IN Australia the consumption of native animals like kangaroo, emu and crocodile has been going on for millennia. While it’s not a fully fledged commercial industry today, and there’s still some aversion to eating cute native animals, things that hop, run and slither do find themselves onto supermarket shelves, restaurant menus and kitchen tables around the country. Not only is much of the native wildlife high in iron and low in fat, but there’s also plenty of it to go around. Here’s a list of some commonly found Aussie bush tucker. Just remember though, that many of these animals and food sources are protected. It is sometimes possible to get a permit to hunt, but at times only Aboriginal Australians or commercial industries are allowed to kill or farm them. Here’s a list of some bush tucker.

Emu

The emu is Australia’s largest bird and worldwide is second only in height to the ostrich. The birds are flightless but they sure can run with strides of close to three metres. Emus were always an important source of meat to Aboriginal Australians and they used the fat for medicine and as a lubricant. Today commercial emu farming has been quite successful with slaughter for meat, oil, leather and fat. Emu burgers are reasonably common around the country. It’s a healthy meat with little fat and three times the iron content of beef with a similar taste and texture. The emu features on the Australian Coat of Arms along with the kangaroo, which has made some people reticent about eating an emu burger, but both have made it into the kangemu burger – a mix of kangaroo and emu, once sold in the restaurant chain Grill’d.

Emus are common in parts of outback Australia. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

Kangaroo

Kangaroo meat is another food source that Aboriginal people used as a staple. Today the population of kangaroos is estimated between 35-50 million – literally a food source that is hopping around but hasn’t quite gained the commercial appeal it could have, perhaps because of the notion of “eating Skippy” or a much beloved animal puts some people off. However kangaroo meat is very high in protein and low in fat. It should be cooked very lightly as it does not have a lot of fat content or moisture and can easily dry out. Some call it a cross between venison and beef with a more gamey taste. Kangaroo tail roasted in a fire is particularly good.

Eating roasted kangaroo tail. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

Crocodile

This is another meat that is low in fat and high in protein. While crocodiles have long been farmed for their leather hides for use in shoes, belts and handbags, their meat is also popular in Australia. It tastes something of a cross between fish and chicken, and is white in colour. Croc burgers are commonly found up in the Northern Territory where there are large populations and crocodile farming.

Crocodile in the Northern Territory. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

Stinging nettles

Stinging nettles might not be something you’d choose to put down your throat, but when served up in icecream or soup it’s something different altogether. While you might not find nettle products on every shelf around the country, you can either make it yourself or find it in the odd restaurant like Tukka Restaurant in Brisbane’s West End.

Goanna

The goanna, a kind of prehistoric type Australian lizard that can grow up to 2.5 metres in length, is another meat that was and is widely eaten by Aboriginal Australians, although the capture of them has always required some skill – they’re often cornered up a tree or when they come out of their holes. When frightened they can mistake people for trees and can seek to run up you – not a lot of fun. Their oil and fat were, and are, also used by Aborigines for its healing properties. The meat itself is reportedly like oily chicken. Goannas are a protected species, however Aboriginal people are allowed to hunt them and may offer you some.

Nuts

There are numerous nuts in Australia that can be eaten and many are farmed and commonly sold. The most extensive available of these is the maccadamia nut that can be found plain or coated in chocolate, honey or other products and sold in supermarkets, souvenir stores, at the airport and just about anywhere else. The Bunya nut is another popular nut. While spiky and hard on the outside it can be split open and the kern boiled or put in the fire. Indigenous Australians used to celebrate the three year bumper harvests of the bunya trees in places like the Bunya Mountains, west of Brisbane with huge gatherings. People reportedly travelled from great distances to attend  gatherings where ceremonies took place, marriage rights were performed, trade exchanged, discussions had and much food consumed.

The inside of the Bunya nut. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

Wild fruits

There are a number of wild fruits found in the Australian bush that can be eaten safely. The bush banana, also known as the silky pear or green vine is one. Desert limes and quandongs can be eaten, there are bush tomatoes, yams and carrots, a variety of apples, plums and cherries and a host of other things. However with all bush food, exercise caution as some is poisonous. Never consume any kind of berry, fruit or nut unless an indigenous or knowledgeable person points out the right ones, even if they look similar to something you’ve eaten before.

When in doubt about wild foods, ask someone that knows. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

Lily pad roots

The spongy root of the lily pad can be eaten and is something akin to potato. They can be eaten raw but taste much better when boiled. Not only are they easy to come by all around Australia but very easy to harvest as well – simply dig into the base of the lily and pull out the root.

Lily pad roots. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

Sugar bag

Sugar bag is honey made by Australia’s native stingless bees. Indigenous people have long favoured the rather rare honey – a hive may only produce 1kg per year- that is found wild in trees.  This is true bush tucker.