Aborigines ate a wide variety of food from their local environment. They hunted within their tribal area. Fish in creeks and rivers were caught by placing bushes and sticks across a narrow section of the waterway, leaving two or three small openings. These gaps would be covered with nets held by Aborigines at the turn of the tide. Freshwater fish were at times caught by throwing toxic plant matter into the water, causing the fish to rise to the surface. Fish were the only animals sometimes hunted after dark Both saltwater and freshwater eels were caught, the former with nets and the latter by plucking them out of shallow water in a drought or otherwise by blocking part of the creek and trapping them in nets.
Coastal Aborigines enjoyed molluscs such as oysters, mussels, periwinkles, cockles, whelks and snails; crustaceans including mud and sand crabs, prawns and lobsters; and four types of sea turtles. Most molluscs were cooked before eaten, although oysters were sometimes consumed raw. They sought large freshwater mussels by feeling around the sides of waterholes with their feet. Crabs were taken via a stick with a long hook. The Aborigines would poke these sticks into crab-holes on the bank of a creek at low tide, the crab clutching at the stick which the holder quickly pulled out. Crabs were carried in dillies part filled with twigs to deter them from fighting and breaking their claws. Later they were put on the fire to cook. Both men and women caught crabs.
Kangaroos and wallabies were caught in strong nets. A series of nets were often stretched between trees near a levee where a number might be feeding or resting. The hunters then stood in a circle, banging their waddies and shouting. Trapped by the creek on three sides and the men on part of the fourth, the only means of escape led the animals straight into the nets. A horseshoe of fire had the same effect as a levee, the Aborigines netting or spearing the marsupials as they tried to flee. Sometimes they were crept up on when drinking from a pond or lazing in the midday sun. On other occasions the men smothered their bodies in clay to reduce their scent, camouflaged themselves with leafy branches and stalked their prey. As an added precaution they always hunted into the wind, so there was less chance of the animals picking up their scent or hearing them. Preparation for eating involved singeing the fur and then placing the carcass on the fire upside down to preserve the juices. When nearly cooked, the insides were cleaned out.
Kangaroos had other uses apart from being a source of food. A large or old kangaroo had its skin removed with sharp stones or shells before being stretched, rubbed with ashes, cured, and decorated for use as a rug. Strips of skin were used for nets, and bones for making tools. Many other animals were caught, cooked and eaten, including bandicoots, pademelons, kangaroo rats, and possums. The skins of possums were sewn together to make large blankets for cool winter nights.
In some areas koalas were sacred due to the belief that to kill one would result in drought. This superstition didn’t apply in other areas. To catch a koala, an Aborigine would climb the tree causing the animal to retreat to the end of a limb. He would then shake the branch. The sluggish marsupial was no match for three or four men waiting for it when it fell to the ground.
Birds killed and eaten were usually the larger and less mobile species, including emus, pelicans, cormorants, turkeys, ducks, swans, geese, parrots, cockatoos and quails. Birds such as emus and parrots were often caught in nets flung over them as they drank at a waterhole. Swans and ducks were secured by draping a large net across a creek or the end of a lake near the birds or near to where they were known to come. Eggs of a wide variety of birds were found on the ground or taken from nests.
Honey was a delicacy. Wild bees produced two kinds: a sweet white honey found in hollow trees and a more plentiful, sourer, dark honey found in any tree. Another sweet substance relished by them was a drink made early in the morning in summer by dipping dew-covered honeysuckle in a container of water until the liquid was sweet.
Plant life provided additional food. Fernroot was common in many areas. Another edible root belonged to the freshwater rush, while yams had roots like sweet potatoes. These and other roots were roasted on a fire and usually eaten with meat, fish or bird, but occasionally by themselves. Beans, nuts and berries, if poisonous, were soaked in water before being pounded into cakes and cooked, eliminating their badness and making them edible. Wild fruit of various descriptions were also eaten.
The Aborigines often prepared and ate food as soon as they obtained it. However, the main meal was in the evening when everybody had returned to camp from their various hunting and gathering expeditions. When the meal was cooked they would assemble around the fire, laughing and joking among themselves as they devoured whiting, duck or some other type of meat, while watching the sun set.
Evenings were spent by the camp fire, exchanging stories of recent and not so recent hunts and fights, and reciting legends and fairytales often featuring animals or ghosts as the main characters.