Canberra's Indigenous gardener Adam Shipp reaps rewards at Greening Australia

Susan Parsons
Adam Shipp admires some freshly dug daisy yams.
Adam Shipp admires some freshly dug daisy yams. Photo: Jamila Toderas

Adam Shipp has been working with Greening Australia in Aranda as the Indigenous restoration officer since 2012. He was born and raised in Canberra, spending all his school and working life here. His father is a Wiradjuri from central-west NSW; his mother is Welsh and he is proud of both his cultures.

Adam says he has always had a keen interest in plants and gardening but his focus on bush foods started when he became an Aboriginal trainee at Parks and Conservation Service. He says he was lucky to be shown native foods, medicine and resource plants from senior Aboriginal rangers and elders in the community. There was also a non-Indigenous supervisor who had a keen interest in native plants and passed on knowledge he had learned from working with koori people in Victoria.

Over the years Adam has continued to research native pants and their traditional Aboriginal uses and significance.

Adam Shipp is full of enthusiasm for his job as Indigenous restoration officer for Greening Australia and for the bush ...
Adam Shipp is full of enthusiasm for his job as Indigenous restoration officer for Greening Australia and for the bush tucker garden. Photo: Jamila Toderas

He has a mix of responsibilities in his job, revegetating degraded landscapes through planting and seeding native plants, working with schools developing bush-tucker education gardens and, through a program taking Aboriginal youth out to the country, teaching about culture and conservation land management, an area in which he has trained formally.

I met Adam as a Growing Bushfoods workshop at the Canberra Environment Centre. He works with Aboriginal and mainstream community organisations/business in the Canberra region and is helping to deliver a Certificate 11 conservation land management course to Aboriginal detainees at the Alexander Maconochie Centre.

We met beside the Koori bush tucker garden which welcomes visitors to Greening Australia. The raised beds are formed in the shape of a gudhi (snake) which is important to the United Ngunawal Elders Council. Many bush foods are seasonal, while others can be eaten all year round. From summer to autumn Adam enjoys fruits including native raspberry, native tomatoes and cherries and snotty gobbles (fruit from the native mistletoe).

In spring, many native flowers come out, some of which can be enjoyed in a salad. Between spring and autumn edible seeds such as bush rice, wattle seed and kurrajong can also be found.

In winter, root vegetables are available, including bulbs from the native leek or onion ( Bulbine bulbosa) which is a small tufted herb with greyish leaves and yellow flowers. The nutritious tuber dies back in winter and can be grown in a container. Small new shoots can be harvested from the bullrush or cumbungi eaten raw or in a salad. The plant is a widespread, robust weed.

Adam digs yams from the yam daisy which are eaten raw or roasted in coals, when they taste like sweet potato. You would be unlikely to find such plump, large yams in the bush, he explains. Those grown at Greening Australia have the best, deep soil and are irrigated.

Close by is Glycine clandestina, a light climber with trifoliate leaves and pale lavender to purple pea flowers. This hardy, local species can be pruned after flowering. It is a sweet treat with roots that can be chewed and taste like liquorice.

At Greening Australia, these plants are propagated for conservation projects. Adam is starting to propagate more of these species purely for bush-tucker projects. More than 1000 yam daisies have already been raised.

Adam is also keen to grow some of the endangered medicine plants so that, particularly, the Aboriginal community, can start using them again. He talks of old man weed, which traditionally was a cure for all ailments. As he says, proper processing of these medicines needs to be taken into account and this is where working with elders who still have the knowledge is very important.

Susan Parsons is a Canberra writer