Cooking up a storm

With sound of knives on chopping blocks as a group of young men dice a mountain of garlic and ginger, the air is rich and sweet with its bouquet.


Walking back from a tombstone unveiling ceremony, I inadvertently pass the preparation of not one but five Kupmurries, the Strait’s version of a Hungi or ground oven.




I watched as the men (who traditionally prepare the meats and tend to the fires) prepared a combination of bush food, including deer, wild pig, dugong and turtle.

With the turtle, everything is used, the flesh, the organs, the blood. One of the delicacies is the freshly butchered liver slapped straight on the BBQ, which the men ate for lunch to sustain them during their preparations (which actually goes on for days).

I watched the young kids play with the turtle eggs, rubbery ping-pong-ball-like things.

The meats are marinated with the garlic and ginger, malt vinegar and soy sauce, the latter I’m guessing is the influence of the Malay and Japanese ancestors who came to the region as part of the pearling trade


  Pearling lifestyle, by: Joey Liafoo, 2004. 

Three of the kupmurries were dedicated to cooking meat, while the other two were for damper bread and Sop Sop, which is yams, red and orange sweet potatoes doused in coconut milk and wrapped in banana leaves and foil. These dishes were prepared by the women.


The science of the Kupmurrie is simple but elegant:

  • dig a shallow hole in the ground
  • layer it with kindling and stones
  • set fire to it and let it burn down


The hot rocks are then spread out


A layer of split banana tree trunks are laid on the rocks and the food placed on top.IMG_7122

The food is then covered with leaves which both help trap the heat and provide a source of steam.


This is all covered with a blanket.


And then plastic and sand…


Then leave for an hour and 45 minutes…


Bush foods such as turtle and dugong have been hot beds of contention, as both animals are endangered, many environmental groups are outraged at this traditional hunting practice.

And with the onset of social media, where young hunters have posted photos and videos of their kills, has further aghast the latte-sipping metrosexual middleclasses…

Tensions are high on the islands too. An elder told me in no uncertain times “That all eyes are on you.” I was forbidden to take photos of the turtle being slaughtered and told I would be run out of town if I posted anything negative about their hunting practices. But that is not why I have written what I have below…

Well peeps, Aboriginal hunting rights allow traditional and not commercial hunting, for their own consumption. Us whities have done a damn good job of fucking up the majority of the planet, so it’s hardly surprising they get more than a little miffed at their traditional practices being under threat.

The fine print here in Qld:

In Queensland, Aborigines living on trust lands are exempt from hunting and fishing legislation under the Community Services (Aborigines) Act 1984 (Qld) s 77 and its Torres Strait equivalent. This exemption allows for traditional hunting for consumption. 

There is actually no solid evidence their hunting these tasty, yet endangered sea morsels is to blame for their dwindling numbers. Read this conversation, and this one too.

Now I am, have always been, an avid conservationist, with political leanings to, libertarianism. a dash of anarchy and enviro-terrorism, but getting emotional over saving the cutesy animals based solely on emotional responses is not on. Stop the Japanese killing thousands of whales commercially under the farcical banner of ‘scientific research’ yes – harpoon the fuckers and feed them to the sharks,  same with the Chinese shark fin industry, fur pelt industry and the  ivory peddling industry. Kill ’em all and let God sort them out. But the key word here is industry – Indigenous hunting practices are a tradition, not an industry, that’s the difference.

Hell, who knows, if we let them carry on as they have for millennia, maybe they we look after their resources sustainably.  

And remember, if you think you are doing the world a favour eating your soya-based meat supplement, think again.

7 thoughts on “Cooking up a storm

  1. Hear Hear!! Only wish Brunyfire could have witnessed these proceedings for their cultural importance – these are the real stories – these traditions are the true repositories of legitimate hereditary cuisine – the art of open hearth gastronomy is strong on the islands and I look forward to seeing it with my own eyes one of these days.

    • Me too! It may give me the guts to finally chase my own beautiful indigenous history on my mother’s family… Something that in the last visit in Brazil got me really emotional to find more! xxxx

  2. Just because a practice is traditional or practiced by indigenous people in the name of tradition doesn’t ipso facto make it sustainable. By the same token, an action taken from within a commercial framework is not precluded from also being an action sensitive to sustainability. The argument that traditional practices are beyond scrutiny and inherently better than white industry (which is inherently always bad) is simplistic.

    • Thanks for your feedback Dan, enjoy the tussle… but I am not suggesting that all ‘white’ commercial industry is ‘bad’ and all traditional hunting practices are ‘good,’ I agree that would be simplistic, nor am I saying it is ipso facto. But it is simplistic to ignore the economies of scale: the numbers of traditional hunters are very low, compared to the rest of the population.

      What I am saying though is that traditional land owners should be given the chance to manage their own resources, and it not be assumed by the metropolitan ‘white’ centre that the periphery needs to shown how to do it. The attached links provide a fraction of the evidence, that a) Indigenous resource management can work, b) as with dugongs, research (peer reviewed) suggests, although endangered, numbers are stable or declining slowly – and not because of hunting but rather habitat (sea grass) decimation – which is largely due to ‘white’, unsustainable, commercial land use practices (agri-chemical runoff)- and that is ‘bad’.

      Much of the reaction to ban traditional hunting is based on an emotional response, rather than good scientific research, after the posting of social media images of brutal and inhuman treatment of animals slaughtered for the table. The Soya munchin’ latte sippin’ metropolitan masses didn’t like it – but nature is brutal – a Great White tearing into a seal, or a lion eating a gazelle alive is not pretty either. Most of us have been disconnected from the kill, but have no problem buying our Homeband snags, nicely wrapped in plastic. Nor am I condoning cruelty to animals – merely providing a contrary viewpoint.

      Our track record of environmental management in the last 220 years in Australia is appalling, we have some of the worst extinction rates, deforestation rates, pollution per capita and loss of biodiversity in the world, Indigenous land use did not make such a dog’s dinner in the several millenia it was under their watch. Even if firestick farming changed the environment, it didn’t decimate it and the odd megafauna BBQ aside, (who were probably dying out due to increasing aridity anyway). Its not about simplistic generalizations or racial assumptions but economies of scale, its that simple.

      Anyway, who are we to call the kettle ‘black’?

      • And this just came in yesterday:


        17 July 2013

        Supporting Indigenous management of Queensland’s sea country

        The Rudd Government has committed $930,000 to Indigenous organisations and Traditional Owners across Queensland to manage marine turtles, dugongs and sea-country.

        Under this second round of Caring for our Country grants administered in partnership with the Queensland Government, eight projects will be supported to undertake a range of activities including sea country planning, managing threats to species, leadership forums as well as raising sustainability awareness in the community.

        Federal Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Water Mark Butler said this round of funding was part of a broader commitment to assist Indigenous groups to sustainably manage sea country.

        “Indigenous Rangers across Queensland are doing great work protecting turtles and dugongs from threats such as marine debris and illegal hunting,” Mr Butler said.

        “Our continued support for Traditional Owners to manage their sea country is resulting in real environmental improvements and a better understanding of the sustainable use of resources in our Indigenous communities.

        “We’ve responded to feedback from Traditional Owners and developed a package that increases community engagement, knowledge sharing and the sustainable participation of Indigenous people in culturally important activities.

        Mr Butler said with rising seawater temperatures and an increase in extreme weather events due to climate change, programs to understand and protect Australian sea-country such as this were vital to the long-term future of our natural marine life.

        This initiative builds on existing Federal Government investment under the Working on Country Indigenous Ranger and Reef Rescue programs and is undertaken in conjunction with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Organisations to receive funding include:

        · Carpentaria Land Council Aboriginal Corporation

        · Indigenous Sea Country Strategic Policy Group (Girrigun Aboriginal Corporation)

        · Dawul Wuru Indigenous Corporation

        · Juunjuwarra Aboriginal Corporation Land Trust

        · Kapay Kuyan Steering Committee

        · Darumbal Charitable Trust

        · Jabalina Yalanji Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC

        · Port Curtis Coral Coast Traditional Owners

    • I agree to disagree. Let’s be simplistic here: I understand that the term sustainability means a group of people trying to live of what they can find (in theory) in their local environment with the minimum impact in their ecosystem. This same term can be used in commercial practices as well. I also understand (without searching google) that tradition by itself is an amazing effort to keep alive a specific group of people’s history. So, having said that, what I just read above it is a group of people who make the effort to sit around, tell stories, cook good food, in very sustainable way and have a great time. It comes to my mind exactly the same ritual in Bruny Island, where my in laws have a fantastic effort to maintain to their next generations (mostly white!) their traditions and passions, which mostly involves very sustainable methods. So, I am not even mentioning the industry discussion because I am not “The Age” or “The Australian” and they have well paid people to search on google to that. But I am here to say that white or indigenous, the most important thing is that if people have motive enough to share old beautiful ways of doing things, it is definitely, with no way of a doubt, a much culturally richer interaction than going to a museum to show your kids how people would be used to live. And having said that, thinking from my own amazing indigenous blood back in Brazil, I not even scratched the surface of how much it could actually benefit my next generations to come! I can’t wait to finally get to be mixed with the indigenous of Australia, (actually the only real Australians by fact!) and listen to their stories, legends, music and smell their food and get involved in their traditions. Sustainability? Those groups have been living in this land before any of us and maintained in a much more sensible way the understand of the land than any one of us together! We are just guilty enough to try our hardest nowadays to spend less water in our sinks! But it is guilty in most cases that make us do that instead, using our Iphones in hand everyday!

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