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The first humans to settle in Australia arrived around 65,000 years ago as people migrated from what is now Southeast Asia over land bridges and short sea-crossings. These early inhabitants are the ancestors of modern-day Indigenous / Aboriginal Australians.
When Europeans began colonising Australia in the late 1700s, most of the Indigenous Australians were hunter-gatherers, with spiritual values based on reverence for the land and its inhabitants. Some engaged in seasonal horticulture, but there were no large-scale farming. Indigenous recipes and methods for food preparation that have survived into our time are commonly referred to as bush tucker. Bush tucker recipes are based on locally available food sources and can therefore vary a lot from one region to the next.
Many of the European settlers in the 18th and 19th century had their culinary roots in the British Isles and this influence is still very strong in Australia. The colonisers brought not just recipes and food traditions but also farming practises that had a huge impact on Australia and changed the range of available food types on the continent. This is how agricultural products from the old world, such as sheep meat and wheat, became staples in the Australian diet.
In the 20th century, new waves of migration reached Australia, especially from the Mediterranean region and East Asia, and this also had a major impact on food practises in the country – combined with the increased globalisation which made it easier and more affordable to import food and be inspired by foreign dishes.
In the early 21st century, organic and bio-dynamic foods have become increasingly popular in Australia, and are now much more abundant in supermarkets than before. We can also see a revitalised interested in both traditional bush tucker and new ways of utilising native flora and fauna as food.
Generally speaking, Australians eat a lot of fruit and it is often served fresh – either as it is or in fruit salads, smoothies and similar. In recent years, there has been a revived interest in native Australian fruits, which are often endemic to Australia.
Here are a few examples of native Australian fruits:
The desert quandong (Santalum acuminatum) chiefly grows in the central desert and southern areas of Australia. The fruit is known as quandong or native peach. The fruit is green at first, but will turn red as it ripens in late spring or early summer. A waxy outer layer makes it shiny. The average size of the fruit is 2 – 4 cm across.
The riberries grown on Syzygium luehmannii, a coastal rain-forest tree native to Australia. The tree is known under several different names, including riberry tree, cherry alder, clove lilli pilli, small leaved lilly polly and cherry satinash.
A ripe riberry is red, pear-shaped and 10-15 mm long. The riberries mature from December to February. The berries taste tart and the flavour is often described as cranberry with a undertone of clove.
In Australia, riberries are chiefly used to make riberry jam and riberry sauce.
The Illaware plum (which isn’t a real plum) grows on an evergreen tree named Podocarpus elatus. The fleshy part of the seed cone is used in condiments.
This tree is known under several different common names in English, including Brown pine, Plum pine and Illaware plum tree. This tree is endemic to Australia’s eastern coast.
Muntries (Kunzea pomifera) are low-growing plants native to Australia’s southern coast. The plants produce berries that are roughly 1 cm in diameter and taste a bit like an apple but more spicy. The texture is crunchy. Mature berries are green with a tinge of red.
The berries are known under many different names, including Native cranberries, Emu apples, Muntaberry, Monterry and Munthari.
The berries are famous for containing several times more antioxidants than blueberries.
K. pomifera was one of the first Australian plants successfully cultivated in England (1889).