*photography: >>photo essays: Native bush foods, Uluru
While staying as a guest of the Mutitjulu Aboriginal community at Uluru, I was invited to join Anangu people in harvesting and eating some of their most common bush food. Witchetty grubs were a staple of Aboriginal desert peoples before colonization, being very high in protein. They were also given to young children during teething. The witchetty grub bears no resemblance to the common garden grub which, having different properties, is inedible. The witchetty grub lives inside the roots of acacia desert trees and women harvest them using sharp digging sticks to get to the trees' roots. When cooked briefly over a fire, its skin turns crispy while the centre remains soft. The taste is very much like roast chicken with a buttery-nutty aspect to the flavour.
Honey ants live underground and are dug up with shovels and digging sticks. Honey is stored in sacs attached to the ant's abdomen. You simply detach the sac and pop it straight into your mouth. Deliciously sweet, it tastes like wild harvested honey. Both these activities require a lot of energy and intimate knowledge of the land. You have to know which trees in the vast desert landscape have witchetty grubs in their roots. You don't know until you dig down and break open the roots, whether it contains witchetty grubs or not. The physical exertion of digging is very hot and tiring in the desert, even on a winter's day and I was amazed by the stamina of the women elders.
These two outings were my first opportunity to share in the experience of digging up and eating witchetty grubs and honey ants with Aboriginal desert people on their own lands - a valuable experience for a non-indigenous coastal Australian to learn and share in some traditional Aboriginal desert culture.