The mighty bunya provided an annual feast

Bunya trees and bunya nuts occupy an important part of our history. Only in the Blackall Ranges and the Bunya Mountains were there naturally great forests of bunya trees and where the great gatherings of Aborigines were held. 

In the days before the arrival of Europeans, Aborigines gathered from as far south as the Northern Rivers district of New South Wales, the Maranoa and the Burnett to feast on the nuts. Well established pathways led to the event.

The Bunya Mountains are just three hours drive west of the Sunshine Coast. The remaining great forests of bunya trees in this national park are spectacular.

Tom Petrie is one of the few white men to record the bunya feasts. Because many animals of the forest depend on this food as well, the Aborigines would climb the trees and knock down the cones to be sure of their own supplies.

Notches were cut into the bark of the tree to assist the men in hauling themselves up, with a vine around their waist.

For the Aborigines the journeying and the feasting on bunya nuts was a major cultural event, a kind of inter-tribal parliament.

They held displays of fighting skills and hunting, at night there were corroborees, singing, dancing and storytelling.

Bunya trees also grew in the Maroochy River district.

Explorer Andrew Petrie, who collected specimens of the bunya trees after exploration in 1839, persuaded Governor Gipps to make the following proclamation in the New South Wales Government Gazette in 1842.

Colonial Secretary’s Office Sydney, 14 April, 1842

It having been represented to the governor that a District to the Northward of Moreton Bay in which a fruit bearing tree abounds, called bunya or banya bunya, and that the Aborigines from considerable distances resort at certain times of the year to this district for the purpose of eating the fruit of the said Tree:

His Excellency is pleased to direct that no licences be granted for the occupation of any Lands within the said district in which the Bunya or Banya Bunya Tree is found. And notice is hereby given that the several Crown Commissioners in the New England and Moreton Bay districts have been instructed to remove any persons who may be in the unauthorised occupation of Land wheron the said Bunya or Banya Bunya Trees are to be found.

His Excellency has also directed that no Licenses to cut Timber be granted within the said Districts.

By His Excellency’s Command, E. Deas Thompson

The effect of the proclamation was to create a reserved area from south of the Maroochy River along the Blackall Range and its spurs northward on the ranges where the trees grew abundantly. Here the Aborigines were free to gather and feast on the nuts when they were ready, free from any interference from white men.

However, after Queensland became a separate state in 1859, one of the first Acts passed by the Queensland Parliament repealed Gipps’ 1842 bunya proclamation.

Squatters and timber licences were then available. The Crown Lands Alienation Act allowed closer settlement and all these events marked the end of an era for the bunya forests. Timbergetters and pastoralists moved in. 

The Bunya tree, Araucaria bidwillii, is named after John Carne Bidwill (1815 – 1853) who sent specimens to Kew Gardens in London, thus the tree was named after him.

However, Andrew Petrie was the first to bring this tree and its significance to the notice of authorities but missed out on the use of his name.

Newcomers generally do not like the taste of bunya nuts while those who have acquired the taste love 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.

Every three years for a short season in January and February, bunya trees produce a sizeable crop – and 2018 is one such year.

Dozens of hard shelled nuts spill out from each cone and can be kept cold or frozen to give you a supply all year.

But please watch out for the large cones as they fall.