Tenant II

An exhibition of borrowed tools used for care and cultivation, contributed by exhibiting artists, the Abbotsford Convent gardener Simon Taylor and the Wurundjeri Land Council (https://www.wurundjeri.com.au/). This space includes a table displaying information regarding the work of the Wurundjeri Land Council, seeing the organisation as a whole as a powerful tool for care.

Included in the publication accompanying Gardening is not a rational act is the below text written by Bruce Pascoe and generously contributed to the exhibition. This text looks at cultivation and bread making from Kangaroo grass and the colonisation of what is now called 'Australia'.

Baker's Dozen

©Bruce Pascoe 2017

How many baker’s does it take to make a nuisance of themselves?

Well last summer we had three bakers, two food scientists, two photographers, three dogs and two besieged house owners.

To harvest kangaroo grass you need hot weather and someone who knows what they are doing. All we had was the hot weather.

We had been researching some of the old people’s traditional food plants and we were revved up to tackle the kangaroo grass. The summer before we hand harvested an area of grass on the local airport and ground the seed into flour and baked a loaf of bread for Ben Shewry of Attica restaurant, Melbourne. He was a bit over excited because we’d been out fishing on my home stream, the great Jinoor (these days Genoa) River, we’d had a couple of beers and he’d caught his first fish. He loved the bread and ate many slices. Which we thought might have been for breakfast.

It reminded me of Charles Sturt’s ‘exploration’ party in 1843 who were saved from starvation by 400 Aboriginal people in Sturt’s Stony Desert who gave them water and fed them roast duck and cake, a cake which Sturt declared was the lightest and sweetest he’d ever tasted. Now we know that Pom’s can’t cook so when they’re dying of starvation they may be inclined to exaggerate the quality of any food they are given, but it still surprises me that in a country with 500 cooking shows in the media we still don’t know the grass from which those people made the grain to make that light and sweet cake.

Maybe it’s because we cannot afford to look at the agricultural economy of a people from whom we stole the land and justified that theft to our Christian selves by saying the Aboriginal occupants were a low species of life who knew nothing about growing their own food and therefore didn’t really own the land.

Anyway, despite that small omission from our country’s history for the last 220 years, a baker’s dozen of us gathered last January to harvest kangaroo grass, thresh it and grind it into flour and bake a few loaves. The baking was the easy bit because everyone in the room knew how to make bread, although the blue heelers were a bit scratchy, but for the rest of it we were working off a modicum of traditional knowledge and a thousand aberrant suggestions, the more aberrant the emptier the bottles became.

But our bread was aromatic as all heaven, had a wonderful texture and rich deep flavour. One baker started talking about the wonderful crumb but we thought there was plenty left and kept eating.

We are sampling other grains, other harvesting methods and other milling techniques but the certainty is that the grains Aboriginal people domesticated 30-40,000 years ago will become sensations in Australian and International cuisines.

We just have to get over the refusal to acknowledge how we came by the land, because you can’t eat our food if you can’t swallow our history.

Bruce Pascoe is a Yuin, Bunurong and Tasmanian man whose 2014 book, Dark Emu, Black Seeds won the NSW Premier’s Book of the Year in 2016 and has been reprinted thirteen times.

Many thanks to the Wurundjeri Land Council, the Abbotsford Convent gardener Simon Taylor and to Bruce Pascoe for generously providing the important text below.

We acknowledge the unceded lands upon which this exhibition takes place as those of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation, we extend our respect to Elders both past, present and emerging.

This project is supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria program and the Abbotsford Convent Foundation.

© Eugene Howard

I acknowledge and pay respect to Victorian Traditional Custodians, and Traditional Custodians across Australia, as the original custodians of land and waters, their unique ability to care for Country and deep spiritual connection to it. I honour Elders past, present and becomming whose knowledge and wisdom has ensured the continuation of culture and traditional practice