Queensland’s bunya nut season has just finished but when the next nut fall occurs in 2021, Queensland artist Leeton Lee hopes more people treat them as a tasty bush food, not annoying garden waste.
Facts about bunya nuts
- Each cone can contain up to 100 nuts
- It’s believed dinosaurs ate the cones whole
- The Bunya pine tree flowers every 3-4 years
During the bumper season Lee collected thousands of nuts around the Mount Tamborine area where he lives.
A post on Facebook to gauge local interest in learning how Aboriginal people cooked and ate them attracted a lot of attention.
“December, January, February — if you’re anywhere near these you’ll want to be looking up,” Leeton Lee said. (Supplied: Leeton Lee)
“The reaction was quite overwhelming, I was expecting 10 to 15 people but I had 100, 130 people book in,” he said.
The nuts were an important food source for Aboriginal people in Queensland and northern New South Wales.
“We’d either roast them on a fire, grind into a paste or flour, cooked up into little cakes, or eat them raw, boiled, or roasted in coals.”
Many of the curious crowd knew of the distinctive, towering bunya pine trees, but not of its giant cones filled with edible nuts.
The cones, which contain up to 100 nuts, can weigh up to 10 kilograms.
“They can kill you!” warned Lee.
“The largest one I got this season was 9.1 kilos.”
Free food — not garden waste
Lee says unfortunately many landowners see the cones as garden waste.
“People pile them into the trailer and take them to the dump because they don’t know there’s a use for them, or they push them into the garden (as mulch).”
Lyndal and Phil Bailey drove several hours from New South Wales to learn from Lee.
“We have a couple of bunya nut trees on our property and we’re really interested to learn how to utilise them,” Ms Bailey said. (Landline: Gordon Fuad)
“I’m a trained food technologist so thought it’d be a really good idea to see how we could incorporate those into our normal living,” Ms Bailey said.
“They’re monstrous trees, there’s got to be some value to having them on our property.”
Locals Naomi and Jason Armstrong had some nuts but didn’t know what to do with them.
“We found them the other week and it would great to know how to cook them and make something out of them,” Ms Armstrong said.
“There’s a lot more interest now in foraging for food and in native bush food I think that’s Australia wide.”
Mr Armstrong added: “They’re still sitting in the garage but we’ll use them now.”
“It would be great cooking them up and making something out of them,” Mr Armstrong said. (Landline: Gordon Fuad)
Lee gave away thousands of nuts, and local foodies pitched in by using bunya nuts in modern dishes like hummus and pesto to inspire visitors when they got home.
“To look over [to the stall] and see that there were lots of people asking questions, tasting, nodding their head, they were good signs we’ve done something special here today.”
The largest stand of bunya pines in the world is in the Bunya Mountains National Park 200km north-west of Brisbane.
“They say the bunya pine is about 200 million years old, the individual trees we have here are possibly up to 800 years old,” head ranger Kelvin Quinn said.
While visitors are not allowed to take the nuts, local wallabies are allowed to pig out on them every three years.
“They believe the dinosaurs would have eaten them, probably ate them whole,” he said.
Bunya Mountains: An important meeting place
Months before the nut season a message stick was sent out inviting up to 20 tribes in Queensland and New South Wales to gather.
Mr Quinn says it’s still an important place for Aboriginal people.
Ranger Kelvin Quinn is in charge of protecting the Bunya pines in the Bunya Mountains National Park. (Landline: Craig Berkman)
“It’s been compared to Parliament House, its amongst the big sacred sites in Australia,” he said.
“It wasn’t just a feast of the belly, it was a feast of the soul.”
Tribes took nuts home with them and planted them all along their journey.
Lee’s great grandparents were given five bunya nuts as a wedding present; four trees are still standing.
“It’s the gift that keeps giving,” Lee said.
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