The Godfather: Peter Corris on hunting and gathering
Until well into the second half of the last century many, perhaps, most, Australian suburbanites were, if not hunters and gatherers, at least part-time gatherers. When I was quite young and my father had the occasional use of a car at weekends, our family would drive to the outer suburbs at the appropriate times of the year to gather mushrooms and blackberries.
The details are lost to me; there must have been arrangements with the owners of vacant land to permit this activity and picnicking. The mushrooms were fried in butter; my mother made jam from the blackberries.
There was a large area of waste land near where we lived in Yarraville, through which ran a shallow stream called Stony Creek. There were also disused quarries filled with murky water which, if they existed anywhere today, would be tightly fenced. As kids we caught yabbies in the creek, the quarries and ponds. Later, after a move to the south-eastern suburbs, a group of us would cycle to Caulfield Racecourse, breach a weak spot in the fence and catch them in the lake in the middle of the course. The technique was to tie a piece of meat onto the end of a bit of string. One mother in particular was amenable to us boiling the yabbies in her kitchen.
These pursuits waned as the built-up areas expanded and spraying reduced the suburban blackberries, now designated a pest, to a scattered remnant.
In 1975 Jean and I went a-gathering when we spent a year in Gippsland. For some weeks we rented a house in Yallourn, a town then in the process of being dismantled to enlarge the open-cut brown-coal mine. There were large vacant paddocks close to the house and we picked bucketsful of blackberries.
Later that year we rented a house on a dairy farm on the outskirts of the village of Boolarra. Again, in the appropriate season, the paddocks were filled with mushrooms, which we gathered and ate until we were sick of the sight and taste of them.
Another chance to forage came after we moved to Sydney and visited a block a friend had west of the Divide. The yabbies we caught in the streams and pools dwarfed those from suburban Melbourne. Caught with a piece of bacon knotted into the toe of a nylon stocking, they were virtually freshwater lobsters and made a magnificent meal.
Our last foray happened at some time in the late 1970s when, with a group of friends, we time-shared a rented cottage at Maianbar in the National Park south of Sydney. We found an oyster bed that had somehow avoided discovery by other users of the park.
The oysters were fat and plentiful. We filled plastic bags and took them back to the cottage. Jean’s count was six and a half dozen and we got through them all, just the two of us, eaten with lemon juice, black pepper, brown bread and butter, and with Jean drinking white wine and me Sheaf stout.
In the years that followed we moved up and down the coast from Coochiemudlo Island in Moreton Bay to the Illawarra on the south coast, occasionally snatching up a stray blackberry or mushroom that had escaped the DDT or the backhoe, but we never again harvested the fruits of the land or sea in bulk.