Ancient Wisdom5th November 2014 • Places to Visit • Stephanie Donaldson
We had the great good fortune to spend a morning on a guided walk in the National Parks coastal forest of Jervis Bay with Deirdre, a delightful local Aboriginal woman. It was an enormous privilege to spend time with someone with such a profound understanding of the land and its flora and fauna. She showed us (and we sampled) plants that had been used for thousands of years to quench thirst, to provide medicine and for seasonal food – all without these nomadic people needing actively to cultivate the land. When I was bitten by a mosquito she immediately pulled up a stem of hard leaf bracken by its root, bent the stem in half and twisted it around itself until sap appeared. This was rubbed onto the bite and all itching disappeared within 30 seconds. This is something I will try with British bracken. On the other hand I’m unlikely to emulate the use of a dianella stem as a whistle – apparently it emits a high frequency note that attracts all the snakes in the vicinity! I think the moment that revealed most clearly the way that Aboriginal lives are guided by natural phenomena was when Deirdre paused next to a rather non-descript looking wattle tree and explained its importance as an indicator of what fish or shellfish is in season – in bud, at leaf break, in flower, when it fruits and at leaf drop – it tells them that a different fish is ready to be caught in the local waters. This ensures that the various species have the rest of the year to breed and multiply. From dating the shell middens that can be found along the shoreline it has been established that they have been harvesting the sea this way for at least 20,000 years. True sustainability.