Feature

The wasted wattle

People say we don’t really get a Spring in Central Australia. I think we do, but it’s more like Swing in most years, with the temperature see-sawing between extremes unimaginable in softer climes.

Invariably the occasional record brings predictions of a hot summer, but it doesn’t always follow from a hot September. Having a look at the forward forecast, I see a plunge back into the low 20s is predicted by Saturday… with a welcome drop of rain attached. I guess we’ll see what happens.

One marker of September that is reasonably constant, however, is the mass blooming of Acacia Victoriae, an otherwise drab and not very shapely wattle that has a couple of weeks of glory at this time of year. It deserves it, in my view.

Acacia Victoriae is one of the main sources of edible wattleseed. Aboriginal people used to make damper from it, and in recent years it’s turned up in coffee substitutes, cakes and even ice cream. But every year literally tonnes of it fall to the ground around the Centre, and only a tiny fraction is harvested.

In one sense, it’s no wonder. We got stuck into the tree in our front yard a few years ago and discovered it was hard work for low yields. A couple of years ago roasted and ground seed was fetching upwards of $60 a kilogram, but you need to be very organised to make your work financially viable.

Dietary viability is another matter. We are spending a fortune on the dialysis “industry” as kidney disease continues to claim more and more victims. Many, if not most of them, are indigenous, a sad irony when you consider just how healthy the indigenous diet was before Aboriginal people were introduced to white flour and white sugar.

I remember Central Australian botanist Peter Latz telling me how a handful of ground wattleseed added to a loaf of white bread could radically decrease its glycaemic index reading. That was about ten years ago, and white bread is just the same as it was then and just as popular. Even the fashion for bush foods that was at its height then, accompanied by an annual wild foods cooking competition in Alice Springs, seems to have receded.  Perhaps that is partly due to the departure of cameleer and bush food champion Peter Yates, who used to bake a hefty loaf with dark rye and wattleseed and sell it on weekends at Afghan Traders.

Yates was also involved in introducing Acacia Victoriae to parts of Africa, where it was valued for its anti-erosion qualities as well as its potential for producing protein. He was a voice in the wilderness.

Dave Richards

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