Question of the month

Giant pine nut

Why is the Bunya nut important to the Indigenous community?

Answer

The heavy cones of Bunya Pines, filled with nutritious nuts. Photo: Gary Cranitch, QM.

Don’t stand under a Bunya tree in Bunya nut season! The Bunya Pine (Araucaria bidwillii) grows to a height of 50 metres and produces large cones (about the size of a football) which contain 60 or more nuts and can weigh 10kg. These flavoursome and nutritious nuts are rich in oils and carbohydrates and can be eaten raw, roasted, or ground into flour. They were therefore a very nutritious and dependable food source for the Indigenous community.

The bonyi (Gubbi Gubbi word for the Bunya Pine) is a distinctive tree, native to Queensland. It previously mainly grew in the Bunya Mountains and the Blackall Ranges, but has since been widely planted in eastern Queensland. Bunya Pines are part of an ancient group of conifers called Araucarians, which were very successful and widespread during the Mesozoic Era (the “time of the dinosaurs”). Today, the nuts of Bunya Pines are important to Indigenous communities, as they represent a festive period of gathering the nuts and celebrating culture and community. The last recorded Bunya festival was in 1902, after the disruptions of colonial settlement and government policies of dispossession and control of Indigenous peoples. Despite this, the festival is now regaining popularity, albeit in a different form.

In the past nuts were harvested by climbing the trees using a strong vine looped around the tree and the climber’s waist. Cones could also be found on the ground after they broke off and fell to the ground. This was an important periodic food source and it is possible that the Indigenous community may have contributed to extending the area of growth through the planting of Bunya seeds at such festivals.

Once every three years from January to March a bumper harvest of nuts is produced. It was during this time that the Bunya Gatherings occurred, with invited Aboriginal groups travelling from all over Southeast Queensland. Message sticks and smoke signals were used to help spread the invitation to the gathering. People travelled from a radius of around 450 km to attend the festival, from as far north as Bundaberg, to Kilcoy in the south, and even from the islands such as Fraser and Stradbroke Islands. The abundance of food meant the large groups could gather to participate in feasts, ritual events and initiations. This was accompanied by all sorts of trade, from food and objects, to new knowledge exchanges. It was also an opportunity to create kinship ties such as arranged marriages, and to resolve any disputes. Songs, stories and dances were also exchanged between groups. So the Bunya nut means so much more than just a delicious nut to Indigenous communities.

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