1. Soft Tree-fern

Dicksonia antarctica

Habitat: Gullies of tall, moist forests
Season: All year

People used the soft, starchy pith from the top part (0.5m) of the stem. They split the stem, scooped out the pith and ate it raw or roasted in ashes.

2. Riceflower

Pimelea linifolia

Habitat: Heaths; mountain forests
Season: Flowers in spring and summer

We know the bark of the Riceflower as 'Bushman's Bootlace', but here's how to make string:
Strip the bark, dry it, place in a stream for about one week, dry in sun, soften by chewing/beating with sticks and stones, roll on the thigh and spin into fine, strong thread.
During summer, people came to the high country to feast on thousands of Bogong moths. They caught them in strong, delicate string nets made from Pimelea bark.

Very fine net of string made from the bark of the Riceflower - used to catch Bogong Moths.
'They had very fine meshes and were manufactured with great care, and being attached to a couple of poles they could be readily folded up when they had to be withdrawn from the crevices.' Helms 1895:594.

3. She-oaks

Casuarina and Allocasuarina
(various species)

Habitat: High rainfall areas, along water courses
Season: Winter - Spring (cones)

Imagine chewing these needle-like leaves to quench your thirst ?
In the Canberra region, people ate the leaves and young cones of Allocasuarina verticellata (previously known as Casuarina stricta).
The Ngarrindjeri people of the lower Murray River (Coorong) made shields, clubs and boomerangs from the hard wood.
Allocasuarina verticillata

4 Common Reed

Phragmites australis

Habitat: Edges of creeks and rivers, especially near coast
Season: Summer

Tasmanian people ate the shoots of the underground stems or rhizomes.
People from the lower Murray River collected mussels on inland lakes using large, rectangular rafts made from the long stems layered and bound.
Young men and women wore ornaments made from stem segments, threaded onto fibre or animal fur string.
Necklace made from stem segments of the Common Reed, (with Quandong seeds), (1992).

Women made baskets from the leaves and Murray River people made long, light spears from the tall stems.
Common Reed

Native Raspberry

Rubus parvifolius

The red fruits of this plant are a delicious food.
illustrationNative Raspberry

Bulrush, Cumbungi

Typha species

Technique used for nets made from string of Bulrush fibres.
This aquatic plant grows all over Australia. The underground stems (rhizomes) are rich in starch and can be cooked by steaming in an earth oven. After steaming, the rhizomes can be chewed to remove the starch and the remaining fibre used to make string.
The young shoots were eaten raw as a salad.
This plant was the most important food for people living along the Murray Darling River systems.

Kangaroo Grass

Themeda triandra

The grass heads are easy to recognise. The seeds ripen in summer and people in the tableland and high country areas of New South Wales collected them in great quantities, to grind and bake into cakes.
Kangaroo Grass was gathered in wooden bowls. The seeds were separated and grinding stones were used to produce flour which was mixed with water and cooked to make damper.
illustrationSeed heads of Kangaroo Grass

5 Roots, bulbs

Roots were important vegetable foods in the south-east. Here you can see some of the plants whose roots were eaten such as, Bulbine bulbosa (Bulbine Lily), Arthropodium milleflorum (Vanilla Lily), Burchardia umbellata (Milkmaid) and Microseris lanceolata (Murnong or Yam Daisy) formerly known as Microseris scapigera.
illustrationYam Daisy or Murnong
Yam Daisy was a most important staple food. Women dug the roots with digging sticks and then roasted them in baskets in an earth oven.
illustrationDigging stick made from wattle wood and used by women to dig up roots and tubers.

Aboriginal people believed that the roots of 'murnong' should not be collected before the plants flowered. This was probably because during the drier winter period before springtime flowering, the roots would not be fully developed.

Yam Daisy roots collected in bowl made of eucalyptus bark.

This drawing by J. H. Wedge (1835) shows women digging roots of the Yam Daisy. The roots of this plant were an important food source for people of the Port Phillip area, Victoria.
(Drawing used with permission of the State Library of Victoria).

The roots or underground stems of other plants were also eaten.
Milkmaid.The long tuberous roots were available all year round and were cooked before eating.
Bulbine Lily.The edible corm is surrounded by swollen roots. This plant grows on Black Mountain, ACT.
Potato Orchid.It has a swollen underground stem (rhizome), rich in starch.

6 Nardoo

Marsilea drummondii

Habitat: River flood plains
Season: Dry season

Did you know that the explorers Burke and Wills died from starvation while trying to survive on Nardoo? Nutritious food can be made from the spores of this plant if it is prepared correctly.
Spores form under seasonal water. Aboriginal people in north west Victoria collected the spore cases when the water dried up. They roasted them, discarded the cases then ground the spores to make cakes.


See the spore cases (2) and the spores (3) that are inside. [Smyth 1878 : 217.]

7 Native Cypress-pine

Callitris (various species)

Habitat: Inland and coastal woodlands
Season: All year

Murray River people used the resin from Callitris species as an adhesive for fastening barbs to reed spears and axe-heads to handles.
Axe-head attached with resin from the Native Cypress-pine. These types of axes were used in Victoria, north-western parts of NSW and in Queensland.

From the long branches, they made canoe poles which doubled as fish spears.
Fish spear

8 Banksia

Banksia (various species)

Habitat: Heaths, scrub and dry, open forests
Season: Various flowering times

Q: How do you get to taste the sweet nectar?
A: Soak the flowers in water in a bark or wooden bowl.

Q: What could you do with a dry cone?
A: Banksia marginata (Silver Banksia) retains the dry flowers on the cones which some Victorian Aboriginal groups used to strain their drinking water.
Dried flower of Silver Banksia.
Tool (needle) made from banksia wood and used in the weaving of baskets and mats.
Made by Wally Mongta 1991.

9 Spiny-headed Mat-rush

Lomandra longifolia

Habitat: Widespread, particularly sandy soils
Season: All year

illustrationSpiny-headed Mat-rush
Women gathered the smooth strap-shaped leaves from the water's edge to make baskets. They split each rush, tied them in bundles to be soaked allowing the fibres to become pliable for weaving.
The illustration below shows how Aboriginal people used a combination of weirs and basketry traps for fishing.
Eel traps made of woven reeds.
Here they have been used with a weir made of sticks and placed across the stream. These traps are fixed in position. Traps can also be held by hand. At Lake Condah, Victoria, Aboriginal people still make these traditional eel traps.
This is a funnelled basket used as an eel trap, made by people from Lake Condah.

Today, people at Lake Tyers, Victoria and Eden, NSW are carrying on their basketry traditions and experimenting with new materials and designs.
Stages in making a basket.
Coiled basket being woven from Spiny-headed Mat-rush at Lake Tyers on the east coast of Victoria.

10 Grass Tree

Xanthorrhoea species

Habitat: Coastal heaths, wet and dry forests
Season: All year

From top to bottom, this plant had many uses.

Flowers: People collected nectar from the long flowering spikes. The stalks from old flowers and fruits were used for tinder in making fire.

Flower stem: You can see that the tall brown stalks could make spear shafts. The soft wood provided the base for a fire-drill in making fire.

Leaves: The soft bases of the young leaves were eaten. Tough leaves were used as knives.

Barbed hunting spear with base made from Grass Tree flower stalk.
The base of this fire drill is made from the soft wood of the Grass Tree flower stalk.


Stump: People collected resin from the base of each leaf and used it as an adhesive.

Roots: People living in the Port Lincoln area in South Australia enjoyed eating the roots surrounding the stem base.

A lump of Grass Tree resin can be seen at the left.

11 Gymea Lily

Doryanthes excelsa

Habitat: Coast and adjacent plateaus
Season: Summer - Spring flowering

illustrationHoney-eaters love the nectar of these large, crimson flowers on stems 2-3 m tall. These birds were ready prey to be cooked and eaten!

Aboriginal people in the Lake Macquarie district of NSW were observed in 1836 roasting the stems, having cut them when a foot and a half high and as thick as a person's arm. They also roasted the roots which they made into a sort of cake to be eaten cold.

Gymea Lily

12 Kurrajong

Brachychiton populneus

Habitat: Valley slopes, open forests
Season: Summer flowering

Roots of the young plants were a popular food and the seeds were probably eaten after processing.
With twine made from Kurrajong bark, Aboriginal people of the Hastings River region, NSW, made fishing nets. They would drive the fish into the nets.
Tough, leathery seed pods of the Kurrajong.

Fibres of the bark of Kurrajong were used to make this net.
Waterbirds are frightened into the net by boomerangs thrown above them to simulate birds of prey.

13 Austral Indigo

Indigofera australis

Habitat: Open forests
Season: Spring flowering

Crushed leaves were added to water to kill or stun fish and eels.
Stunned Murray Cod!
Austral Indigo leaves are a grey green colour.

14 Gum trees

Eucalyptus (various species)

Everyone knows the special property of eucalyptus leaves! The leaves of some species were crushed and soaked in water for medicinal purposes.
Manna is sap which exudes from many eucalypt trees, often from where insects have made holes. It dries into sugary white drops which fall to the ground. Delicious!
Bowls and dishes were made from the heavy bark. Those gnarled round growths on the trunk were used as well. The Kulin people in southern Victoria, made bowls called 'tarnuks' to carry water. Some had rope handles.
People along the Murray River made canoes from the bark of eucalypts (e.g. River Red Gum, E. camaldulensis). They cut the bark to shape about 3m long then held it over a fire, so that the sides would curl. Both ends were tied with inner-bark fibre rope and wooden stretchers were used to prevent the sides collapsing.
Tarnuks or water vessels made from the gnarls of a gum tree.
Canoe made from the bark of a gum tree contains a fishing net made from the Kurrajong bark.

Aboriginal people using reed spears and hoop nets. Upper Murray Chowilla Creek 1886.
(Used with permission of the State Library of Victoria.)

Many Aboriginal peoples crafted spear-throwers, boomerangs and shields from the fine, hard wood of eucalypts.
Spear thrower made from the timber of the Iron Bark by Peter Mongta of Cann River, Victoria in 1990.

Shields made from the wood of gum trees.
illustrationShield from the NSW tablelands (Mid 19th century).
Engraved and painted shield from the Murray River region of South Australia. It is stained with ochre and white pipe clay (below).
Undecorated shield made from Red Box by Peter Mongta of Cann River, Victoria, 1991 (below).
Decorated knocking sticks made from Mallee Gum (below).
Made by members of the 'Yourta Yourta' clan from the Murray River 1993.

15 Geebung

Persoonia linearis

Habitat: Forests
Season: Summer flowering

Scarce but tasty - the fruits of this and other Persoonia spp. were favoured Aboriginal foods.
String and fishing lines were soaked in Geebung bark infusion, probably to help prevent fraying.
Ripe fruits of the Geebung.

16 Flax Lily

Dianella (various species)

Habitat: Heath and dry forest
Season: Spring flowering

Proof from the past:
An old burial ground in central Victoria revealed a Dianella leaf, split and twisted into a cord.
In southern South Australia, people boiled the leaves to drink as a tea.
The roots and blue fruits of some species are edible.
Flax Lily

17 Cherry Ballart, Native Cherry

Exocarpus cupressiformis

Habitat: Forests
Season: Spring - Autumn flowering

It might look like a small cypress tree, but it has small amounts of sweet, juicy fruits which would have provided a springtime snack. And that's not all; the sap was applied as a cure for snake-bite.
In Gippsland, it provided wood for spear-throwers.
illustrationNative Cherry with fruit

18 Blackwood

Acacia melanoxylon

Habitat: High rainfall forests
Season: Spring - Summer flowering

The fine hard wood of this wattle made strong spear-throwers, boomerangs, clubs and shields in parts of Victoria.
People soaked the bark in water to bathe painful joints. The inner bark was used to make string.
Leaves, flowers and seed pod of Blackwood.
Returning boomerang made by Laddie Tinberry of Huskisson, NSW in 1990. The timber used is Blackwood.

19. Mistletoe

Amyema (various species)

People enjoyed the sticky fruits and in some areas the leaves were used for healing.
The Grey Mistletoe (Amyema quandong) is often found on Blackwood trees. It is a parasite which can take over and eventually kill the host tree.

20 Mountain Ash

E. regnans
Photographer - John Broomfield
Source - Museum Victoria
E. regnans foliage E. regnans
Photographer - Ross Field
E. regnans foliage
Photographer - John Broomfield
Source - Museum Victoria

Eucalyptus regnans

Mountain Ash is the most readily identifiable feature of the tall forests east of Melbourne. It is a fast-growing single trunk tree with small open canopy to 100 m. From summer to winter it is profuse with small white flowers. Long ribbons of bark hang from the trunks of large trees. Mature trees become heavily buttressed.

It is the world's tallest flowering tree. It produces excellent hardwood timber and is also used in paper manufacturing. The trees are usually killed by intense fire and seed germinates in the ash bed.

While fire-adapted and recognisably a eucalypt, the Mountain Ash is unusual in being adapted to a high rainfall environment where it commonly rubs shoulders with cool temperate rainforest. It produces 2-3 times the leaf litter of other eucalypts creating a deep litter layer, shedding more leaves in droughts. Unlike many other eucalypts, it has no insulating bark, no lignotuber and does not sprout from epicormic buds, features which make it fire sensitive. It releases large quanities of seeds after intense crown fires, which are encouraged by the long strings of hanging bark and the extreme combustibility of the foliage.

Trees are characteristically tall and straight, typically with no branches until near the crown. Increased maturity is characterised by trees becoming more widely spaced and heavier in the trunk, with a greater number of tree hollows forming. Undergrowth thins and its species mix changes as the forest matures. In the absence of fire, old age and death occurs at around 400 years. Fire sensitive cool temperate rainforest species commonly coexist with Mountain Ash, particularly in the gullies which are not reached by fires, and, being adapted to regeneration in low light conditions, can gradually replace the dying Mountain Ash forest.

Leadbeaters' Possum requires mature E. regnans for nest sites and a Silver Wattle, Acacia dealbata, understorey for feeding. The tree provides nectar and seeds for birds and leaves for caterpillars.

21 Cortinarius rotundisporus.

How big can a plant in the forest be? Some trees can be very large, spreading across eleven meters or more (see Mountain Ash). But there are organisms that exceed even these dimensions, though you probably wouldn't notice one even if you were standing on it. In fact, they're not really plants in the strict sense, but fungi, spreading beneath the ground in a vast underground mat.

So, how large is the underground fungus that produces this toadstool? Well, by DNA fingerprinting every toadstool in this part of the forest, they've got an idea of how big an area it occupies.

About thirty metres in diameter is the result, most of these fungi have an area about the size of a tennis court.