Beyond The Merri
As I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, the word ‘Murnong’ suddenly caught my attention. A story had been written about the Murnong Mammas—a Koori catering service based in Castlemaine, 120 kilometres north-west of Melbourne.
The group are working to renew interest in Australian Indigenous food. As I read their story, I was excited to see the Murnong being used as a food source again and to see people showing others how important this small plant has been, and continues to be.
Murnong Mammas was founded in 2014 by Sarah Frost, a Worimi woman from Newcastle, NSW, and Melinda Harper, an artist and mother of two Aboriginal children.
Their idea was to develop a menu of healthy food that uses Australian native ingredients. The name ‘Murnong Mammas’ was a natural fit; it made sense for the group to pay tribute to a plant which they used regularly and which was also commonly eaten by Aboriginals before colonisation. Since then, the group have been on a journey of discovery through experimentation, research and the sharing of ideas.
Melinda explained that the Murnong Mammas help introduce the local people of Castlemaine to Aboriginal culture by creating delicious food with traditional ingredients, including the Murnong root.
‘I think Murnong Mammas is great way of teaching people about Koori Culture; it enables conversations to happen, knowledge is shared, and we have found the general public is very interested.’
The project has also allowed the group to work with Aunty Julie McHale, a cultural education coordinator with experience working with Australian native plants and food. For many of the women, learning about their traditional food is eye-opening.
‘There is so much about Australian indigenous plants we don’t know yet, so we are also constantly learning and discovering’, Melinda said. ‘We get very excited and are really happy to talk and share what we know to groups. We don’t really do bush tucker; we use the ingredients to enhance flavours and explore new ways of combining them.’
To the average Australian the Murnong holds little significance. However, it is a plant rich in history and meaning. I began a journey to find the Murnong and along the way I realised that to truly find it, I had to be willing to delve into the history of Australia’s first peoples.
For the Aboriginals of pre-colonisation Australia, the Murnong was an essential food source which sustained their communities for thousands of years; for the people of Merri Creek, it represents a chance to return a piece of history to its former home through careful cultivation; and for the Murnong Mamas of Castlemaine, it is a way to teach others about Aboriginal culture through food. I discovered that, connected to this one tiny plant, there exists a wealth of knowledge and experience.
Some of the photos in this piece were donated by MECCARG, a volunteer group which works to rejuvenate the indigenous cultural landscape, including dwindling stocks of Murnong. You can find out more on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/meccarg/