Words: Ana Luíza Muler
'Water trees' are trees used as a source of water for indigenous people. They can be naturally formed, when water accumulates in the centre of the tree, just below secondary trunks. However, they were often deliberately created by the Ngadju people, who use rocks to modify the form of the eucalyptus to create a bowl in the centre to store water.
In a land of little fresh surface water, and limited catchment areas, the knowledge and ability to create water reservoirs was essential to the survival of Ngadju people.
There are two main types of water trees in the Great Western Woodlands: the ones formed by Ngadju from salmon gums (Eucalyptus salmonophloia) and other gum trees; and the thick, watery roots of trees such as the kurrajongs (Brachychiton populneus), Christmas tree (kunapiti—Grevillea nematophylla), and a number of eucalyptus (mallee—Eucalyptus oleosa, black morrel—Eucalyptus melanoxylon, and others).
Nowadays, a collaborative project between the Dahl Trust, The Wilderness Society, The Goldfields Land and Sea Council, and the Ngadju community is in place to locate and map culturally significant ‘water trees’ in the traditional lands of the Ngadju people, which will contribute to safeguarding these trees from damage or destruction.
Watery Tubers (JungkaJungka)
The Twining Fringe-lily (Thysanotus patersonii, Asparagaceae family)—also called Jungkajungka by the Ngadju people—is a fast-growing endemic plant that is widespread through the southern half of Western Australia. The leaves are infrequently formed and the plant dies back to a tuber after flowering. They remain dormant until the following winter. The tubers are white, edible and watery—varying between 20mm and 50mm in length. They look like tiny potatoes, and can be eaten raw or roasted. Also, the stems and flowers are edible and are roasted, made into powder and eaten with the York Gum.
This amazing plant is also the namesake of the JungkaJungka Woodlands Festival.
The seeds of the Acacias have very hard husks that protect them during long periods of dormancy on the ground, allowing seeds to last for up to 20 years in their natural environment. Usually, these seeds will only germinate after disturbance, including fire.
These seeds have provided Indigenous Australians with a rich source of carbohydrate and protein in times of drought, being also used as a source of food for the Ngadju people. The pods were collected and seeds were crushed into flour, mixed with water and cooked into cakes or dampers.
Wattleseed has been described by an Australian superfood company as having a "nutty, roasted coffee aroma, with touches of sweet spice, raisins and chocolate. It has a savoury, nutty, wheat-biscuit flavour”.
These are just a few examples of the myriad ways in which many of the approximately 3,300 plants in the Great Western Woodlands contributed to human society in the woodlands over many thousands of years. Such deep knowledge must be preserved and honoured.