An Ancient Porosity

Any reflection on the biogeography of the Australian region is ultimately an affirmation of the ancient and undeniable porosity that is such a prominent feature of Australia’s northern margins.  Last week I cooked an Indonesian meal for some friends, using a Kemiri nut base.  An interesting nut, a Kemiri looks a little like a Macadamia.  Kemiri (Aleurites moluccana) is also indigenous to Australia and we call it candlenut.  It burns like a candle, hence the name I guess.

Aboriginal communities, in the Tropical North East of the continent, roasted candlenuts in a slow fire and ate the nut when the shells cracked.  The nuts are a source of thiamine and can yield as much as 4000 micrograms per 100 grams.  They were also used to produce oil for fixing pigment to spears.

I wonder how many people realise that Kemiri was also a popular food with Polynesian sailors who carried it east, on voyages of exploration, into the scattered islands of the Pacific.

Indonesians use Kemiri as an oily base for curries and stews.  So, it’s also indigenous to Nusantara (the land between).  This is the ancient name for Indonesia.  Inherent in the very notion of the land between is the fundamental reality that both Asia and Australia were in the consciousness of the inhabitants of the archipelago long before there was a Dutch East Indies, much less the comparatively modern state of Indonesia.

I also cooked some Kang Kung (Ipomoea aquatica).  It’s a remarkable vegetable.  It has the capacity to take on the flavours of the herbs or spicy bumbu base (Indonesian for a wet spice mixture) it’s cooked with.  Kang Kung is indigenous here and in Asia. I first discovered it in Bali.

Kang Kung, sometimes Kang Kong, is related to the sweet potato (I. batatas).  It grows as a trailing vine found around the edges of swamps and billabongs.  In deltas of East and South East Asia it grows in profusion.  Bundles of the young leaves and shoots are sold in markets throughout the region.  It’s nor merely valued for its flavour, but also as a source of vitamin C, producing 100 milligrams to 100 grams of leaf.

I often wonder just what indigenous means, when it comes to Kang Kung, which is also know as Chinese Watercress or Chinese Water Spinach. Is it evidence of early Chinese visitors in Australia’s north?

During the Autumn I found a large Lilli Pilli, growing in the grounds of a local school. The fruit had already started to fall, so I picked a bag full, a kilo in all, then I made some Lilli Pilli jam. Recipes were hard to find in the end I used one that suggested leaving the seeds in.  I removed them first. There are various approaches.

I’d intended giving it to my son, but my sister liked it so much it didn’t ever get that far.  Lilli Pilli is part of the clove family and a close relative of the water apple which also has Asian connections.

When people say we’ll control who comes to these shores and the circumstances in which they come I reflect on the absurdity of such comments.  We might be the land that’s girt by sea but we aren’t impervious, our northern margins are characterised by a most ancient and enduring porosity.

This last simple fact isn’t lost on asylum seekers, but then more than 96 per cent, enter Australia by air, preferring to jet into major population centres rather than chance it with the ancient porosity of our maritime borders.

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