Food for thought

Published 16 Dec 2019 

In the central-west Kimberley, near the town of Fitzroy Crossing, the Bunuba community has created a legacy for generations to come.

If you spend enough time caring for country, as Bunuba people have for thousands of years, you'll get to know its signs and stories. Full of iconic wiṉamu and baḻiḻi (limestone and sandstone ranges) rising high above surrounding galanganyja (black soil plains), and culturally significant garuwa (water places), Bunuba muwayi (country) is home to many bush plants and foods.

Now, in a book called Yarrangi Thangaṉi Luṉdu, Mayi Yani-u, the Bunuba community have shared their knowledge of muwayi and the stories of their abundant, beautiful and lifegiving part of the world.

Yarrangi Thangaṉi Luṉdu, Mayi Yani-u is for the next generation of Bunuba kids, so they can keep their language, culture and country strong. These are just a few of the plants featured in the book.

1. Malaa/Freshwater Mangrove

(Barringtonia acutangula)

Malaa / Freshwater Mangrove. Provided by Bunuba/Environs Kimberley.
Malaa / Freshwater Mangrove. Provided by Bunuba/Environs Kimberley.
This is a tree of many uses. The leaves and bark are poisonous to some fish and can be crushed and thrown into waterholes where, after some time, the fish float to the top to be collected and eaten.

While poisonous to fish, it can be medicinal to people.

Chewed bark soothes the pain of a catfishbarb, a barramundi sting or an aching tooth. It can also stop bleeding and help heal wounds. The only side effect: a bit of drowsiness.

Malaa grows up to 8 metres tall and can be found along rivers, creeks and floodplains. When the Malaa’s red or dark pink flowers bloom, the gayi (freshwater crocodile) are laying their eggs: ready to be dug up, cooked and eaten.

2. Biriyali/Conkerberry

(Carissa Lanceolata)

Biriyali/Conkerberry. Provided by Bunuba/Environs Kimberley.
Biriyali/Conkerberry. Provided by Bunuba/Environs Kimberley.
On Bunuba muwayi, Biriyali is often collected by shaking the tree so the mayi (fruit) fall onto a groundsheet. It is good to eat when the fruit are black and ‘cook’ (ripe) and should be avoided when green or red (unripe).

Bunuba people use smoke from the burning wood to deter mosquitos, and in ceremonies to drive spirits away and give babies strength.

Biriyali is a thorny shrub or small tree that grows up to 3 metres high on sandy or loamy soils across the Kimberley. It has small, black, edible mayi, pointed green wanjali (leaves) and white wirru (flowers), which form in bunches at the end of the stem. The maḻarri (bark) is grey-brown and slightly tessellated.

3. Larrgari/Boab

(Adansonia gregorii)

Larrgari/Boab. Provided by Bunuba/Environs Kimberley.
Larrgari/Boab. Provided by Bunuba/Environs Kimberley.
Fire is common across Bunuba muwayi and Bunuba people know which plants are sensitive to big, hot fires and which are resistant, like the distinctive Larrgari tree.

When Larrgari’s large, creamy-white jawarrjaliny (flowers) bloom, it’s a sign that the rainy season is coming. Plants like Larrgari that indicate seasonal changes are very important to Bunuba people.

The wajarri (fruit) is a large, oval, furry capsule. When it is brown and ripe, the flesh can be eaten; it's often ground up and mixed with sugar to create a custard-like pulp.

It ripens quicker in hot sand and the seeds can be eaten after being roasted in hot ashes.

When water is scarce, kangaroos dig out the pulp to eat and hydrate.

4. Muraga/Inland or Desert Bloodwood

(Corymbia opaca)

A Bush Coconut. Provided by Bunuba/Environs Kimberley.
A Bush Coconut. Provided by Bunuba/Environs Kimberley.
High up on the orange and brown branches of Muraga trees you’ll find balabi (Bush Coconuts), an important bush tucker food that’s a combination of plant and animal.

Balabi occur when a female scale insect irritates the tree until it forms a woody growth, called a gall, around the insect. The female insect then spends the rest of her life in the gall, mating with males via a small air hole.

Balabi can be cracked open using a sharp rock to access the sweet and nutritious flesh inside; the insect is usually eaten as well. Balabi is ready to eat during girinybali (when the rains have finished).

When Muraga blooms, it means cold weather is arriving. Yarrangi Thangaṉi Luṉdu, Mayi Yani-u was produced with support from Bush Heritage and other financial partners, including Environs Kimberley.