An important fixture in the Australian calendar is NAIDOC Week, a celebration of First Nations history, culture and achievements, held in the first week of July. To mark NAIDOC Week 2023, Australia Awards scholars from South Asia and Mongolia sampled some Austraian native food and in doing so, learnt about Indigenous heritage.

Late in the 18th century, author Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin is quoted as having said, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.” These sentiments were echoed during an online Indigenous food storytelling event held for Australia Awards scholars ahead of NAIDOC Week.

More than 50 scholars from South Asia and Mongolia joined Damien Coulthard, an Adnyamathanha and Dieri person of the Flinders Ranges, for an innovative cultural immersion experience. Damien is the co-founder of Indigenous-owned company Warndu, which means good in the Adnyamathanha language. The opportunity allowed scholars to appreciate the diverse foods and the connected stories of First Nations people in Australia.

a man and a woman sit while drinking from a rustic tea set

Damien Coulthard pictured with fellow Warndu co-founder, Rebecca Sullivan

In advance of the event, scholars received parcels of Warndu’s signature flavour sachets, including finger limes, bush tomatoes, roasted wattleseed, Tasmanian mountain pepper, and strawberry gum leaves. During the event, participants sampled the food as Damien told stories about where the items were harvested, interwoven with reflections on First Nations history and culture.

“Quandong fruit is like a sour peach when fresh. I harvested these with my grandfather on Country and have loved sharing this experience with my sons, sharing the Songlines of my culture,” Damien said.

The importance of truth-telling strengthened the discussion, allowing scholars to understand the significance of NAIDOC Week and the importance of storytelling through food for First Nations people. Pakistani scholar Iram Shabbir reflected that the experience left an impact, “…especially considering how Damien linked history with food”.

Scholar Iram Shabbir kneels holding a long stick with damper cooking over coals on it

Pakistani scholar Iram Shabbir cooks damper at another Australia Awards event.

Scholars noted how rewarding it had been to share stories and participate in cultural immersion experiences to mark World Environment Day and NAIDOC Week. Sri Lankan scholar Kasun Kumarasiri commented, “Such online sessions with valuable discussions are important to understand the cultural value of each [Indigenous] Country.”