Botanical Alchemy from Darwin backyard plants

Plants are amazingly diverse and used by humans in so many ways, not forgetting their intrinsic connection to all other beings.  Here in the Top End we have an abundance of incredible native plants in our landscape and the ability to grow a huge array of Tropical plants for amenity, aesthetic value, happiness, food or in this case dyes.

square colours landscape.jpg

We have had a bit of a focus on wild food with GULP with a recent twist on dyeing.

Aly de Groot is a local fibre artist inspired by the NT flora and fauna. She has lived and worked in the Top End with local plants as fibres and dyes for many years, often working with indigenous communities on ghost net projects and recycled arts. Using the inspiration of traditional techniques to create a whole other realm of fibre art.

Aly models

When Aly offered to facilitate a workshop for GULP using back yard plant dies before she leaves to Queensland (hopefully not forever) we snapped up the fantastic opportunity for her to share her skills.

The workshop was open to anyone interested, but we limited the numbers so it was not too crammed. An enthusiastic group of wonderful Darwin residents came together on Summer solstice with local food dishes to share, ideas of dye plants and some great enthusiasm. The idea was that Aly guided the morning session and shared her dyeing techniques and after a shared lunch anyone wishing to carried on with experiments of collected plants that we thought might make good dye.

In the morning we went for a little wander in Rapid Creek (the suburb and to the creek edge) to collect some plant material. The rule when collecting is to only take a little from each plants, particularly if it is flowers or fruit, so the plant can still reproduce. We were just looking for Eucalypts or Melaleuca trees with low lying leaves; which are very common and the Weeping Teas Tree (Leptospernum maddium) is very common as a nature strip tree, but usually found along creek edges.


Walk tree sepia

There are many native plants that you can dye with, but we don’t want to encourage everyone to go ripping up Mangroves or native shrubs from the bush, so we have stuck to those easily grown in gardens or replenished.

The Eucalyptus leaves make up a dye bath for the base of dyeing. This can be any plant that is plentiful and will make the base of the colour. Late on we also used green tea. Eucalyptus or Melaleuca leaves make a grey, brown colour and green tea more of a yellowy green colour.

The next step is to choose the dye plants or objects that will make the pattern.


We tried garden turmeric root, Ceylon Spinach berries, Amaranth flowers,

A board of dye plants

Kaffir lime leaves, turmeric (again), Stinky Cheese Fruit root (Monrinda citrifolia)- a common naturalised Top End plant that pops up in gardens and Weeping Tea Tree Leaves.

tumeric rosella

Frozen rosella calyx, like those you would make jam with, were also trialled.

dyeing plants

Then different dye plants and rusty treasures are laid onto the silk fabric…

Wrap all

Rusty nails and old items make great dark patterns, dry tea is added to make orange patches, some onion peel and Okinaoa spinach thrown in for measure and experimental purposes, each placed to add not only colour but pattern through texture.

green plants

Once an agreeable amount of plants are placed inside the material is tightly wrapped up.


Roll colour



The parcels of botanical goodness are wrapped really tightly, with plastic string and other rusty wire adornments and then boiled in the base dye bath.

boil boil

After boiling them for an hour or more, they are pulled out and like Christmas presents, the surprises inside revealed.


The fabric is then rinsed off and ironed. Silk is used as it takes on colours more readily and does not need as many mordents as cotton. Traditionally in the NT strips or strings of plant fibres are dyed then woven; usually Pandanus or Sand Palm.

tumeric result

Noni (Stinky Cheese Fruit) root, turmeric root,  dried tea leaves , rosella and kaffir lime leaves were very effective. The scarves were a fantastic outcome and grew our love of local plants even more.

More plant dye experiments and workshops are planned by the GULP team…

Dye outcome

Group shot

Thanks Aly for your inspiration, thanks City of Darwin for supporting GULP and thanks all participants for the great food and dyeing ideas…

Words and photos by EM Lupin

Celebrate Wet Season Gardening at Lakeside Drive

There are some wonderful community gardens around Darwin where you can meet knowledgeable people who grow veggies during the whole year and value community.

This Sunday Lakeside Drive Community Garden is hosting an Open Garden to celebrate our change in seasons and the great work carried out there by Work for the Dole.

Anyone is invited to come along and check out the garden, meet members, work for the dole participants and express their interest in joining.

Some cultural poles have been placed in the garden by the City of Darwin Council and there will be an opening ceremony too.

There are some plots that will be made available to the community and if you are interested you can register.and find out more about how to get involved.

There will be garden tours, a quick snapshot of what to grow in the wet season and some local garden tea making demos by the GULP project.

So please come along


Fair Food the Documentary- Darwin Premiere

GULP NT have teamed up with the Enviro collective (CDU) and Lakeside Drive Community Garden to Premiere this great doco in the NT.

The AUSTRALIAN FOOD SOVEREIGNTY ALLIANCE INC (AFSA) has produced the film which looks at food systems and fair food.

The movie will be screened under the stars at Lakeside Drive Community Garden at 7pm, with cooking demos, produce talks and Garden tours from 5pm.

There will be time for a short discussion after the movie, local fabulous food served. The movie is by donation and a great way to spend an August Sunday.

We hope to see you there…

Fair Food Flyer Gourd (2)

Wild food Weekend

The GULP NT project has recently starting focussing on bush tucker and wild foods (wild food also included feral animals and weeds) and developing ways of making these interesting plant parts and creatures into delicious dishes.

A group of interested individuals involved in the project got together to brain storm, discuss and experiment with the use of wild foods, including road kill, seafood, bush fruits, roots and leaves. This isn’t the first time as the GULP project has used wild foods to create recipes. GULP members have already been promoting the use of the cane toad, have been wild food collecting in the mangroves with long term Top End local Llyod and GULP has also been involved in a remote project working with a community on an Arnhem Land homeland in devolving products from the wild harvested and abundant Mundtj (Buchanania obovata)

Fruit selction
Before the recent wild food gathering members of the group harvested wild foods either individually or with others and brought them together.


The harvest included many Mud crabs, mud mussels, periwinkles and long bums. These were collected in the very amazing Adelaide River Mouth with environmentalist, local seafood enthusiast and friend Llyod. The expedition took all day but was very worth it.

Longbums, loved also by indigenous people are amazing food in a cone-shaped shell with the very awesome scientific name Telescopium Telescopium. They are found amongst a variety of brackish mangroves in the mud and once cooked turn a wild green colour. They can be boiled or cooked in the coals and then need to be smashed out of their shells. We cooked them up, once shelled in coconut lemongrass, ginger and chilli with home made coconut milk from foraged coconuts from Coconut Grove.


The main focus of our sea food harvest was the delicate and specialised mud mussel ( Polymesoda erosa or Jukwarringa in Tiwi). Once boiled for a short time they open revealing a salty and watery small shell fish which really is delicious. These are mostly found amongst the roots coming up from the mud of the Grey Mangrove, Avicennia marina and are best picked when buried far in the mud and harder to spot. This is the tidal zone, so you have to get in at low tide and you may end up as a mud monster.

Mussel broth best

We also picked up a few periwinkles found on the Stilt mangroves or Rhizophoro.

The mud mussels are best just steamed in a pan until they open. They can be cooked with the leaf of the Grey Mangrove, and this boiled with water is quite tasty as a tea.

A little note on sustainable harvest- Whenever collecting wild food you need to only take as much as you need, always leave more than you take so the plant or animal can reproduce. If the animal or plant is feral/ a weed then this rule does not apply and you help the native environment by taking the produce. 

On our sea journey we also put crab pots down and came back with some juicy mud crabs. We made sure all were big enough and put all females back.
Llyod and crab

Road kill wallaby also featured on the menu. This needs to be fresh, skinned and gutted and can then be frozen for later. It is very sad that many animals are hit by cars, but if you can eat them then there is less waste and to a point the meat had a natural and free life before the unfortunate end.

Bamboo 2

Lou took a technique often used in Asia and after cutting up the meat mixed with a variety of herbs and flavourings including lemongrass, ginger and chilli. This was then stuffed into the bamboo tubes and placed in the coals out of the flames of the fire and sort of steamed.

Bamboo steaming


 Cluster figs were collected by Grusha from Casaurina coastal reserve, they seem to be just getting ready here and all over the riverine margins. They grow on the stem and branches of this tree (Ficus racemosa) and change to an orangey colour when ready. They have a slightly fluffy texture with the hint of sweetness, but to be honest are not that delicious off the tree. Grusha made these into incredible syrup by stewing them in water in a slow cooker with sugar and spices for a couple of hours. These were so good. These were cooked up and a served on pancakes with yoghurt and kapok flowers.

Grusha figs

figs on pancakes figs top view

Pandanus nuts, were cooked on the coals and broken open, but with not much success, the seed seemed to be a little hard to get out, we might need to get a little more advice on this one from our Yolngu family.

Pandanus nuts

Kakudu plum- Terminalia ferdiandiana (frozen and pickled as just out of season) was bought along. The fruit seemed pretty tasty and less stringy frozen. The pickles, preserved in vinegar, sugar and spices were very tasty. It had been picked in May from the bush on the outskirts of Darwin.

pickled green plum

Local Yam root (Dioscorea sp.) was carefully peeled, this took a while as it is very hobbly boobly. This ha been grown in Grusha’s garden, originally collected from the bush. This is the time to harvest them, in unburnt bush so the leaves can be seen. The later in the dry season the foliage dies back.


Emma had collected Syzgium fibrosum, which actually occur more in Arnhem land, but have often planted in landscaping. These sweet little fruits were added to pickled crab and also made into a sweet sauce by simmering with sugar and having as a great side sauce.

Syzygium fibrosum bowl

Wild Rosella (yes kind of a weed) was bought along for cutting and preparing, but also some premade jam was bought along. The Rosella was actually collected in some remnant bushland in the Howard River region in some disturbed areas.

Rossella cutting

Kapok flowers which are currently in flower were added to dishes.

Water Lilly roots (Nyphaeae sp.) harvested that morning from our friend’s dam, were skinned and chopped up to go with the cooked crab. Some backyard egg and lemon mayonnaise was also made to go with it.

lotus roots

Some crab was also pickled with lemongrass, vinegar, ginger, a little chilli and Syzygium fibrosum, which Emma had harvested that morning. This Lilly Pilly is found in Arnhem Land and is very tasty and is now grown in many gardens and for landscaping, so can be ‘foraged’ from in more Urban areas. Steaming and then de-shelling the crab was quite a task!

Crabbed outcut crab in pot

pickled crab

Grevillea flowers from the Fern Leaf Grevillea (Grevillea Pteridifolia) were made into a delicious malty sweet drink, just by adding boiled water from the fire.

Grevillea tea

We also made some Hibiscus, lime and lemongrass tea, not native but also could be served in combination with the Grevillea..Hibiscus lemongrass tea

The gathering was held on  Liz ‘s 30 acre property in Darwin river , which she manages as Land for Wildlife and is all intact, beautiful native woodland (and completely weed free) This seemed a great setting for a wild food workshop and we are very grateful to her as we had to change locations at the last minute and she let us use her place and outdoor kitchen. It is also worth noting that all the plant species that seem tasty to humans support wildlife from insects to birds and mammals.

Liz Amy and BhaviniThis workshop was just the start of many more wild food collecting and preparation experiences and the project hopes to host walks and workshops on particular bush tucker in the October/ November season for any interested others and involve Larrakia representatives.

We will also cover each of these ingredients separately and feature focus pieces on them, so watch this space and we would love to hear from you if you cook with wild foods / bush tucker.

Jamaican Roots in Darwin

Matumba is a fabulous member of our Darwin community and  has lived in Darwin for 16 years. Matumba smiles2

Matumba grew up in Darliston near Montego Bay in Jamaica in the Carribean with his Grandma until he was eight years old. It was pretty simple living, but food was always important, using whatever was grown on the island and available. A real treat and childhood favourite was Cassava Pone- a sweet desert made of grated cassava, sugar and spices. It is like a cake with no flour- there was a lack of flour and only corn maize was available, or local roots Taro and Cassava, which we are happy to be able to grow here!

Matumba moved to London when he was eight to join the rest of his family, but Jamaican cooking still was an important part of life, but a lot of the ingredients had to come from far, but were available due to a strong Caribbean community in London.

After leaving London and travelling in Greece and Australia Matumba settled in Darwin, where he know lives with his family and is happily growing Cassava and other tropical veggies that are so familiar from his childhood.IMG_3756

Matumba shared his story and cassava pone recipe with the GULP team and a large audience of other Darwin community members, with the help of his son Darliston!

Matumba and Darli

The recipe goes something like this-

500g  raw cassava grated

1 ¼ cups brown sugar
1 cup milk
½ tsp. nutmeg or mace
250 g grated coconut- fresh is best
2 cups hot water
1 cup coconut milk
2 tbsp. melted butter or oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp, ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla

  •  Combine cassava with milk, sugar and spices and mix well.
  •  Add coconut, hot water and melted butter.
  • Mix briskly and taste for sweetness desired.
  •  Add more sugar if necessary, pour into greased Pyrex dish.
  • Enjoy with friends
  • cassava pone

Go Bananas

So it seems such a while ago now that we celebrated the banana at our GULP NT banana festival in conjunction with The Mulch Pit and Lakeside Drive community gardens. It is so sad for back yard gardeners that their bananas are being asked to be removed and many people are upset and bananas are a very big part of their life and the deadline for removing bananas is getting closer.

Banana chop chop

The idea of the festival was  due to backyard bananas  being eradicated from Darwin and rural backyards we would celebrate its importance and our love of bananas while they are still here.

The eradication is due to the finding of banana freckle in some bananas in the NT and is a quarantine program to save the bigger banana industry from this ( in a zone that stretches south of the rural area, and then there is a further zone around Bachelor  and a couple of zones East and West) Here is a map . Anyway this story is long and very emotional for many but basically we are  loosing our bananas and can’t grow any for perhaps two years. Now a lot of people are pretty upset about this (and rightly so, as there has not been great communication about the methodology, science and need behind all this) and there may or may not be good reason , but the idea was to celebrate this amazing plant. The banana plant is held highly as a food source in so many places included our wonderful multicultural Darwin and surrounds.

Banana shirt 1

Most people who have room in their yards grow bananas, and there can’t be too many people that don’t love them (so much they have awesome bananas shirts!)  and it is not just the ripe fruit that can be used, they are an amazing landscaping plant with most wonderful large green leaves.

There are many varieties of bananas in Darwin including Red Dakkas, Plantain, finger bananas, sugar bananas and many more.

The leaves can be used to wrap food, serve food, line cake tins, decorate and the list goes on.

The stem can be woven, made into paper and eaten  in amazing dishes, such as soup and curries.

banana stem 2

The green fruit can be eaten raw like a starchy root

The ripe fruit is eaten in many many ways …

We will write  more about this section in detail, but to start with, so we get it out there and show you some wonderful pictures. As we were so busy organising we handed over the camera- we were lucky enough to have our own banana stylist and photographer, Ashleigh Hayes, who is visiting Darwin and loves local food, learning all different foods and has a wonderful food blog ( Most of the photos below are hers and some by Emma lupin.

Anyway here is a brief run down of Banana festivities-

In the cooking area we had 3 (and a bit) fabulous cooking demonstrations,

Amanda, from West Papua who showed everyone how she prepares and cooks the banana flower- Banana flower cut

The most amazing part was the use of no chopping boards and cutting the flower with great skill in her hands! The banana flower was made into a fantastic stir fried salad with some amazing salty and spicy flavours. This dish is very Typical of a favourite dish from West Papua, where Amanda comes from originally.


Kimmy, who is Kerin from Bhurma and moved to Darwin 7 years ago showed us how she uses banana trunk to make a traditional dish, a soup with banana trunk and fish..


Banana trunk pile

The stem of bananas is stripped and then cut. It is important to use the stem of a small to medium banana plant that has not fruited.

Kimmy dish

The dish is a popular dish in Bhurma and is often cooked in soups or salads.

Banana trunk soup  Bhavini showed us how she uses green bananas to make an Indian curry, a favourite of her mum and one she loved growing up. Her family moved to London from India, where plantain were hard to come by, so when years later she moved to Darwin she was happy to

split plantain

Plantain cooked in their skin is a secret to this recipe


The curry is full of flavour and super tasty served with rice and a garnish of coriander.

Bhavini curryThere was a wonderful weaving workshop, where Lia showed participants how you prepare the stems of the banana to make fibre into fabulous woven items, you can also use the banana trash around the stem. There were some amazing creations!banana bowlbanana weave

banna trunk

So if you are very regretfully cutting down your bananas then you can peel the stems like an onion and cut them into long strips, then dry them out for a week or two in the sun (don’t let rain get to them) and then use them as an amazing fibre.

There was banana art displayed from the banana art workshop especially organised for the festival and facilitated by Alison Dowel the previous day..

ali art

banana artSaskia came along and made some great banana stem prints with the kids. Their structure is amazing and they make great stamps!

Banana Saskia printsWe were visited by our amazing and tall banana friends… IMG_2851

and the kids were entertained with Magic Megan and her face painting

Face paints

there were bean bag banana fights


and wonderful banana and coconut smoothies made on the pedal powdered smoothie bike leant by The City of Darwin and powered mainly by this awesome guy!

smoothie man

And many helpers..

Banana bikeThere was an amazing Play back Theatre where people’s banana stories were told back to them through performance, including one ladies story of the bananas she  was given from an old long time Darwin variety and she had taken from garden to garden and now had to get them chopped down.

There was a lively  talking circle to allow people to talk about their banana stories, how they felt about the eradication,  including some practical solutions for filling the gaps post banana plants from Lachlan Mackenzie of Lakeside Drive Garden, some scientific background to the banana freckle and its impact on bananas and banana industry from community member and scientist Rod Baker, the Rural residents Rights Group and other community members with their feelings on the eradication and their opposition to it infringing on people’s rights to grow food and other views and stories from other community members expressing their love for banana and their experiences of being asked to remove their plants.

Then there was food sharing of banana dishes and music..

Banana feast

Some of the banana dishes (above) and what a selection to try- (below)


Lachi banana bowl

Lachi’s Banana flower and sweet leaf salad

Banana flower salad Georgia

Georgia’s banana flower and cucumber salad

Dan and AlexBanana eating love


Banana bands

IMG_2909What an action pact evening and afternoon which really highlighted how high the banana is thought of by local people…

banana flower

Thanks so much to all those who played music (Groupie Funkers, Michael and Lou) , those who helped with the kids area, made smoothies, made food, to those from Playback theatre, Lia for helping with the weaving, those who contributed in the talking circle, all the cooking demonstrators, Magic Megan for face panting, Pick and Flick the stilt walking bananas,  those who bought food, Ali for her banana art workshop and all those who came along and The Mulch Pit for hosting!

Funding for parts of this event were provided by City of Darwin community grants and any donations on the day went toward the Mulch Pit and their new shed project!

Community Banana Festival

Here it is the fabulous announcement of The Community Banana festival! March 8th at The Mulch Pit in Night cliff.

Join us in our love of the banana and our sadness it is getting destroyed- Come and celebrate how amazing the banana is, join in a weaving workshop and learn about its fibres, see cooking demos of all its parts- trunk, leaves and fruit.

Enjoy some banana inspired songs, banana art. Bring a banana dish to share and be part of some banana theatre/ music

There will also be a space for discussion/ a panel!

Please contact us if you would like to contribute. We are looking for more banana trunk cooks and crafters! More banana info and links soon….banana poster lge