The Next Bush Tucker Man

While we’ve all been piling our plates high over the last week with foods likely sourced from all over the country, if not the world, a mate of mine has been eating only what he hunted or gathered from the land.

JakeCassar and bush tucker

Gosford local Jake Cassar, a musician, youth worker and conservationist, is also fast becoming known as a guru on bush tucker and wild medicinals. Not unlike the original bush tucker man Les Hiddens, Jake has spent most of his life fine tuning his survival knowledge in what he calls ‘The University of the Bush’, teaching himself much of what he knows through the few books and documentaries that exist on the subject, and more importantly, through thousands of hours experimenting and exploring both native and introduced species and their uses.

It’s knowledge that comes to life on the ‘survival trips’ that Jake embarks on every year, sometimes with little more than a knife.

The most recent was a two week urban and bush survival mission with a couple of others near his home on the Central Coast. Jake’s handful of updates on Facebook allowed me to keep track of the journey:

Day six: Doing OK and finally getting on top of the flu. Got most of my vitamins and minerals covered with plant food, but it's taken a fair bit of effort. I've been mainly focused on protein to maintain muscle mass and vitamin C to ensure that the protein is absorbed. Been subsisting on boiled native spinach (tetragoniatetraganoides), base of grass tree leaves (xanthorhoeaspp), shellfish (turban shells, oysters & cockles) containing protein, iron, omega 3's and minerals, native sarsaparilla (smilax glycaphylla) tea and fruit, pigface fruit (carpobrotusspp), wild gooseberry fruit (physalisangulata), old man banksia nectar (banksia serrata) and more. Caught a decent taylor and bream yesterday. The protein and fats made me feel supercharged!

Day 11: The last few days being around urban areas I've been eating a variety of edible exotic plants/fruit, feral duck and last night I got 2 rabbits. I've felt incredible positive changes to my body and mind since being out here.

Day 12: Heading out west to where I've heard there is a huge cave underneath a waterfall. Hopefully I find it. I got a mud crab about 30 mins ago, massive bonus, and I've got these blackberries, geebungs, devils twine fruit (cassythaspp), hakea seeds, native sarsaparilla and native honey (sugarbag) to take on the trip.

It reads like the field notes of a modern explorer - intrepid, pioneering, optimistic – but so immediate I’m out there with him, ears pricked and belly growling.

I caught up with Jake to catch some more stories firsthand. Overall they gathered about 40 plant species, many introduced, as well as fish, rabbit and feral duck. The common ‘farmers friend’ weed cured Jake ofdiarrhoea, angophora costatasap was the balm for wounds, while the sticky pulp from bracken fern roots mixed with saliva treated sandfly bites. Unexpected was the disappearance of Jake’s chronic arthritis due to the anti-inflammatory properties of native spinach.

Apart from the ten kilograms of weight lost, Jake also spoke of a new lightness of being.

“On night 13, I sat in an enormous cave decorated with Aboriginal paintings, mud crabs and prawns I caught earlier that day cooking, the flickering of the campfire like a candle in a cathedral on the cave walls, the call of the powerful owl echoing through the valley, and I felt stronger than ever before in my life, both inside and out.”

Now that is a feast for all the senses to enjoy, without the hangover or food miles to worry about.