Food food the Soul: Why reviving Native Australian Plants Matters
Extract from Tourism Australia's 2023 Indigenous Cultural Storytellers publication.
“When I lost my grandfather, I realised how close I was to losing a lot of knowledge,” says Damien Coulthard, a proud Adnyamathanha and Dieri man who grew up in the towns of Quorn and Nepabunna, in South Australia.
A talented artist, Damien’s paintings tell Creation stories of his people in the Flinders Ranges region, reflecting his experiences of the landscape and the people. When he’s not making works of art, Damien is a teacher, football player, member of the South Australian Native Title Board and co-founder of Warndu, a company on a mission to REGENERATE culture, community, tradition, health and our soils using Australian Native Plants.
He launched Warndu with his partner Rebecca Sullivan and Siobhan O'Toole as a way of preserving the knowledge his grandfather, and ancestors before that, had passed down to him. “I had a vision – I wanted to restore culture,” he says.
“IT'S SO IMPORTANT TO HAVE A HOLISTIC UNDERSTANDING OF OUR FOOD IN AUSTRALIA, AND INCORPORATING INDIGENOUS PEOPLE INTO THAT DIALOGUE.”
“But I wanted to do it only with businesses that operate with integrity. I thought the ideal way would be to celebrate storytelling through plants and food.” “The interest in native foods has exploded,” Damien says.
“It’s amazing to have so many people wanting to investigate more and be more aware. It was an amazing opportunity for Warndu.” And one that the business shares through on-demand community engagement sessions on the land. Damien, Rebecca and their two young boys live on a 35-hectare estate in South Australia’s Clare Valley, where they grow finger limes, native lemongrass, strawberry gums, lemon myrtle… and so many other plants Indigenous to Australia. “When we have friends over it blows their mind that you can eat this from the garden to get a hit of vitamin C, or add this to your tea to cure your cold. There’s definitely a greater awareness, but there’s still a long way to go.” Damien says he and Rebecca have plans to set up two eco-friendly accommodation offerings on the estate – watch this space. In the meantime, they sell everything from freeze-dried Davidson plums and muntrie powder to wattleseed vinegar and bush tomato oil on warndu.com.
“I WANt to CeleBrAte ABoriGiNAl DiVerSitieS tHrouGH FooD, AND SHAre All tHoSe AmAZiNG CulturAl iNtriCACieS.”
They also sell their two cookbooks here, both dedicated to native bush foods. As an artist, Damien’s work is featured on bottles of Alkina wine from the Barossa Valley. “The paintings [using ochre pigments] share my family narratives that have existed for millennia, as a record and reminder for all diversities and identities of the unique and continuous Aboriginal cultures. “At the end of the day, all I want to do is share my history, raise quality human beings and be surrounded by beautiful parents, family and friends.”