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Bush tucker woman

Phil Brown

The Courier Mail

August 08, 2006 12:00am

FOR the past eight years Aboriginal chef Dale Chapman has been rediscovering and preserving the tradition of bush tucker with her business, The Dilly Bag.

Indigenous Australians have a wealth of knowledge about natural food and Chapman has made it her mission in life to educate Australians about the treasure trove of native Australian foods.

She travels visited Queensland schools and communities and has even taken her bush tucker knowledge to France.

Later this year she will visit Italy for the Terra Madre Slow Food conference. Her next step will be to open a restaurant dedicated to bush tucker.

What inspired you to dedicate yourself to promoting and cooking bush tucker?

When I was working for the Education Department in the 1990s I realised that there wasn't a lot of information out there about indigenous people, and there definitely wasn't any information about bush tucker.

A lot of people thought bush tucker was just witchetty grub or kangaroos. So eight years ago I started The Dilly Bag, then two years ago I opened our retail shop, The Dilly Bag Dreamtime Place, at Eumundi with Jo and Michael Connolly.

Working for myself has been great and when I have completed a presentation, people generally want to talk to me afterwards and share their knowledge.

I am honoured that they feel they can share their lives with me and that inspires me. But most importantly I have become a role model for Indigenous Australians and what inspires me most is my people.

When my elders say: "You are doing well, keep going girl" they are proud of me and I am proud of them.

What are some of the most common ingredients you use?

Lemon myrtle, wattleseed, dorrigo pepper, lilly pilly, finger limes, possum, emu, wallaby, things like that. If I can get it I will cook it.

If I went out into the bush near Brisbane tomorrow what sort of food would I be able to find occurring naturally?

Unfortunately you're not going to find much growing wild as most of the natives have been destroyed but the councils are revegetating and developers are placing more native plants into the ground, which is good.

Some common ones are the blue flax lily a small lily of the open eucalypt forest and the sarsaparilla vine, the scrambling lily and the swamp water fern which has an edible, starchy root.

How did they respond to your recipes in France?

The French were very excited about the flavours and new produce that is native to Australia and are keen to showcase Australian product.

What is your most popular recipe?

Bush tomato dip, bunya nut pesto, lemon myrtle cheesecake are among the most popular. They are easy to do and taste fantastic.

Do you feel that through your research and cooking you are connected to your forebears?

I personally feel that my ancestors are watching over me and guiding me to bigger and better things. It has always been like that for me and being able to cook is a bonus.

I love to create new dishes and the joy I get from children and adults alike is that they are experiencing food that my ancestors have been eating and using for thousands of years.

Have you fused bush tucker with other cuisines?

That's how I cook! It's all about learning the application of bush tucker ingredients and introducing them to modern cuisine.

I use native produce in Italian, French, Australian, Indian Thai, Japanese and Greek food but the list of possibilities is endless.

What have you learnt about indigenous culture through studying food?

I know that indigenous people were healthy strong environmentalists and that disease and dispossession has governed our lives since the invasion in 1770. I have also learnt that Aboriginal people are the key to new native crops for the use of food for medicine. By working together we can all achieve a balance and respect for this land.

Are people from overseas interested in bush tucker?

Europe and the rest of the world seem to see Australian native produce as a new era in food. They have not tasted these flavours before and because the flavour they are experiencing is thousands of years old and that it comes from a leaf or a small fruit they can't believe they have not had it before.

What can we learn from indigenous culture?

We all have the ability to learn how complex my culture is. It's not just a group of people walking around foraging, Aboriginal people maintained and sustained this land BC Before Cook.

We as Australians are in a very privileged nation, to have the oldest living culture to learn from.

And together we can grow to be a strong healthy and socially dynamic country with much to offer the rest of the world. We should embrace the indigenous culture it has many positive paths to take us along.

If you were all out of bush tucker and had to get some takeaway what variety would it be?

I do love pasta and I am off to Turin, Italy in October for Terra Madre (a gathering of slow food enthusiasts) so I will be eating heaps then.

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Dale Chapman