"Our Earth is dying and we need to fix it," implores Kerry Neill, a passionate Gubbi Gubbi man, the traditional owners of the land on the Sunshine Coast. We've only just met Neill, yet already as we walk through native bush in the Sunshine Coast hinterland we're munching on lilly pillys and licking sticky nectar off the back of our hands like we grew up in the bush.
With his warm brown eyes and cheeky sense of humour, Neill guides us on a fascinating new tour which enables visitors to touch, taste and feel traditional Indigenous culture. "This is your home too," Neill says as we explore TribalLink's 22-hectare site at the junction of Jinibara Country. We're here for a taster of the Sunshine Coast's inaugural new food festival, the Curated Plate, held this month.
TribalLink's land is home to rainforest groaning with bush tucker, snakes, turtles, crayfish, natural medicine, remedies and stories. You just need to know where to look. "I'm just opening the door to my home. It's not a product; this is our food and it's tasty."
Of course, he's absolutely right. I grew up with bushland as my backyard and yet never knew of the rich abundance it contained. "I boil this and make jam or use it as an ice-cream topping with pecans," he says referring to the cherry-like lilly pilly we've just eaten. He points out the Midyim bush (the Sunshine Coast town of Mudjimba is named after it) and we taste its small white perfumed berry.
TribalLink was set up as a place where Australian children can come and learn about bush tucker, weapons, artefacts, Indigenous dancing and Aboriginal methods of land and environment management. Now through its new activity centre, people of all ages can join Dreamtime storytelling and bush tucker tours, as well as a yet to be launched Aboriginal dance and dinner experience.
Neill believes it's important for everyone to learn about the native bush because it holds the key to repairing the environmental damage wrought on our planet. "Aboriginal people have always had a connection to country and place. What that means is we understand that the Earth is alive and without these plants, we can't survive." Indicating the bushland around him, he says if you know what to look for you'll never get lost or go hungry in the bush.
Inside the rainforest, Neill points out freshwater crayfish and funnel web holes, and incredible scar trees, living pieces of historic art used by Aboriginal people for centuries to mark special places such as springs, waterfalls and ceremonial grounds. He collects Piccabeen leaves which can be used to make baskets and shows us how ants carrying compost indicates cold weather is coming.
Neill says all of us have a connection to the earth but are often completely unaware of it. "If you've had a hard day at the office, as soon as you go outside and see something green and feel the fresh air on your face, you feel better."
As we gather around a campfire at walk's end, sipping hot lemon myrtle tea and tucking into scones with citrusy bush jam and roasted bunya nuts, Neill imparts a final nugget of wisdom that stays with me. "We don't just need plants for food, we need them for comfort and environment and place. It makes us feel whole again". As we drive away, windows down, the sound of birdsong on the warm breeze, I feel fortunate for the reminder.
Sheriden Rhodes was a guest of Visit Sunshine Coast and Tourism and Events Queensland.
Visitors can join the bush tucker walk at the newly-opened TribalLink Activity Centre in Mapleton from $35 a person (minimum group size is 10).
Triballink also runs a longer 2.5 hour cultural immersion experience including traditional art making from $55 a person and new 'Songs and Stories: Aboriginal dance and dinner' evening experience for $120 a person;children and concession $100.