Seeds form a staple food among many indigenous peoples and plants native to Australia are no exception. Of all the plant foods in central Australia, seeds are by far the most important. Seeds are usually high in proteins, carbohydrates, and fats and are easily collected, providing a high energy food for the expenditure of relatively small amounts of energy (Latz 1995). Although Australian plants generally produce small seeds they are produced in large quantities. In arid Australia, seed supply is widely available, somewhat predictable and dependable (Flood 1990). These plant products form the dietary staple in that they represent greater than 50% of the total diet and often would constitute 70% to 80%. Hiatt's data compiled from several sources, and describing the proportions of hunting, gathering and fishing performed by various indigenous peoples, lists three central Australian linguistic groups, the Dieri, Arrernte, and Walpiri (Hiatt 1978). In all three cases, 70% of the diet consists of gatherable foods and 30% from hunting. Women are the sole providers of gatherable foods and men the sole hunters and as such, women provide 70% of the total diet of these people in arid Australia. The northern half of the Northern Territory possesses some 40 species of Acacia and although 19 species are useful to Aboriginal people, only one species, A. difficilis has seed that is eaten (Brock 1988). There are other more readily available carbohydrate sources such as yams that require less preparation.
Many grasses provide large amounts of soft seed and have been heavily utilized as a staple food by Aboriginal people, especially throughout arid and semi-arid Australia. The grain was collected, ground to a flour using millstones and water was added to form a paste which was eaten raw or cooked as a damper (unleavened bread) in the ashes. Particular wattle seed was similarly collected, prepared and eaten throughout central Australia. Although these skills still survive (Nganyintja 1985), the use of processed wheat flour has largely replaced these traditional practices (Bryce 1983). These seed grinding practices appear to be a relatively recent technological development. Archaeological excavations in central Australia at Puntutjarpa date the oldest millstones to 3500 years; at Puritjarra they are present for the last 2000 years and at Intirtekwerle, they constitute 10 percent of the artifacts in the last 700 years of deposits. The stratigraphy at two of these sites suggests a massive build-up in the level of the sandplain, the sediments having originated in the Simpson Desert dunefield. This suggests that sites in central Australia older than 5000 years may be deeply buried (Flood 1990). Furthermore, this indicates that Aboriginal people in central Australia have been grinding grass or wattle seed for no more than 4000 years. There are older sites closer to the coast in semi-arid country where the development of such practices became a possibility as a result of the drier climate and in creasing fire frequency. Archaeological evidence from the earliest of these sites, Lake Mungo, in the Willandra Lakes system in western New South Wales, demonstrates the presence of a seed grinding economy over the last 16000 years (Flood 1990).
Of the sixty or so species of Acacia in central Australia, Latz (1995) states that some 50% were, or still are, eaten by Aboriginal people and it is not only the seed which is consumed. Several species exude an edible sugary gum from wounds in the stem or branches which supplies a source of energy. Others are fed upon by insects which themselves secrete an edible substance while species such as A. kempeana are the host for various edible grubs (Kalotas and Goddard 1985) often referred to by non-Aboriginal people as witchetty grubs.
A. ligulata, umbrella bush, is a widespread and common semi-arid species. A. Kalotas (pers. comm. 1994) noted that there are mixed reports of the consumption of this seed. During his research near Warburton (eastern Western Australia_approx. 750 km WSW of Alice Springs) with Ngaanyatjara people in 1981-82, this species was recorded as one, the seed of which was commonly consumed. Anecdotal evidence from Yankunytjatjara speakers (approx. 600 km ESE of Warburton), suggests it was a species only eaten when no other seed was available as it caused hair loss, the hair regrowing sometime later (Kalotas 1985). Pintupi people (approx. 400 km north of Warburton) also say it was regularly consumed but said nothing of hair loss (A. Kalotas pers. commun. 1994). It may be that the alopecia (hair loss) resulted from a combination of factors rather than the action of A. ligulata seed alone. If it was consumed amongst the Yankunytjatjara only when other foods were scarce, then malnourishment may have played a role in the loss of hair. The tropical American legume genera, Leucaena and Mimosa, both closely related to Acacia, cause hair loss, when consumed, as a result of the presence of the amino acid, mimosine (Mabberley 1987; Windholz et al. 1983). When Leucaena was first used as a stock feed in northern Australia it caused problems with cattle. This was remedied when a bacterium was isolated from the gut of cattle in Java and introduced into drinking troughs in Australia (A. Kalotas pers. commun. 1994). It is possible that similar toxic compounds are present in Australian acacias and care needs to be taken in the choice of species and their subsequent screening as a part of any development of a new crop. Brand and Maggiore (1991) state that testing for the presence of toxic compounds is mandatory if these plants are to be developed as new food products. Many legume seeds contain a variety of toxic compounds that are usually denatured by the application of heat. These compounds, if untreated, can disrupt intestinal absorption of nutrients and produce growth retardation (Brand and Maggiore 1991).
Table 2 indicates the number of species of acacia used as a seed food by particular language groups and, conversely, the number of language groups utilizing each species, in central Australia. There are many names for particular species in common between languages, the main reason being the linguistic affinities represented in the table. The Alyawarre, Anmatyerre and Arrernte languages all belong to the Arandic group while Pintupi and Pitjantjatjara are of the Western Desert group. The Walpiri is a member of the Ngarrkic Group but even so, Walpiri names for Acacia aneura, A. kempeana, A. murrayana, A. stipuligera and A. tetragonophylla are similar to Pintupi and Pitjantjatjara names. The name for A. coriacea, pangkuna or pungkuna, is common amongst all the languages. A. adsurgens and A. stipuligera are very similar in appearance, as are A. pachyacra and A. murrayana, and bear the same Alyawerre and Pitjantjatjara names, respectively. Although A. macdonelliensis is common throughout central Australia, only the Alyawerre used it, while A. maitlandii is widespread but rare and was never used by the Walpiri (Latz 1995). Of the 30 species and languages listed, both the Arandic and Western Desert groups ate 20 species, while the Ngarrkic group ate 21 species. A. aneura, A. coriacea, A. cuthbertsonii, A. estrophiolata, A. kempeana, A. murrayana, A. tetragonophylla and A. victoriae are the most common and more widespread species and are, therefore, the most widely consumed species. A. victoriae is present throughout the entire area, is common and used by all language groups.
Wattleseed is in high demand for use as a ground product in pastries and breads and also as a flavoring in desserts, especially ice-cream. It is also used to produce a high quality coffee-like beverage. Wattleseed is one bushfood product collected almost exclusively by Aboriginal people from wild populations throughout its natural range. The species most commonly collected is Acacia victoriae Benth. as it is generally regarded as having a superior flavor. A. victoriae is widespread over much of central Australia and fruits during December and January. Yield is unpredictable and is influenced by climatic conditions and, as such, is extremely variable. Wattleseed is not yet grown on a commercial scale and the demand far exceeds the supply. Despite this, small quantities of wattleseed are exported to the U.S., Canada, UK, France, Japan and SE Asia.
Several species of Acacia indigenous to central Australia are planted to revegetate or rehabilitate degraded land predominantly on Aboriginal communities throughout central Australia. Species commonly used throughout Pitjantjatjara Lands include A. victoriae, A. murrayana and A. kempeana (pers. obs. 1995). These are relatively fast growing species adapted to low rainfall and extreme temperatures and are planted to provide windbreaks, reduce erosion and to revegetate damaged sites. As the plants reach maturity they are often used for other purposes such as firewood or artifact manufacture (Last 1990) but less commonly for food. Edible grubs (maku) are extracted from the roots of A. kempeana at any opportunity but seed is not usually collected for food (M. Last pers. commun. 1995). These plants have potential as an informal crop, in that they possess a variety of uses which could form an additional source of seed for the bushfoods industry.
A. murrayana is being studied as it has a very different growth habit to A. victoriae. Unlike A. victoriae, it is a spineless species which is a distinct advantage when harvesting seed by hand. In addition, it has potential for soil stabilization and land rehabilitation projects as it is a species capable of regeneration from its roots. This means it can regenerate vegetatively following fire or clearing. The possibility also exists that if crop yields fall due to senescence, the plants could be cut back to ground level without disturbing the soil and the subsequent regrowth should retain the growth and yield characteristics for which it was originally selected.
Work thus far has been aimed primarily at establishing field trials to examine the variation within these plants and the plants' responses to irrigation and fertilizers. Experiments to determine how the plants respond to nitrogen and potassium fertilization and rhizobial innoculation are also in progress.
There are two field trials planted on campus with another to be located at Umuwa in the Musgrave Ranges of northern South Australia. A visit was made to Umuwa in April 1995 to select a site for planting in collaboration with the Pitjantjatjara community.
Studies concerning floral and fruit development and also pollination are planned. Genetic analysis will be performed as part of the examination of variation within these species.
|Acacia species||Former spellingz||Current spellingy||Usesz|
|ancistrocarpa||birauru||pirraru||No use recorded|
|aneura||mandja||manja||Edible seeds; wood for implements|
|coriacea||bangguna||pangkuna||Edible seeds; wood for implements|
|dictyophleba||bilbirinba||pilpirrinpa||Leaves used medicinally|
|estrophiolata||jadanbi||yajarnpi||Wood for implements and sacred objects|
|farnesiana||budunari||putunarri||No use recorded|
|kempeana||ngalgiri||ngalkirdi||Edible seeds; trunk harbours witchetty grubs|
|notabilis syn. pruinocarpax||mandala||marntarla||Edible seeds, gum; wood for implements|
|dictyophleba||badudu||patutu||Wood for spear shafts|
|unidentified||bilingarba||No use recorded|
|cowleana||ganalarambi||kanarlarrampi||Wood for spear shafts|
|aff. aneurax||jabiljaru||yapilyardu||Trunk harbours witchetty grubs|
|adsurgens or tenuissima||minjana||minyana||Edible seeds; wood for implements|
|ligulata?||waralga||wardarrka?||No use recorded|
|spondylophylla||bundalji||puntaltji||Trunk harbours witchetty grubs|
|victoriae||ganabargu||kanaparlku||No use recorded|
|Aboriginal linguistic group|
|Acacia species||Alyawarre||Anmatyerre||Arrernte||Arrernte (southern)||Pintupi||Pitjantjatjara||Walpiri|
|acradenia||ampwey mpwiya||NIA||NIA||NIA||NIA||ngardurrkura ngarulkurra|
|adsurgens||ilkirta ilkert ilwerreny alirrinya||atiyipinha ateyepenh ilwerreny lirrinytja||NIA||NIA||NIA||NIA||minyana puju-parnta mintirlpiri kulaki|
|ammobia (syn. doratoxylon)||NIA||NIA||NIA||NIA||NIA||utjalpara||NIA|
|(?syn. aneura var. latifolia)||ilpatjata irtetye-irlpelharte|
|aneura (syn. brachystachya)||artitja artety||artitja artety||ititja irtetye manytja||wanari manytja kurrku mantja||wanari kurku kalpilya puyukara wintalyka||yulnantji? wartiji manja wanajiti|
|colei (syn. holosericea)||alerrey aliriya alyari||alkart alkarta||NIA||NIA||kuna-kuna?||kilkiti kuna-kuna?||kalkardi|
|coriacea||awenth ntjirrima||akiyrlpirra awenth ntjirrima||pungkuna||irrkili yirrkili pangkuna||kunapuka mulupuka||pangkuna kunarnturu wakirlpirri|
|cowleana||aliriya alerrey||alkarta alkart||NIA||NIA||kilkiti||NIA||kanarlarrampi kalkardi parrapi|
|cuthbertsonii||alhanker irley pirley||pilhi perley ulyuya lywey||yalpirri piliyi||alpiri kalirma||pirliyi|
|dictyophleba||ulupula ulunkurra alhanker alhepalh||ulkurnarra lkwernarr paturta partwert||ilpakilparra ilpakilparre||minytju mulyati yurrtjanpa utjanypa||mintju ngarkalya||wurpardi yinjirtingu yurrpardi pilpirrinpa patutu matutu marlarntarrpa|
|estrophiolata||athiyimpa athimp athinga atheng||tjarnpa tywarnpe atjarnpa atyarnp athenga tunga||tjwarnpa tywarnpe||walakarri||utjanypa tjau||walirri yajarnpi wajarnpi ajarnpa|
|inaequalatera (syn.pyrifolia)||NIA||NIA||NIA||NIA||NIA||NIA||janjirnngi janjinki|
|kempeana||atnyima atnyem||utnyima atnyem||tnyima tnyeme||yilykuwarra ilykuwarra iripili piyanpa||ilykuwara||ngarlkirdi yiripili|
|maitlandii (syn. patens)||ilupa-lupa lwepe-lwepe|
|murrayana (syn.frumentacea)||arrilya arrely||arrilya arrely||irrilya irrelye||nyurrinpa||tjuntala tjuntjula||juntala|
|pruinocarpa (syn. notabilis)||NIA||NIA||itawara|
|stipuligera||mpwiya ampwey||NIA||NIA||NIA||tjilpirinpa tjirrpirinypa wilpurra||NIA||jirrpirinypa kurapuka wirlpurpa ngirnti-yirrpi|
|tenuissima||antjulinya antywerleny artepwel||antjulinya antywerleny||NIA||NIA||NIA||minyana kuwiyangayi watiyawarnu kulaki nyintirriyilpi watiyawarnu|
|tetragonophylla||alkitjirra arlketyerr||alkitjirra arlketyerr||ilkitjirra arlketyerre||wakalpuka||wakalpuka kurara kurungantiri||kurarra|
|victoriae||arlupa arlep||arlupa arlep||tupurla urlupa urlepe||tuperle||pulkuru||aliti ngatunpa||kanaparlku yalupu yarlirti|