Day 3 (cont.) – Berry Springs and community gardens
Bruce and Linda kindly gave me their impressions and photos. I’ve added some comments in square brackets.
Berry Springs Nature Park is a picturesque area 47 kilometres south of Darwin [about a 40-minute drive]. It has a series of natural deep pools fed by a large underground spring and is a popular daytrip destination for picnics and swimming in the dry season. [The park may be closed for swimming in the wet season if conditions are considered too dangerous. There are many walking tracks through the woodlands and monsoonal forests.]
Several people took advantage of the beautiful swimming holes. Even I was almost tempted to get in.
Here, we had the pleasure of meeting Lesley, who gave us an introduction to bush tucker [food from plants and animals native to the Australian outback].
As her mob [cultural group] was not local to this area, she was unsure of what bush tucker she would find in the park and decided to play it safe with a smorgasbord of delicacies she had gathered elsewhere and a small library of books.
While she had several types of berries and a home-cooked magpie goose stew (a bit on the tough side), the star of the show in my opinion were the “longbums” (also known as mud whelks [possibly Telescopium telescopium or Terebralia palustris]). These molluscs are a type of mangrove snail with long, conical shells. Traditionally they are cooked with the pointy end of the shell facing down, shoved into some hot coals, with the shell opening pointing up and clear of the ash and grit. They can also be boiled. To eat, you poke a sharp metal object into the opening, snag the meat and slowly pull it out of the shell, remove the bright blue? (or was it green?) rubbery mouth piece and then shove the whole snail into your mouth. Quite a delicacy! Lesley also showed us the cone snail or longbums’ “cheeky” [dangerous] cousin. This snail looks very similar to a longbum but, unlike the longbum, its opening has a slit that runs across most of the length of the shell and it is venomous.
While we were sampling the various delicacies, Lesley explained the Aboriginal concept of seasons and how they are inextricably linked to the local flora and fauna and, in turn, the lives of the Aboriginal people. (See the Bureau of Meteorology’s website for a description of some Indigenous calendars around Australia.)
After lunch, we went for a short walk with Lesley pointing out various plants that are used in Indigenous cultures either as a source of food, fibre and/or medicine. She also gave us an introduction to weaving with some young leaves picked from the centre of the pandanus. Stripping the leaves into thin pieces ready for weaving is definitely a highly skilled art.
For me the highlight was Lesley, who is a great teacher with lots of information about native use of plants – bush tucker, medicinal, weaving and dying of baskets and the like. I take more photos when I’m impressed – so I took lots of her with her books, food plants, “long bums”, preparing pandanus leaves for weaving. She cooked a magpie goose stew for us. It was reportedly a bit tough. She also took us on a walk through nearby bush, pointing out lots of useful plants.
The first community garden was the best. Larger, more of a permaculture garden. Bringing back to life a desolate site on waste land. Very well organised, with defined garden areas and an emphasis on tropical food plants, also an impressive compost-making area, and a segment devoted to native vegetation restoration. All still very much a work in progress, but making good progress. A very happy, knowledgeable and devoted crew doing the job.
The second one was more along the lines of traditional UK allotment gardens, with each member having a specific area of their own to plant what they want, mainly vegetables. Some members more enthusiastic, others with less time available with a resultant weed issue.
Third one I didn’t look at and sat chatting with Kath (we solved the problems of the world!) in the morning tea area. I was a bit hot and tired by that time. But it did seem well organised. Run by a church group.
Joy still in Darwin
I don’t know whether Lesley talked about the ubiquitous green ants, but here’s a run-down on them and how they can be eaten. I recently saw the product below – riffing off tequila with worms, I suppose – in a bottle shop at home. I didn’t buy it because it was expensive, but if anyone else has tried it, I’d be interested to know what it tastes like.
According to the producer’s website :
Award Winning Green Ant Gin – Green Ants traditionally favoured by the indigenous societies for their medicinal benefits and protein contect. The Green Ants are a unique bush tucker hand harvested in the Northern Territory by the Motlop family of the Larrakia People.
The Green Ants add a Kaffir Lime/Corriander flavour with a big lime burst on the palate.
After getting back from the museum, I dozed for a couple of hours in my air-conditioned room before the others got back, quite late in the afternoon, and then had dinner with Linda and Bruce at a Vietnamese restaurant. You know you’re in the right place when practically all the other diners are non-Caucasian. The paw paw salad was delicious and I could actually taste the dressing.
We all had to take a RAT that evening to make sure we weren’t carrying covid – this was a requirement of our next hosts, Walking Country, who were going to pick us up in the morning for the long trip to Kakadu via Litchfield National Park.
To be continued …