Morning focus presenter interviewed well know ethnobotanist Dr Beth Gott who graduated in Botany from Melbourne University, later studying the life-cycle of Rye cereals at London University. On her return to Melbourne, she conducted research on wheat varieties grown in Australia before turning her attention to ‘ethnobotany’ and the study of the traditional uses of native plants.
Since the 1980’s Beth has assembled extensive databases of plants used by the Aborigines of south-eastern Australia, while also documenting the landscapes created by Aboriginal management, including the use of fire. Dr Gott created and curates the Aboriginal Educational Garden at Monash University
The 2018 Murnong Festival – Celebrating Biocultural Knowledge
The ‘Merri Murnong’ group held its 10th annual Murnong Festival in November 2018, offering guests the opportunity to learn more about indigenous plants, arts and culture, and to take part in the annual gathering and tasting of the ‘Murnong’ (or Yam Daisy) – traditionally an important staple food plant of south-eastern Australia.
Ethnobotanist, Dr Beth Gott, Adjunct Researcher and creator and curator of the Aboriginal Garden at Monash, was a speaker and special guest of honour, in recognition of her valuable ‘reconstruction work’ – a result of years spent combing archival and first encounter records to piece together a picture, and databases, of the traditional uses of native plants for food, fibre, medicine and tools.
Elders and members of the Wurundjeri acknowledged and thanked Dr Gott for the important role she has played, over many decades, in recording and preserving indigenous biocultural knowledge and heritage, collaborating with indigenous people in a culturally sensitive manner, sharing the results of her research, and ensuring that the plant knowledge she documented remained accessible to indigenous communities.
The humble Murnong (Microseris lanceolata), a perennial herb that resembles a Dandelion, has small yellow flowers and milky tubers that can be eaten crisp and raw, or wrapped in a basket or paperbark and cooked in an earth oven, producing a soft, nutritious and somewhat sweet flavoured root vegetable, which tastes a little like a Sweet Potato.
While the Murnong was once widespread across the grassy plains of Victoria, as noted by early explorers like Major Thomas Mitchell, it rapidly disappeared with the arrival of the colonial settlers and their grazing, hard hooved sheep and cattle. Becoming increasingly scarce, only remnant wild populations remain, on less disturbed patches of land.
Historically, with the moving of indigenous people from their home country onto mission reserves, and with the accompanying shift to a diet dominated by the white man’s flour, sugar and tea, the knowledge and skills of the indigenous women (who, with their digging sticks, used to turn the soil, thin out the clumps and harvest the Murnong), also started to disappear. Distant memories were kept alive by elders who had grown up learning about their country and its plants or hearing the stories of how traditional life used to be.
Part of an ongoing revival of indigenous practices, languages and biocultural knowledge, the Merri Murnong group (formerly the Merri and Edgars Creek Confluence Area Restoration Group or MECCARG), has been helping to keep this living heritage alive. The community group continues to host working bees to sustain and grow Murnong and other culturally significant indigenous food, fibre and medicine plants within the ‘Murnong Patch’ in the Merri Creek parkland, on Connolly Ave in North Coburg.
Story and photos* by Tess Holderness (Tess also accompanied Dr Gott in the interview)
Tess is a MA research student within the Monash Indigenous Studies Centre, currently writing a thesis on ‘The Life, Work and Legacy of Ethnobotanist, Dr Beth Gott’. If you would like to contribute your recollections of working with (or being inspired by) Beth, please contact Tess on 0412 195 283.. Click here for further information about the Aboriginal Garden at Monash and to download a plan