About six years ago, I took my son Kieran to Kakadu, in Australia’s Northern Territory. A friend of mine was working as a ranger in the National Park. We stayed with her, and during the day toured the incredibly beautiful area.
One trip we did was with a Yolngu woman named Patsy (that’s her above, starting a fire using sticks). The Yolngu are the indigenous people of that part of Australia. She led us on a bush tucker tour, showing us the foods that her people traditionally eat. When you are out in the bush with someone like Patsy, you realise just how little you know about the real world, and how short a time you would survive if left to your own devices.
The Yolngu woman leads us to the billabong
picks up a long pole with a hooked end
deftly entraps a water lily, drags it to the bank
twists the bulb from its foot, the flower from its head
breaks the stem into small chunks
hands them out like lollies.
They are nutty, slightly sour
She reaches into a clump of leaves
in an overhanging branch
pulls down a nest of green tree ants
removes the leaves, tosses them aside.
Smiling, she crushes and twists
the ants and larvae
dispenses portions to us
like a priest giving communion.
They taste like lime
She leads us to a scrubby area
tells us how to spot bush carrots
how to uproot them
with digging sticks
how to pull the tuber from the stem.
For every one I find, she finds ten.
Mine tastes like parsnip
She leaves us at dusk.
We drive back to town in the dark
stopping at the supermarket
for tinned beans and stew.
© Mike Hopkins 2014