Magpie Geese are large noisy birds that frequent the swamps of the Top end of Australia, especially during the wet season, when they nest and lay their eggs. They are a valuable source of food for Aboriginal people in those areas. The sky becomes filled with honking black and white flocks of birds and you know you’re soon going to come across cold camp fires when you’re out walking, with scattered feathers and bones around them. For me, they herald Christmas.
This recipe was given to me by an Aurukun health worker:
Magpie Good Stew
You need two geese, soy sauce, vinegar, One onion, Two potatoes, two garlic cloves, Two knobs ginger.
Cut out the bones, cut up the meat into cubes and soak in soy sauce and vinegar for two hours. In a camp oven throw in diced onion and potato, garlic, ginger and a cup full of water. Toss in marinated geese pieces, cook on the fire until meat and potatoes are cooked through. While the stew is simmering, place the geese bones on a grill on the fire until crispy and crunchy, they make a good snack. Serve with boiled rice.
There was a breadfruit tree In Aurukun. Fasi and I found it one day when we walked along the back track to the store. He pointed it out with excitement. He always saw food on land and sea. The tree was in the middle of a block of land covered in long grass, enclosed by a broken wire fence. The fruit, round and green, the size of small basketballs were ripe. No-one seemed to own the land or showed interest in the tree. We found a way in through the wire, Fasi fashioned a long forked stick and jabbed at where the fruit joined a branch until they fell and caught them before they hit the ground.
He showed me how to scrape the skin off, cut them in quarters, boil them till almost soft and finish off the cooking process by oven baking. The kitchen filled with a warm baked smell, we ate it with a curry, dipping it into the spicy juices.
The tree isn’t native to Australia it was found originally in New Guinea and the islands of the Pacific, the Aurukun one would have been planted by visiting islanders.
We heard later that the overgrown block used to be a market garden which grew a variety of vegetables, possibly overseen by an islander. Garden cultivation is not a traditional part of the lives of Indigenous Australians but where an islander lives there is usually fruit or vegetables growing nearby. There was something comforting about the sight of that breadfruit tree, maybe it was the memory of the baking smell or simply the knowledge that in that remote place food could be found somewhere else other than the local store.
The barge is a welcome weekly sight in Aurukun, as it is in many remote communities along the Australian coastline. In the wet season it’s the way food and goods are delivered. It takes a few days to arrive from Cairns so it’s amazing that fruit and vegetables are still edible by the time they’re put in the store fridges.I quickly found out, once the rains arrived, that frozen vegetables provided the most variety.
If the barge is delayed, which happens from time to time, many people in the town eat rice, damper and tinned foods and hope each day that the barge will be sighted at the landing, so they can stock back up on food.
Since working in Aurukun I’ve never taken Woolworths for granted again!