Bush Tucker in Indigenous Artwork

As talked about in our previous article “Learn About the Amazing Foods that the Australian Bush has to Offer” for thousands of years First Nations people have gathered and prepared native fruits, vegetables, herbs and seeds. Bush Tucker is a way in which Indigenous peoples continue to connect with Country, and artwork serves as an important expression of this. These artworks tell stories of different bush foods, how they are gathered and eaten. Art is one of the key ways that this important knowledge is passed on from generation to generation (Utopia Lane Gallery, 2021).

Alpar Seed Story by Maggie Bird. Courtesy of Utopia Lane Gallery, 2021.

Bush foods are depicted in a number of different ways through Indigenous artworks. Sometimes this is in more abstract forms through the use of symbols, this is particularly when the painting is connected to a Dreamtime story in which the designs are also influenced by song, dance and interconnecting Dreamtime stories. Symbols used often represent the tools used to collect the bush foods. These include coolamons (carved wooden bowls) which are depicted as oval shapes, digging sticks which are shown as straight lines and concentric circles which often show the site where the bush tucker is being collected. Many paintings will also feature tracks in the sand the women leave behind. For children, paintings of bush tucker are an excellent introduction to learning how to “read” an artwork, meaning to understand its story from the symbols presented (Central Art, 2021) .

Bush Tomato by Marie Ryder. Courtesy of Utopia Land Gallery, 2021.

While symbolism within Indigneous artworks is common, bush tucker is also often illustrated in its natural form. These kinds of paintings show the true shapes and colours of fruits, herbs and insects. The artworks will often also show women collecting the foods and going about their daily rituals. Collecting bush tucker is a common subject that many Utopian artists and other Central Australian Aboriginal artists paint. An example of this is the artwork above “Wild Tomato” by Marie Ryder. This artwork depicts women collecting awele awele (wild tomato). The U shapes represent the women sitting, they have their digging sticks on one side and a decoratively carved coolamon (wooden bowl) on the other side. Awele awele grows commonly throughout Central Australia. It produces beautiful purple flowers and grey leaves. Once collected Indigneous people eat them raw or cook them in the hot earth by the fire (Utopia Lane Gallery, 2021).

Bush Plum by Polly Ngale. Courtesy of Kate Owen Gallery, 2021.

As talked about earlier bush tucker can often also form a key part of Dreamtime stories. Bush Plum Dreaming is a key Dreamtime story from the Anmatyerre people of the Northern Territory. This important food source is harvested by shaking the trees until the fruits fall to the ground, they are then soaked in water to soften them for eating. The painting above is by Polly Ngale, it depicts bush plums through a blend of Dub Dub technique (coined by Emily Kame Kngwarreye) and her own unique large dotting technique. Bush Plum Dreaming is also a common story within the Utopian region. Bush Plum because of its significance as a food source is also a totem for many Indigenous people. Artists will often depict the fruit at different stages of ripeness through different styles and colours. In contemporary times painting gives these women a way of educating everyone about the significance of this Dreaming story (Central Art, 2021). 

Bush Potato by Alicka Napanangka Brown (Warlukurlangu Artists) 

Here at Yarn we have a number of products which feature beautiful artworks showcasing bush foods. The artwork Bush Potato by Warlu Artist Alicka Napanangka Brown tells a story about collecting “Yarla” Bush Potatoes by the creek. These edible tubers grow from the roots of the plant and when cooked that they are soft and tasty. As seen through all of these beautiful artworks Bush Foods form a crucial part of Indigenous culture, both as an important part of everyday life and Dreaming stories.