Mastering the art of making sourdough will be remembered as one of the biggest culinary trends of the Covid-19 era. But as home cooks around the world focused on producing Instagram-worthy loaves, Australian researchers were busy testing the viability of producing ancient grains for mass consumption – an experiment that could have implications for everything from food security to reconciliation.
“See these seeds?” said Arakwal-Bundjalung woman Delta Kay as she gently cradled a seed head protruding from a Lomandra longifolia (spiny-headed mat-rush) plant growing near a popular surfing beach. “Bundjalung people would grind these up to make flour for baking a flat biscuit in hot ashes.” The long, strong leaves, she added, were dried out and used for weaving baskets.
This knowledge, which Kay shared with me on the Aboriginal walking tour she hosts in Byron Bay, in northern New South Wales, dates back tens of thousands of years. Yet it wasn’t until recently that Indigenous traditions of harvesting nature’s bounty, passed down over generations, have begun to reshape common views about how the nation’s first people lived – and cooked – prior to colonisation.