Living with the land


Traditionally Wiradjuri did not own land but were responsible for taking care of Country. The Wiradjuri people lived by actively farming the land, combining this with their intricate hunting practices, by using their extensive knowledge of food and water resources. In most areas, a few hours of hunting and farming provided ample food and raw materials to sustain the population. Being intimately acquainted with the breeding and migration patterns of wildlife as well as the cycle of flowering and fruiting plants created a world of being able to live sustainably.

Bush food and medicine

About half of the food eaten came from plants, with fish, animals and birds also providing important elements. Diet was affected by the availability of food due to the seasonal change.

In cool to warming weather with rising river levels filling up billabongs, lakes and creeks, land animals moved off flood plains in preparation for flooding. The increasing water would see an increase in the population of food sources such as kangaroos, emus, small animals such as lizards, possums, wombats, fish, mussels, yabbies, bird eggs, witchetty grubs and water birds.

In hot and dry weather with water levels declining, fish traps where made and restored because of receding water. People would stay near the water sources such as swamps, billabongs and rivers which would provide a rich diet of fish, crayfish, mussels, water birds.

In cold and freezing weather many animals are hibernating or move to warmer areas. Marsupials like wombats had to be dug out tunnels, which took a lot of effort and time. People also moved away from the rivers because it was too cold and foggy.

The hunting of game also provided skins for warmth such as: wombats, echidna, snake, possum, kangaroo and in some areas, koalas.

As the weather moves from cool to warm and water levels becoming very low, animals return to the water holes and rivers because there was not a lot of vegetation on the plains: wombats, echidnas, snakes, lizards, emus, possums, kangaroo and in some areas, koalas.

Local plants

Plants were prepared in a variety of different ways for bush foods and bush medicines. Seeds and nuts were ground up using a grinding stone or if necessary, the seeds were soaked or leached in water for days to make them edible. Water was added to the powder and the mixture was kneaded into dough. The dough could then be eaten or cooked.

Binda, Babang, Marrady, Maybal: Grass tree (Xanthorrhoea spp.). The bases of the leaves are sweet and nutty and the heart of the stem was eaten. Nectar was collected from the tall spike flowers. The dry flower stems were used for spears and fire-drill sticks. The tough leaves were used as knives to cut meat.

After a bushfire, globules of resin are produced, it oozes from the trunks of the old grass trees and hardens in lumps. Mixed with warm water and crushed mussel shells, the resin produces a soft glue that sets like concrete. Large grubs living in the plant were collected and eaten. The nectar from the flowers produces a high-energy food. Containing a starch which has 41% carbohydrates more than twice the calorie count of potatoes. “An 1876 Patent detailed how to crush the cores to extract a sweet syrup which could be rendered to make crystal sugar.” (Low, 1988).

Garradyang: Kurrajong (Brachychiton species) The yellow seeds can be roasted and eaten. Fibre from the inner bark can be used for fishing lines and nets. The roots can be tapped in times of drought for water. Kurrajong seeds comprise 18% protein and 25% fat and yield high levels of zinc and magnesium. Inner bark crushed in water and the liquid used as an eyewash (Stewart & Percival 1997).

Gaymaan: Kangaroo Grass (Themeda triandra) Easy to grow tussocky grass. Seeds were ground and baked. The fibre in the leaves and stem was used to make fishing nets.

Gilgandul: Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata) The bark was used for water containers. The seeds were eaten. The wood was used to make stone axe handles and wooden tools and weapons. The gum was used as food. It was eaten or dissolved in water with flower nectar to make sweet drinks. Gum was also used as an ointment or adhesive when mixed with ash.

Nidbul: Spreading flax lily (Dionella revoluta) used as a bush medicine. Both the root and leaf were used in a tea to remedy colds and headaches

Yulan: Black Wattle (A. mearnsii) An open spreading tree provided gum (used as above). The bark was used for twine and medicine (infusion made to treat indigestion). The wood was used for weapons.

Digu, Mumbil, Munbil: Blackwood (A. melanoxylon) A long lived tall tree with seeds high in protein. The green pods may be edible. Wood used for spear throwers, shields and clubs. The fibre was used to make fishing lines. An infusion made from the bark was used as a treatment for rheumatism.

Biradur: Inland Pigface (Carpobrotus modestus, Sarcozona praecox) The salty tasting leaves were eaten fresh or cooked, or the juice squeezed out to drink. The sweet red succulent fruit ripen in summer when it was eaten raw.

Bulaguy, Miranggul, Galgang Barrinan: Salt Bush (Enchyena tomentose, Atriplex nummularia, Rhagodia spinescens) Tasty red button-like berries also used to make paint for the face. Leaves were used as a green vegetable.

Gumbi Gumbi: Butterbush (Pittosporum angustifolium) Also known as native apricot although the fruit is not eaten. Used for bush medicine to treat coughs, colds, eczema, amongst other ailments.

Guwandang: Quandong (Santalum acuminatum). Red fruit was eaten raw or dried for later use and the kernel of the fruit was used for bush medicine. The wood from the tree was used to make bowls (gulamans/coolamons)

Ngarridyu, Murnang: Yam Daisy (microseris lanceolata). The tuber provided a good starchy food. A staple food source for many First Nation communities across southern Australia, it was almost made extinct through the introduction of grazing.

Nidbul: Flax Lily (Dianella revoluta) A robust tufted spreading plant. The fibre was used to make baskets and nets. The shiny dark blue berries were eaten and used to obtain blue dye.

Dirramaay: Chocolate Lily (Dichopogon strictus) Tuberous roots were eaten, sometimes roasted.

Budhaanybudhaany: Old Man Weed (Centripeda cunninghamii) A medicinal plant. Large bundles of the plant were boiled and used as a tonic for colds and as a skin lotion.

Baaliyan, Dhamiyag: Bulrush (Typha Cumbungi/ Orientalis / Domingensis) A multi-purpose plant. The roots were steamed. The young shoots were eaten raw. The fibre was used to make nets.

Birrigan, Yadhandah: Emu Bush (Erimophila Longiflora) Regarded as an important bush medicine. The leaves were placed on hot embers and the smoke used for sterilisation.

Gabudha: Common Rushes and Reeds (Phragmites australis, Bolboschoenus) The tall bamboo-like stems made good spears, and were also cut up into short lengths to make necklaces. The leaves were used to make bags and baskets. The young underground tubers were roasted like cakes. Mat-rush (Lomandra longifolia) The long smooth leaves were used to make baskets, mats and eel traps. The flowers provided nectar. Tufts of leaves were pulled from the clump and the white bases were chewed. Basket Sedge (Carex tereticaulis) fibres along the stems were also used for making baskets.

Galgang: Hop Bush (Dodonaea viscose) Leaves were chewed to relieve toothache (the juice was not swallowed).

Gamalang, Gumba: Native Raspberry (Rubus hillii, parvifolius) A bush similar to the blackberry. The red fruits were eaten. Small leaves were soaked in warm water and drunk to relive stomach upsets. Ripens in the December-January period.

Yarra, Biyal, Maranggaal: River Red Gum (E. camaldulensis) The bark was used for canoes. Suitable roots were made into boomerangs.

Gulaman Coolamon

A dish or bowl used by women to carry food, water and babies. Gulamans were also used for preparation of ochre for ceremony and for burials. Our Ancestors made Gulamans by cutting bark from a tree using a stone axe and wedges to lever the shape from the tree.  The inside of the coolamon was scraped and smoothed. Trees bear the scars from where the bark was removed but are not harmed in the process.

Waybarra Weaving

Our Ancestors wove a variety of items for everyday use including baskets, dilly bags, mats, traps and nets. Narrbang (dilly bags) and baskets were woven from natural fibres and were mainly designed and used by Wiradjuri women to gather and carry food and other items. Women made nets and Marraanba (fish traps) by weaving grasses and reeds which were used to catch fish, eels and freshwater yabbies.

The fibre from local grasses, reeds and plants such as kangaroo grass, wallaby grass, flax lily, mat rush, bulrush, sedges, rushes and lomandra were used for weaving items used for fishing, gathering and storing food. Feathers and animal skin was also used. Paperbark was soaked and beaten to make rope and string. The use of local plants and materials meant that the woven items were both sustainable and compostable. Weaving is a skill practiced by Wiradjuri today and is evident in contemporary art practice.