As the cool winds of autumn start to sweep across the rugged, rural landscape of Western Australia, the sunny state brims with exquisite seasonal offerings.
Sunrise drapes itself over Perth’s skyline, drawing its bright crimson curtains over the Western Australian capital. It isn’t long before the sun comes out in full swing, revealing a magnificent mosaic of lush green parks, powdery white shorelines, metallic sky scrapers and streets lined with mustard-tinged maple trees. I’m taking in the views from a quiet corner of Victoria Gardens, where I am equally captivated by the Swan River that runs below the mighty Matagarup Bridge – Perth’s new iconic structure linking Burswood to East Perth – and right through the city before emptying into the Indian Ocean.
There’s a slight chill in the air unlike days before – the same cool breeze that’s rustling the slender leaves of the gum tree hovering over me. This could well be an early sign of autumn, or as it is known in Western Australia – Djeran – one of the six seasons according to the aboriginal Nyoongar calendar. The season is a much welcomed respite, as the scorching summer heat gives way to the cool winds that swing south – making it the perfect time to explore Perth’s many seasonal flavours.
For early European settlers, Australia was considered a barren land with a harsh, unforgiving landscape. In his book Australians: Origins to Eureka, author Thomas Keneally described the land as a “sunstruck dungeon at the end of the world” for the convicts and social protesters who were shipped to Australia on the First Fleet in 1788. But, for the Nyoongar people of south west Western Australia, this was a land of plenty.
For over 40,000 years, the Nyoongar – one of Australia’s many aboriginal groups – have lived and thrived on Western Australian soil, and like many indigenous communities around the world, their beliefs, stories, history and culture are deeply rooted in the land.
The Nyoongar calendar with its six seasons (Birak, Bunuru, Djeran, Makuru, Djilba and Kambarang) does not define seasons according to days and months, but by observing Mother Nature – the flowering of plants, behaviour of animals, hibernation of reptiles and songs of the birds among the many indicators of changing seasons. For tens of thousands of years, the Nyoongar navigated the country by following the calendar charted by ancient indigenous knowledge, allowing them to know where, when and what to hunt.
Food Of The Earth
“Aboriginal food has always been seasonal and sustainable,” the affable Dale Tilbrook, owner of Maalinup Aboriginal Gallery and one of Western Australia’s most notable indigenous chefs, confides. “Even in those days, whatever we took from the land, we would give back to make sure there was more for the next season. We foraged and hunted just for what we needed.”
We are sitting at Maalinup Gallery in the Swan Valley, Western Australia’s oldest wine region, which is also known for its fresh farm produce, distilleries and arts and crafts markets. For the last 20 years, Dale and her brother Lyall – descendants of the Wardandi Bibbulmun people near Margaret River – have been promoting the knowledge of their ancestors here, in the confines of this modest shop cum gallery. Its walls are adorned with aboriginal paintings and shelves decked with aboriginal crafts and literature.
There’s even a display of jams, nuts, sauces, chutneys and infused oils – all made with native Australian edibles like desert raisins, wild ruby limes and wattle seeds. “The biggest misconception about bush tucker is that it’s rough,” Dale shares. “But, there are many ways to enjoy it. Lots of plants have pharmaceutical benefits and have more vitamins than the fruits we know about. Most people are blown away when they give bush tucker a try for the first time,” she adds.
Dale might as well include me in that category as I am simply amazed when I savour Maalinup’s mouth-watering indigenous offerings that showcase the best of Djeran: delicate slivers of smoked emu; native seeds, fruits and herbs like tarty desert lime, wild desert peaches called quandongs, sea parsley, lemon myrtle; and a variety of salt bush plants, commonly used in stews and marinades. “Djeran is the time when emus lay their eggs, and the roots of bulrushes are harvested – in the old days, roots of the bulrushes were roasted, peeled, pounded and made into carbohydrate-rich cakes. Now, we use them in salads too,” Dale
explains.But, I’m most impressed by the lamb pie with juicy chunks of lamb flavoured with salt bush and cradled in melt-in-your-mouth pastry. The lamb is beautifully tender and deeply fragrant and flavoursome from time spent grazing in the vast open pastures of Western Australia, and the robust salt bush plays off this sweetness perfectly.
Fruits Of Labour
Having savoured the indigenous flavours of Djeran, next I head to Perth Hills for a history lesson on what the early settlers brought to the Aussie table. Convinced that Australia’s harsh climate would not yield crops, in 1787, Captain Arthur Phillip loaded the first fleet of ships from England with all manner of livestock, seeds, trees and fruits. While many of the introduced plants and animals wreaked havoc for the native flora and fauna of Australia, a few – like the apple – thrived – and the best place to savour this fruit in the cool season, is in the charming country plains of Perth Hills.
A mere 45 minutes from the city centre, the area of Perth Hills sits along the hilly Darling Range. I start the journey as soon as the sun rises, and I have no regrets downing my coffee before heading off – a little scalded tongue is worth it when I think of all the beauty I might have missed had I dozed off in the car. The narrow, winding roads are framed by lush bush land, and on certain stretches, the vistas of sprawling vineyards and orchards in hues of green and gold scattered across the valley are jaw-dropping. I can see Djeran is slowly weaving its ways into the land, leaving trees tinted with specs of amber.
Our first stop is Raeburn Orchards – easily one of the most photographed orchards in the country. “It’s true, we even have expectant mums coming down here to take photos of their baby bumps!” an animated Paul Casotti tells me. Casotti’s parents, Giustino and Eufemia, established the orchard in 1948, and the business has been in the family ever since.
Its 29 hectares are dedicated to cultivating fruits; apples, apricots, plums, persimmons and pomegranates grow in seemingly endless rows of perfectly manicured strips. It’s no surprise that shutterbugs spend entire days here. But, since I have no impressive photography skills to boast of, I opt for the wiser option: sampling cider.
Paul’s son Adam had the good sense to start a cider business within the grounds of the orchard. He opened Roleystone Brewing Co in 2018 and has been experimenting with a variety of apples. “Autumn is our favourite time of the year – it’s apple harvest and production time,” he says with a smile. While he may be a rookie in the scene, his cider – crisp, fresh and thirst-quenching – is already the drink on everyone’s list.
But Adam encourages me to head to neighbouring Pickering Brook Orchard, home of Core Cider, an established apple cider house that experiments with ingredients like ginger, pear and lemon. This popular pit stop for cider enthusiasts is just 10 minutes away. Up to 8,000 trees pepper the stunning orchard Giovanni-Battista Della Franca started in 1939. Jack, as he was known, had a refined taste for spirits, brewing grappa, which became a community favourite. His son Giancarlo followed in his footsteps, but swapped grappa for wine in the 1960s, and today Giovanni-Battista’s grandson John produces a variety of multiple award-winning ciders.
The cider maker Adrian Kenny (also a seasoned wine maker!) takes me through a quick tasting of Core Cider’s best – some sweet, some tart – before serving up a Western Australian must-have with a Core Cider twist: cider battered fish and chips. This quintessentially Aussie delight features bluespot emperor, and has a crisp bite and delicate sweetness – best paired with their sparkling ginger cider. As the sun falls fast behind the hills, I take a quick stroll around the orchard, plucking plums, apples and nectarines and savouring each juicy bite. For visitors with more time, the team at Core Cider offers a fully guided tour of orchard.
Fresh In The West
“The taste of autumn is crisp and fresh,” relays Chef Nic Wood of Santini Bar & Grill at QT hotel in Perth, as he plates up two of his autumn offerings: fennel crusted yellow fin tuna with celeriac, apple, hazelnuts, sesame and lime, and Western Australian marron (crayfish) with fungi, potato mousse, puffed grains and crispy potato skins.
Like many tastemakers in the state, Chef Wood serves nosh that highlights Western Australia’s spectacular local and seasonal
produce. “Beetroot, mandarins, fennel, apple and hazelnuts, celery root – these are some of the freshest produce you can find this season,” he explains. “If we don’t have it, we won’t put it on the menu.”
His sentiments are echoed by the team of young, experimental chefs of Bread in Common – a cosy restaurant housed in an old warehouse in Fremantle, boasting industrial chic. The menu here is a true-blue seasonal beauty; woodfired organic breads served with a spread of white bean, rosemary and saltbush, and sharing plates of kangaroo with cucumber, miso, sesame and horseradish, as well as its most popular dish – a succulent rack of lamb ribs with black garlic, sherry, mint and lime. The jewel in the gem of dishes to me, however, is the baby beetroot, macadamia, apple and mustard salad.
As I tuck into this delight – fresh, bold, invigorating, and so full of colour and texture – it strikes me that this is exactly what Djeran tastes like. It’s a plateful of life.
travel360’s tour of Western Australia was made possible courtesy of Destination Perth, the official regional tourism organisation for Perth and Surrounds. experienceperth.com
WORDS Kerry-Ann Augustin PHOTOGRAPHY Nicky Almasy
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