July 27, 2022
Wine & Dine

Quandong Festival celebrates the mighty bush food

The inaugural Quandong Festival kicks off in the “bush food capital” of Quorn next weekend, celebrating native food, Indigenous art and sustainable agriculture, topped off with a hotly contested quandong pie competition.

The quandong – urti – is central to the kinship and culture of the Adnyamathanha people including artist Damien Coulthard and his father Elson Coulthard.

It’s easy to see why the quandong is referred to as the jewel of the Flinders Ranges when, in season, trees across the region erupt in vibrant ruby red as their limbs become laden with fruit.

Touted to have superfood properties, the native peach (kurti to the Nukunu and urti to the Adnyamathanha) is today used in pies, jams and preserves.

Even the kernel within the stone is edible.

However, the quandong is more than just a fruit for Adnyamathanha man Damien Coulthard.

“I grew up in Quorn, but my grandparents and other family members lived up north in Nepabunna and often during school holidays we’d visit and go camping on Country,” says Damien.

“Some of my fondest memories are of harvesting the kurti, the quandong, with my grandmother on Country.

“We would often harvest and eat them fresh. It tastes absolutely amazing fresh and as a young person eating it, you grow to appreciate the flavours.”

Quandongs come into season in late August and September. While they will not be in season during the Quandong Festival, there are plenty available frozen or dried.

For Damien, the quandong is a totem that is central to the kinship story, or moiety, of his people in the Flinders Ranges.

“For the Adnyamathanha and Nukunu people, the kurti or urti is the jewel of the Flinders Ranges and each family group shares these experiences, whether eating it fresh, dried or even making the quandong pie,” he says.

“It’s a significant plant for the area.”

Damien will share his deep appreciation for the quandong at the inaugural Quandong Festival, to be held in Quorn on Saturday, August 6, and Sunday, August 7.

Quorn will come alive over the two days with food stalls, native food growers, harvesters, cooks, educators and enthusiasts.

Guests include Costa Georgiadis from Gardening Australia, River Cottage Australia’s Paul West, The Agrarian Kitchen’s Rodney Dunn and Dark Emu author Bruce Pascoe. Organisers are hoping for a crowd of more than 2000 festival-goers.

With Quorn being Nukunu country, the festival has particular significance given the Nukunu have recently won a native title fight after a 28-year struggle.

“It’s a sensitive space for different Aboriginal groups. The festival is about raising awareness of stories and connection to country through First Nations people,” says Damien.

“Food is an easy way to start a conversation and it’s about getting Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people together to share in that experience to create new memories.

Quandong Festival creative director Rebecca Sullivan and husband Damien Coulthard operate a Clare-based native food business called Warndu.

“The vision is to have more people planting and growing native foods at home and developing a relationship with food through more of an aboriginal lens; knowing what can grow where you live.”

Nukunu elder Lindsay Thomas will perform a welcome to country and Travis Thomas will talk about cultural burn.

There will be cultural workshops, Flinders Gin tastings, live music, culinary experiences and activities, including a quandong pie-making competition.

The competition winner will receive a two-night all-inclusive stay at Arkaba Wild Bush Luxury Resort, valued at $4,280.

Damien is curating an art exhibition titled Landscapes featuring the work of six artists on different mediums, while his wife Rebecca Sullivan is the Quandong Festival’s creative director.

Together, Damien and Rebecca operate their native foods business Warndu, based in Clare.

Baking enthusiasts are encouraged to enter the Quandong Pie Competition, with a prize valued at more than $4000.

Rebecca says the festival will focus on the importance of a wide variety of bush foods including wattleseed, saltbush and Davidson plums.

“We need to have more native foods in our pantries for health, for regeneration of the environment and for cultural repair – we see this as reconciliation on a plate,” says Rebecca.

“Food creates a safe place for people to ask questions and be curious.”

The festival is supported by the Flinders Ranges Council and the Australian government’s Future Drought Fund and will demonstrate how the native food industry can make agriculture more sustainable in the face of climate change.

Rebecca says farmers must consider growing native foods like the quandong, which does not require irrigation.

“It’s about regenerative agriculture, sustainability and securing more growers and more interest in the bush food industry while doing it in a fun, celebratory way,” says Rebecca.

“If we want to continue to have a local food system, then we need to eat foods that grow in our region.

“For example, rather than importing goji berries from South America we can use something like the quandong. They’re super high in vitamin C, save food miles and help us to tell a beautiful cultural story.”

Festival-goers can expect to learn how to grow quandongs themselves and how to make the perfect pie, with the event topped off with music by Tilly Thomas and Max Savage and the False Idols.

Camping is also available.

“We’ve got an amazing line-up of speakers and knowledge keepers with practical information for people that want to get into the bush food industry,” says Rebecca.

“It’s also going to be great for people that just want to come and have a fun day out in the beautiful Flinders Ranges.

“The drive is to really put Quorn on the map as the bush food capital of Australia.”

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