Aboriginal bush meats – Traditional food in Australia

dave laslett wombat aboriginal bush food meat
Image / www.davelaslett.com/

When people ask about traditional Australian food, a lot of people are left scratching their heads. They may mention vegemite, steak, sausages & prawns but many don’t know about the wide varieties of traditional bush meats known to Aboriginal people for thousands of years.

In this article we take a look at the huge range of bush meats… basically any living animal (land, sky or sea) that our people once ate before or still eat today. This is the first of our healthy living series that highlights the important role diets play towards our health as Indigenous people. We all know the ill effects caused by smoking and alcohol but the biggest killer of our people today is our poor diets that are jam packed full of sugars and artificial ingredients

Let’s take a look at some of the meats that have kept us strong and healthy for thousands of years.


Kangaroo meat is well known in Australia and internationally as an alternative to other western meats such as lamb or beef. Kangaroo meat is great for people who are looking to build muscle as it is high in protein but low in fat.

kangaroo skinning hunting aboriginal
The tastiest part of a kangaroo is the upper tail


Snakes including pythons make up a number of reptiles that are hunted by Aboriginal people around Australia. Snake meat looks surprisingly appealing as the meat is very clean looking and the taste is surprising as well. Snake meat also absorbs other ingredients very well so you could possibly trick someone into eating it without them knowing.


It may come as a surprise that Echidnas are a sought after animal by Aboriginal people. As with a lot of bush meats, the taste has been described to be just like chicken however we think it’s better than chicken.


These apex killers also become prey to Aboriginal people in Australia’s north. There is some incredible historical footage of skilled hunters searching for crocodiles by locating their bubbles and fearlessly jumping into the water immediately after driving a spear into the animal. Crocodile meat is very juicy and some people have described the taste as anything from chicken to pork.


Be careful if you’re trying to catch yourself a goanna. Goannas and lizards have very sharp claws and if they manage to bite, you could end up with some seriously bad infections. Goannas and lizards are normally cooked over an open fire and they possess a clean looking meat that tastes a lot like chicken.


These animals are loved around the world for their cuteness. Today they are a protected species and we don’t know of any Aboriginal groups that still eat them today. We feel sorry for them as they were hunted to near extinction during colonisation by settlers for their fur.


Are full of meat and easier to catch than most other animals listed here. Wombats were even eaten by European settlers in the 18th century. Wombats are quite fatty and not as desirable as other meats.


Possums were a primary source of meat for Aboriginal people in Australia’s south. Although not commonly eaten today, possum meat is said to be quite tasty and juicy which is much more desirable compared to the meat of a rabbit which are not native to Australia. Possums are also hunted for their fur which can be used to make blankets and coverings.

Aboriginal mother and child wearing a possum cloak


Emu meat is similar to kangaroo meat as it is both high in protein and low in fat. The meat is red, just like beef and shares similar taste to beef as well. There are hundreds of Emus grown for their meat and oil in the United States


One of the most famous bush foods is the witchetty grub. Grubs provide protein in areas where it is hard to come by. Other grubs eaten by Aboriginal people include worms, ants and numerous other types of insects. 

Honey ants in Western Australia
Honey ants in Western Australia


Both freshwater and saltwater turtles are eaten to this day throughout Australia. Turtles have a very distinctive smell once cooked and depending on which part of the turtle you are eating, the taste can range from veal to chicken.


There aren’t too many people who would turn down a plate full of crab meat or crayfish. The soft white meat soaks up any type of ingredients that it is cooked or served with. I’m getting real hungry just thinking about it.


Australia is blessed with a huge range of freshwater and saltwater fish species and eels. Our people found numerous ways to catch them. Fish can be hunted using traps, spears, woven nets and even natural poisons.

aboriginal fishing spears
Spear fishing


Dugongs have been eaten across Indigenous communities across northern Australia for thousands of years. Dugong meat is really delicious and has been compared to traditional meat like pork and veal.


Stingrays are another form of meat eaten to this day by Indigenous people around the northern coastal areas of Australia. Yolngu people love to make stingray balls by mixing the meat together with the stingray’s liver.


Apart from the Emu mentioned earlier, Aboriginal people have and continue to eat many other types of birds. Some of the more popular birds include Magpie Geese, Fruit Bats and smaller mutton type birds. Did you know Aboriginal people in southern areas of Australia once ate penguins?

Proud Aboriginal boys holding a bush turkey
Proud Aboriginal boys holding a bush turkey

So there you have it. Did you realise the range of bush meats that Aboriginal & Torres Strait islander people either ate in the past or continue to eat today? How many of them have you tried? If you haven’t tried any, which ones would you like to try first? Please remember that many of these animals are protected and are only allowed to be hunted by Indigenous people.

If you would like to have your very own article published online, please contact us via our Facebook page or via our contact page. Having your own article published online is a great first step towards a career as a writer or commentator. Larger media publications such as The Guardian and NITV are always on the lookout for new talent.

Historical photo of a skilled aboriginal hunter from the Central NSW coast region
Historical photo of a skilled hunter from the Central NSW coast region
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