Hunting and collecting
Hunting, collecting and use of marine resources
|Aborginal and Torres Strait Islander people have relied on the sea to provide food, like this cuttlefish|
For thousands of years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have used the natural environment and its resources for both cultural and economic purposes in a sustainable way. The colonisation of Australia brought rapid changes to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and has dramatically affected the land and the way people live. Today Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a right to continue their cultural practices within their own sea countries in the Marine Park. This includes traditional use of marine resources through activities such as collecting, hunting and fishing. An important objective for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people reef-wide, and for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), is to ensure that hunting of marine animals like marine turtles and dugongs occurs at sustainable levels. This is because the populations of these animals are also under threat from many other natural and human activities.
Due to the introduction and adoption of new technology, Indigenous people today may live more modern lifestyles than in the past. For example, in the past Indigenous people used wooden outrigger canoes and wooden spears for transport, fishing and hunting, whereas today they may prefer to use small motorized boats, fishing rods and spear guns. This is still considered traditional use because it is the cultural practice of activities such as hunting and gathering of animals, the knowledge of where to find them and the preparation, social sharing and consumption of food resources that is important rather than the tools used. Today, oral, visual and traditional histories provide the link to their pasts and are the fundamental elements that keep their living cultures alive.
Different types of food from the sea
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have relied on the sea to provide food for thousands of years. Before Europeans came to Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had a wide variety of food to choose from. The types of foods eaten were dependent upon the season and the geographic area where people lived. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people only took what they needed and were selective about the sex and maturity of animals taken in order to allow resources to replenish and prevent wastage. Today, food from the sea is still an important to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to practice the many complex ways of collecting food and preparing meals as they enjoy eating their traditional foods.
Fishing and the collection of marine resources is an important part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and diet. Creeks, rivers, beaches, islands, coastal and sea areas provide barramundi, bream, jewfish, catfish, cod, eels, grunter, prawns, crayfish, oysters, periwinkles, stingrays, sharks, crabs, turtles, turtle eggs, dugongs, bird eggs, bird droppings (used for fertilising garden beds), clam and triton shell amongst other things. In remote coastal areas, dugongs and marine turtles are highly valued because they provide food to communities where a nourishing diet is essential but often expensive to attain. In addition, these marine food resources strengthen Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and demonstrate connection with traditional sea country.
Sharks and stingrays
Past and present coastal Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people seasonally harvest stingrays and sharks from the sea and estuaries. The Aboriginal tribes located on the east coast of Cape York for example, the Lockhart and Hopevale communities, prefer to eat specific types of ray1. Some of the favourite types of ray include:
- Cowtail ray
- Thorny ray
- Long-tailed ray
- Mangrove ray.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people use indicators in the environment to determine the best time to harvest their food sources. For example, for some tribes on the east coast of Cape York the first thunderstorm of the wet season or the sighting of Torres Strait pigeons are considered the time to harvest stingrays1. The livers of stingrays and sharks are highly prized by some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and considered sacred objects of the highest degree2,3. It is known amongst many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that the liver of a stingray is suitable for eating if it is oily and pinkish white in colour. It is also known that stingrays and manta rays with two spines are inedible1. The 'young' and 'fat' livers are valued as a delicacy2. The liver of these animals contains iron and vitamins, providing strength to those that eat it and is a particularly important food source for babies and elders4.
Examples of food preparation
In the Torres Strait and on Cape York Peninsula, underground ovens called kup-murri (pronounced cup-muh-ree) are made to cook food. Torres Strait Islanders make buunhdhaarr (pronounced boon-dar) by boiling the shark and ray's livers and flesh separately, then mincing the two together1. A shallow hole is dug in the ground and filled with rocks, wood and dry leaves in a dome shaped arrangement to help make a big fire that will heat the rocks. Once the majority of the wood is burnt and the rocks are heated, some of the rocks are set aside and the food that has been wrapped in banana and coconut leaves (or in modern times a combination of the leaves followed by aluminium foil) is placed in the centre of the pit. The rocks that were set aside are then placed on top of the food to help it cook evenly. Once this is done more leaves are placed onto the pit along with hessian bags, then sand to lock in the heat. Food is removed after several hours. Cooking times differ depending on the type of food being cooked and the temperature of the rocks.
- Smith, A.J., 1987, An Ethnobiological Study of the Usage of Marine Resources by Two Aboriginal Communities on the East Coast of Cape York Peninsula, Australia., PhD Thesis, James Cook University, Townsville
- Meehan, B., 1982. Shell Bed to Shell Midden. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, ACT
- National Oceans Office, 2004. Description of Key Species Groups in the Northern Planning Region. Hobart
- MESA, 2005. Utilising resources of the Great Barrier Reef. Marine Education Society of Australasia Inc. Viewed on 17 January 2005.