Near Death

 

We’d had a magical morning with aboriginal bushtucker expert, Fred.  He’d introduced me to his wilderness “supermarket” where nature can provide nearly everything for survival.

There was lamandra: a type of grass that has rhubarb-like thick succulent bases to the stems that you can eat.  The seeds can be dried and ground for flour to mix with a little water and bake on a stone for basic flatbread.  And the long grass-like stems themselves are fibrous and strong – perfect for weaving in to baskets or plaiting for a little bush bracelet.

The banksia tree has enormous flowers and equally big seed heads that are packed full of natural oils.  Fred explained that one of these seed heads, pre-heated in a fire, could be carried in your lamandra basket to another camp to start the next fire.  Useful in times without matches and when there are no handy boy scouts to rub together.

He had some invaluable tips for testing which bushtucker is safe to eat: usually, anything red is worth avoiding.  But, if the birds are eating red berries, they are probably safe.  You can double check by rubbing a little of the berry juice on the soft skin inside your wrist.  If it doesn’t react, you can try the next test: rubbing a little on the inside of your lip.  Again, if your mouth doesn’t swell or go numb, its probably safe.  On the other hand, you might prefer to be safe rather than sorry and rely on an expert like Fred.

And minutes later, the risks of nature really came home to me.  When we had finished filming, Toby and a friend went off for a swim.  As I arrived to join them, there was the squealing wheels of police cars and officers asking who had called for help.  I could only guess!

Toby and our friend were about 300 metres out in the sea where they had been swept by a rip current.  There was no way that they could get back to the beach and they were getting cold and tired trying to stay afloat in the choppy water.

Four police cars, two paramedic units, two rescue surfers and two helicopters arrived within minutes – plus the local television reporter.  The first surfer to arrive went straight out with his   board to give them help, closely followed by the second with a special rescue board equipped with handgrips and  straps.

One by one, they were brought ashore on the boards with the helicopters’ downdraft blowing them along.  It really had been touch and go – a few minutes more and they would have drowned.  The paramedics stepped in to check vital signs, wrap them in towels and foil survival “space blankets”.  On their shaky thin white legs, they looked like a couple of oven-ready chickens!

All my hard work to promote the Baking Blind adventure went for nothing – they made the national news that night while I languished on the side-lines!  But the relief was enormous.  I’d felt completely useless standing alone on the beach walkway.  A blind person staggering around on the sand would have just distracted the rescue team so I could do nothing but worry and wait.  My lasting thanks to a man from Cumbria who came to talk to me: he could explain what was going on and reassure me that he could still see two heads out in the sea.       It was a desperate feeling to be completely unable to help in anyway

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Fish – Aboriginal style

Meet the fabulous Fred – bush tucker cook and expert forager as he showed me how to make this superb and simple dish near Seven Mile Beach in Australia  https://youtu.be/40kJYIzyNw4

This was one of the most memorable days during the whole of my time cooking around the world – entirely due to Fred, his knowledge, humour and great food.  His whole sense of place and history brought all those generations of the indigenous people of Australia alive for us info@fredsbushtucker.com.au.  He even had a perfect way of catching fish with leaves from the wattle tree.

But, being modern folk, we’d come equipped with a fresh snapper fish from just an ordinary supermarket while Fred had brought the rest of the ingredients and his barbecue to a local wildlife area.  He too has some disability – along term back injury – but he used his bushcraft to find and make his own walking cane.

This was nearly the same as cooking en papilotte (in a paper parcel) and even his bush equivalent had a similar name.  He’d gathered the paper bark from trees near the Wolagong steel works so they came impregnated with their own Smokey flavour.

The bark was thoroughly soaked while we filled the fish cavity with river mint and lemon myrtle gathered fresh from the wild.

The fish was wrapped in the bark with a knot that would embarrass any Boy Scout. Paper bark is very waterproof so it has many uses from thatching to being aboriginal greaseproof paper for us.  The final touch was to enclose the whole parcel within two huge lily leaves.  They are enormous, thick and succulent  with the perfect shape to enclose a whole fish.  They needed trimming with an axe – I did the chopping while he kept his fingers clear.  The whole plant-made package went straight on to the barbecue for about half an hour and the end result was succulent soft fish scented with the herbs – delicious.