Australian Bushfoods magazine

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Health
Reflections
Bush Tucker Stands Test of Time as 
Fast Food Exits the Menu

Geoff Cooper, a Family and Youth Services worker in the Osborne area of Adelaide, wonders if he’d had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes “back in the old days.”
In fact, Geoff is pretty sure that neither he, or any other Indigenous Australian before the coming of white people and their dietary habits, would have experienced diabetes.
The original people had a diet that they’d worked out over thousands of years,” Geoff believes.
“It was seasonal, and there was plenty of greens and native fruits and berries, they knew how to use wild honey for their health and they had plenty of fish and lean meat like kangaroo – I don’t reckon diabetes was part of their life.”
Diabetes became part of Geoff’s life last Christmas, when he was 48, going on 49.
“That seems to be about the age that so many Indigenous Australians these days start to come unstuck with their health, “Geoff says. “It’s sort of as if their body starts to shut down …”
When Geoff was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes by doctors at Adelaide’s The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, they also discovered that he’s suffered a “silent heart attack.”
Yet now he’s proud to report that his diabetes educators are so pleased with his rehabilitation that he’s classified at the “safety level.” He checks his blood sugar levels twice a day, but that’s that only minor inconvenience. And it all comes back to better dietary habits.
“My wife and I both work and we have a nine-year-old daughter, so we are busy people, like lots of other,” Geoff says. “We got into the habit of just grabbing fast convenience foods – junky stuff – and syrupy drinks. I see the same sort of thing all the time with the kids and families I work with in the community. After my diabetes diagnosis, we changed our food habits; we take lots of fruit and vegies out of the freezer and zap it in the microwave instead of grabbing a pile of junk stuff on the way home.
Geoff, who was taken from his own people when he was nine and brought up by a white farming family in the Adelaide Hills (“it was a tough life but they were a great family”) fondly recalls the lifestyle he left behind at Goolwa, in the Coorong, at the mouth of the Murray River. “Even then, we lived on really great bush tucker – fish and swan’s eggs, and native plants, as well as plenty of fruit that was grown in the area. Back before white settlement it must have been a real health food paradise!”
Geoff, who joined the Army in the early 70’s, was reunited with his sister and brother and other members of his extended family when he was sent to Darwin as a relief worker after Cyclone Tracey at Christmas, 1974. After leaving the Army, he spent some time working outback beyond William Creek and “sorting himself out.”
His travels with the Army around Australia, a varied sporting career as a pretty handy Aussie Rules halfback flanker (“the usual sort of niggly defender”) and his experiences as one of the Stolen Generations who was reunited with his family, fitted him well for his current work.
“We’ve got to look after our young people in Australia – they’re the future. And it doesn’t matter where they’re from, or the family background. We need to pump ‘em up, teach ‘em to eat properly and give ‘em a go and break the unemployment cycle. If we train up more health workers and get ‘em out among the kids to teach the right things, we’ll beat all the problems like diabetes, and petrol sniffing and other substance and drug abuse

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Australian Bushfoods magazine