The best bush tucker aroundIn the 1840s, Tom Petrie was the only non-indigenous person ever to witness a great bunya feast in the Blackall Ranges.
Aboriginal groups from near and far gathered in the bunya season for feasting and celebration, singing and dancing, retelling stories and holding sporting matches.
Here was a major cultural event, a kind of inter-tribal parliament and well established pathways led to the event.
Andrew Petrie, Tom’s father, recognised the bunya tree as a valuable food source for Aborigines and in 1842, he persuaded Governor Gipps to declare the district north of Moreton Bay and south of the Maroochy River off limits to timber-getters and squatters.
The declaration was called the Bunya Proclamation and forbade the issue of licences to cut timber but in 1860 it was reversed when Queensland became a separate colony. Timber-getters and pastoralists moved in.
Bunya trees, Araucaria bidwillii, are named after John Carne Bidwill (1815 – 1853) who migrated to Sydney in 1838. He explored and collected botanical specimens in both New Zealand and Australia. As Commissioner of Crown Lands in Wide Bay he returned specimens of the bunya tree to Kew Gardens in London and so the tree was named after him.
Poor Bidwill died while only a young man due to privations suffered when lost in bushland.
Some people believe the bunya tree should have been named Araucaria petriana after Andrew Petrie (1798 – 1872) as he was the first to return with specimens to Sydney. Petrie was appointed Supervisor of Works to the convict settlement of Moreton Bay and in the early 1840s explored bunya country, the area now known as the Sunshine Coast.
Where bunya trees are grown in parks or streets, councils use cherry pickers to collect the cones before they fall and before damage is done. They are best grown well away from civilisation as they are too dangerous for suburbia. The large cones generally weigh up to 6kg, sometimes more, and contain dozens of hard-shelled nuts that can be kept in the crisper or cold room for year-round supply.
Last January produced a record crop. Some trees dropped more than 30 cones. It is expected that for at least the next two years the trees will produce very little or nothing.
Your local fruit shop may have some or if you drive out into the country there may be some at the roadside.
Newcomers generally do not like the taste of bunya nuts, while those who have acquired the taste like to have a seasonal feed, raw, boiled or roasted.
Old timers cooked them long and slow with the corned beef. Bush tucker advocates use them in curries and stir fries as well as grinding them for biscuits and cakes.
When they are roasted on hot coals the outside husk is easily removed.
Since 2007 local indigenous groups have been rebuilding the tradition of an annual bunya celebration.
At Mimburi in the Obi Obi Valley alongside the Mary River, at the peak of the bunya season, they gather to tell stories, have competitions, play games, present cooking demonstrations and generally socialise at Bunya Dreaming.