Australian Aboriginal Food

The traditional Australian Aboriginal food was healthy and variable.

Australian Aboriginal People were incredibly clever hunters and gatherers.

In Australian harsh conditions where early European explorers had no idea how to survive, Aboriginal People had passed on 50,000 years of experience through generations and they had a diet at least as healthy as in a modern society.

australian aboriginal food
         Australian Aboriginaal food by Royal Botanic Garden Sydney via

Australian Aboriginal Food Was Very Healthy
It is incredible how clever survivors Aboriginal People were living in the bush, in a country constantly plagued by droughts, floods and bushfires. It was all based on thousands of years of experience and knowledge never written down, but passed on through generations. Their diet was perfectly healthy, they got all the vitamins and minerals we get from our food today, and they were well aware of it. They also had their sweets, and they baked bread and cakes. They had a deep knowledge about plants, animals and seasons, they practiced land management and they knew how to hunt and gather sustainably so that their food resources would last.

Aboriginal Food Was Different in Different Parts of Australia
What Aboriginal people ate depends partly on where in Australia they lived. Australia is a vast country with many different climatic regions, and there were different foods available for people of deserts, tropical rainforests and snowy mountains. They lived in family groups and each tribe had their own territory. Inland territories were larger than the coastal ones, because the food is scarcer in deserts. Within the territory they were nomadic, and wandered to places where food was more abundant in different seasons. They didn’t cross the borders of other tribes’ territories, except when they accessing some festivals or inter-tribal religious ceremonies.

Men Were Hunters and Brought Home Larger Animals
Men were hunters while women were gatherers. When hunting larger animals, the Aboriginal men often worked in groups, while smaller animals were often hunted individually. There was plenty of animal food like kangaroos, wallabies, echidnas, possums, bats, pademelons, bandicoots, goannas, lizards, frogs, snakes and birds like cockatoos, parrots, ducks, emus, swans and bush turkeys. Coastal people also ate a wide range of seafood, fish and marine animals like dugongs and turtles. Aboriginal men used a wide range of tools like spears and boomerangs while hunting. Nocturnal animals were not hunted during the night, but caught in their burrows where they were sleeping during the day. Aboriginals also knew how to lure emus into spearing distance, and they knew how to poison fish in lakes and waterways by placing certain poisonous plants into the water.

Women Were Gatherers and Collected Plants and Insects
Women’s job was to gather mussel shells, plant food, insects and mushrooms. There are plenty of eatable plants in the Australian bush like herbs, seeds, nuts, fruits or roots of many species eucalypts and acacias, palm trees and other plants like Lemon Aspen, Akudjura, Wild Rosella, Lemon Myrtly, Macadamia, Lilly Pilly, grass trees, fig trees, Quandong, Cocky Apple and many others. Collecting and preparing plant foods required a lot of knowledge because many plants are poisonous. Aboriginal women were clever to remove the poisons in plants by soaking them in water for weeks. Wattle, melaleuca and banksia flowers were a good source of nectar for sweets. Salt that was used in cooking was collected from mangrove leaves in coastal areas and desert lakes in the inland.

Fat Was Important in Australian Aboriginal Food
In coastal communities, small seafood like mussels and oysters were collected from rocky shores and mangrove habitats. In the mangroves, there were also mangrove worms and mangrove crabs. Aboriginal People used a fair bit of energy so fat was very important in their diet. They ate certain animal species in the time of the year when they were fattest. Bird and reptile eggs, and many insects like witchety grubs, bogong moths and green ants provided some valuable fat sources.

How Australian Aboriginal Food Was Prepared
There were various ways of preparing food. Meat was generally cooked on fire or steamed in pits. Sometimes it was wrapped in bark or leaves. Flying foxes for example were wrapped in Alexandra Palm leaves, and when the leaves were unwrapped after cooking, the skin was removed by leaves. Plant foods were washed, grinded, strained, grated, boiled or cooked in large seashells or in bark troughs. Roots were dried in the sun or roasted on hot ashes and sometimes baked into cakes. Nuts and berries were also sometimes baked into cakes and bread, which was eaten with meat, fish, crabs and oysters.

Australian Aboriginal Food: Sustainability
Water was carried in kangaroo skin water bags. Water sources, particularly in the inland deserts were sacred and looked after. Aboriginal People also knew how to make other resources to last, they didn’t hunt too young animals and they avoided hunting a species during their breeding season. They domesticated the wild dingo to help them hunt and find animals. They lit fires where certain species needed regular burning. And they created habitats for insect populations. Plant and animal parts that weren’t eaten were used to make weapons, household items like skin bags and buckets, and an array of bush medicine.

Where to Experience Australian Aboriginal Food
You can taste Australian Aboriginal food in many places in Australia. Many restaurants have bush tucker on menu; and Aboriginal people organise bush tucker tours in deserts, tropical rainforests and many national parks, where they explain what plants were collected, how they were prepared and what they were used for. In many national parks you can also see Aboriginal shell middens – heaps of shells left behind thousands of years ago.

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