flowers as a fermented drink. Candles. Combs. Torches for fishing. Pipe cleaners. Cotton buds.
Coastal Saltbush: Popular flavouring by chefs with meat. Saltbush lamb. Chips. Blue wren habitat. Soups.
Easip or yellow gum or red flowered gum: nectar
Kabin or Kennedia: twine, nectar
Burgan or White coastal tea tree: coughs and colds, snapper signal
Burgil or Honeypots Nectar from flowere red flowering gum and others, colds, sore throats
Seaberry saltbush: Dye. Cosmetic lipstick.
Seablight: Garnish, salad, pickled vegetable.
Cicadas: Eaten, sometimes called land shrimp. Trigger for high summer season.
Spider web: Coagulant
Wayetuck -Black She-oak –Allocasuarina littoralis Cones used for fishing. An important wood for making implements such as boomerangs, shields and clubs. A boomerang from the Drooping She-oak was found in South Australia 10,000 years old. The mat of fallen needle-like foliage under she-oaks was considered a safe place to leave children as snakes are said to avoid these areas. Excellent fuel in great demand for bakers’ ovens.
Kabin or Running Postman–Kennedia prostrata Aboriginal people sucked the sweet nectar from flowers, and also used the stems as twine.
Nepturne’s Beads. Edible seaweed. Beads pickled by early settlers.
Sea Parsley (Sea Celery): Occurs all along the southern coastline of Australia. Its leaf form and plant dimensions vary quite considerably from place to place, but most commonly it has an appearance of shiny dark green parsley.
Charcoal: poisoning, stomach illness
Ochre: Ceremony, paint, wounds
WARRARAK OR WATTLE There are about 1000 species of wattles out of the world’s 1350 species.
Wattle seed: provides protein and carbohydrates. The seed was crushed into flour between flat grinding stones and cooked into damper. The green seeds of some species were eaten after baking in the hot coals. Wattleseed contains potassium, calcium, iron and zinc. With a low glycemic index, they are good for diabetics. Often roasted for use in cakes, bread, muffins and as a coffee substitute.
Wattle Gum: This is highly nutritious and gathered from wattle trees, often by children as well as adults. It has the rare quality of being able to be stored for long periods. When mixed with lime such as ash, can used as an adhesive to connect stone, wood and string. Gum was dissolved in water to make a mild sweet drink and also mixed with ash for use as resin.
Wattle bark: Used for tannin. Grubs.
Muyan or Silver Wattle – Acacia dealbata: Wattle blossoms will coat the slow-moving Yarra at this time. Eels feed on a particular grub that lives in the wattle flowers. The wattle is also used to symbolise Elders, and is one of the plants used in tanderrum ceremonies. It is a plant where every part is used – blossoms, gum, seed, bark and wood. Gum was dissolved in water to make a mildly sweet drink and also mixed with ash for use as resin.
Burnalook or Blackwood – Acacia melanoxylon: Fibre was used for fishing lines. Leaves for dyeing material. Bark infusion for rheumatism. Bark also has tanning properties. The hardwood for clubs, spear throwers, boomerangs, and shields, and more recently, fine furniture
Shells: used for cutting, and cleaning skins
Bone awls: used to pierce hides for sewing from the sinews from a kangaroo tail.
Stone: Certain kinds collected and chipped to make a wide range of implements for cutting, weapons, cooking etc.
Flint: Exchanged by barter for tools to make microliths made by knapping.
Greenstone: Very high-quality axes traded from Mt William Quarry in Lancefield with permission from Ngurungaeta/Chief Billibellary.
Grinding stone: Used to sharpen axes at Yuro Yuroke -St Kilda esplanade
Wells: Supplying water at West Beach.
Coolamon: wooden bowls used for water, cradles, and carrying produce. Made from bark or gall/burl.
She-oak cones: Fishing
Baler shells: used for water
HARVESTING ANIMAL PROTEIN
Common Long-necked Turtle Chelodina longicollis: Turtles were caught and eaten. Eggs were collected from the edges of rivers and wetlands during spring.
Shellfish and middens: abalone, turbo, limpet, mud oyster, pippi, whelk, mussel
Mutton birds/penguins: Fatty food.
Brushtail Possums are common in Catani Gardens, St Kilda. Different species are Grey Brushtail possums and ringtail nesting in bushes or hollow trees such as the Red Flowering Gum – Corymbia ficifolia, and the River Red Gum – Eucalyptus camaldulensis. Possums, which sleep during the day were caught, killed, gutted, skinned and cooked in coals before being eaten. The skins were sewn together to make cloaks or rugs. Possum fur is used to make twine.
Fruit bats or grey-headed flying fox. Frequently found in Albert Park Reserve feeding from fig trees. An appreciated food source for Aborigines and some colonists. Usually roasted whole in coals, only the wings being removed first. Skin not eaten. The flesh has an excellent flavour resembling chicken.
Ducks, Swans, waterfowl: Are commonly found on Albert Park Lake where traditional owner campsites were recorded. Ducks were an important food source for Aboriginal people and colonists. They were caught in a variety of ways, often speared or brought down with boomerangs as they fed. Katherine Parker describes in detail the way ducks were caught by the Ualayai people of the Barwon River Wetlands in the 1890s:
“Ducks were trapped, too, by making bough breaks across the shallow part of the creek, with a net across the deep part.. A couple of the men would go upstream to hunt the ducks down, and some would stay on each side of the net armed with pieces of bark. The hunters upstream frightened the ducks off the water, and sent them flying downstream to the trap. Should they seem flying too high as if to pass, the men would throw pieces of bark high in the air, imitating, as they did so, the cry of hawks. Down the ducks would fly, turning back; some of the men would whistle like ducks, others would throw the bark again, giving the hawk’s cry, which would frighten the birds, making them double back into the net, where they were quickly despatched by those waiting.” Ducks can also be caught by stealth, which involves a swimmer grabbing the duck’s feet and pulling them under the water.
Bogong Moths: fat and protein.
Short-finned eel – Anguilla australis: caught, using traps woven from mat rush. In fresh water, men would muddy shallow water and feel for eels with their feet. Hand nets used in salt water. Spears sometimes used. For pains in the joints fresh skins of eels were wrapped around the area, flesh side inwards. (The same cure was very common in Scotland for a sprained wrist.). Eels are nocturnal fish. Females grow to around 1m in length, weighing approx 3kg. The females prefer freshwater, the males live in the sea. When the eels reach sexual maturity (10-20 years for females, 8-12 years for males) they migrate distances of up to 3000km to the Coral Sea where they spawn. It is believed the females die after spawning. The females can release more than 2 million eggs which float in the currents down the east coast of Australia. The eggs hatch into glass eels which migrate down the coast and into the estuaries. The glass eels that migrate up the rivers into the lakes and swamps develop into females, the ones remaining around the estuaries develop into males. Short-finned eels migrate from late summer to autumn. If an eel’s water supply is drying up it may travel up to 1.5km over land to find another source.
HARVESTING EDIBLE WEEDS
Nettle. Despite its “sting”, young plant parts are edible, as is much of the plant when blanched or otherwise prepared. Also makes a nutritious tisane. One of the most-used plants in herbal medicine, with a long list of benefits. Also once grown as a crop for its fiber. Its juice was once used in the place of rennet in cheese-making. It was also a source of “green” for dye. It can still be used as a high-protein additive in animal feed, once dried.
Burdock. The root is used to stimulate detoxification of the lymph and liver, known as a “blood purifier.” It also has diuretic and diaphoretic properties.
Dandelion. The leaves are a tonic to the kidneys, being one of the few diuretics that does not deplete the body of potassium. The whole plant, especially the root, is a detoxifying tonic for the liver. The whole plant is bitter and can be used as a digestive stimulant.
Shepard’s Purse. Used to stop bleeding.
Chickweed. One of the most nutrient dense plants, full of antioxidants. Great for skin conditions when infused into oil. Dissolves cysts and lumps.
Native Plantain, Ribwort, Pig’s ear. Excellent wound healing herb. “Not only does plantain increase the speed of healing, it also relieves pain, stops bleeding, draws out foreign matter, stops itching, prevents and stops allergic reactions from bee stings, kills bacteria, and reduces swelling.” Mucilaginous. The seed husks are the main ingredient in psyllium laxatives. Identify this common weed by the 5 parallel veins on the underside of the leaf.
Mallow. Whole plant is mucilaginous, extracted in cold water or vinegar, which is soothing internally (easing sore throats, upset tummies, heart burn, irritable bowel, colic, and constipation) and externally (relieving bug bites, burns, sprains, and sore eyes).
Nasturtium. Considered one of the “magic bullet” companion plants, benefiting almost any crops around it in some way, and not known to hurt any All parts of this plant are edible, flowers and leaves make brilliant salad decoration
Ground Ivy Used in the traditional medicine of Europe going back thousands of years. Inflammation of the eyes, tinnitus, a diuretic, astringent, tonic and gentle stimulant.
This walking tour is dedicated to St Kilda ethnobotanist Beth Gott and Gunditjamara elder Banjo Clark who collaborated on the brilliant publication ‘Koori Plants Koorie People’. Our information is sourced from 30 years of personal foraging. We also use research from sources such as Monash University and Melbourne University who have collaborated with Indigenous cultural walks. Our own books include ‘Melbourne Dreaming. A Guide to the Aboriginal Places of Melbourne’ and ‘Yalukit Willam, The River People of Port Phillip’.
Melbourne Museum Plant Information Sheet
Koori Plants Koori People by Beth Gott
The Aboriginal use of plants of the Greater Melbourne Area by Maribyrnong Council (online)
A Guide to Indigenous Plants by Zena Cumpston, Melbourne University 2019 (online)
The Art Of Healing. Australia’s Indigenous Bush Medicine, Melbourne University 2018
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