Posted by Terry Glover
Last month, I had the chance to return to Australia again. It’s been three or four years since I’ve been able to get back home.
Being back on the land again provoked a powerful reaction. There were many years in which I thought I had lost connection to country, but now the feeling hit me right in the muscle memory – the strength of the bond that comes from deeply, intimately knowing a place. I made the choice to leave and build a life in London, but this sensation brought vividly to mind the trauma that so many people experience of being torn from the homelands they love, displaced from the things that give them commonality and community. The pain of that loss is unimaginable.
As I landed, I paid my respects to the traditional custodians of the land – and to my surprise, there was now an announcement on the transit bus at the airport encouraging others to do the same. One of the most hopeful and encouraging changes I noticed while I was in Australia was the rising visibility of Indigenous and Torres Straight Islander perspectives. The nation is currently headed towards a referendum which will ask citizens to vote yes or no to a simple question: whether First Nations voices should be enshrined in Parliament. It seems like the beginning of something long overdue.
On 26 January – Survival Day – I arranged to meet up with some old friends to attend the Naarm (Melbourne) rally and cultural events. It felt good to be there: catching up with my old crew, talking politics, discovering how we’ve grown and changed, and vibing with the positive changes we’ve been seeing in the political and social landscape. We heard some amazing music from Indigenous musicians – Yamba, Doe Eyes and Meridian Hood, Stray Blacks Band, and more – and marveled together at the momentum that this day of mourning, acknowledgement and celebration has gained since we used to attend these rallies as teens. Long may this movement continue to rise and long may we keep embracing the will to learn.
One of the people I’m most eager to learn from is Nornie Bero, the chef behind the culinary project Mabu Mabu. Bero is a Torres Straight Islander who grew up surrounded by the rich foodways and cooking traditions of the Islands. Mabu Mabu draws on these age-old practices, bringing the vibrant flavours of native ingredients to a wider audience. I had the joy of eating a meal at Big Esso, Bero’s all-day bar and kitchen in Naarm (Melbourne) and was blown away. The menu is full of dishes like watermelon with pickled sea succulent and native raisin; emu-liver pate with hibiscus pickle and spiced bellfruit; rock-baked yam with sea parsley and warrigal greens. Her compositions make the unique flavours of the native plants sing.
I’ve brought the Mabu Mabu cookbook back with me to London, and it’s already filling me with inspiration. As always, I packed my suitcase with a stash of native Australian botanicals – wattleberry, myrtle – but I’m also excited to find ways in which I can translate some of these beautiful cooking techniques to the native ingredients of this land. Could I make the watermelon dish I loved so much with elderberry and pickled samphire? Though the ecosystems of these two lands may be wildly different, Bero’s joyful, celebratory approach to cooking keeps resonating with me, oceans away – a nourishing and healing practice, both ancient and new.