Kings Park in the Western Australian capital of Perth sits elegantly above the city. It features impressive botanic gardens, but Dr. Richard Walley explains that the Park’s history goes back much, much longer than the British King Edward VII for whom it was named in 1901.
That’s because Dr, Walley is a proud member of the indigenous Nyungar tribe whose people have been living off the land’s incredible produce for a mind-blowing amount of time: "We've been here for 2000 generations - around 60,000 years".
For Whalley and the Nyungar, the site of Kings Park has always been a ‘hill of significance’: “Our culture is matriarchal, so this is our 'mother land'. The magpies and trees are descendants of those who have been here before us, the animals, plants, and places are all totems.”
The Wildflower Experience
We are visiting the park with Dr. Walley as part of a Wildflower Experience with COMO The Treasury, a luxury Perth hotel that is home to one of Australia’s most exciting and innovative chefs, Jed Gerrard who runs the property’s restaurant, Wildflower. As part of the experience, guests explore indigenous Australian produce with Dr. Walley before going foraging with chef Gerrard and then tasting it brilliantly-crafted in his menu back at Wildflower.
In Kings Park, you get to discover the mind-blowing innate knowledge of indigenous peoples who have lived off what often looks like incredibly difficult terrain.
The Nyungar calendar is divided into six seasons, all based on what grows and can be eaten, as Dr. Walley explains:
At the moment, Kamberang - that some way corresponds to autumn - is ‘wildflower season’ - once the kangaroo paw flower is out, it's the start. We knew the seasons and followed them, you came back to where you were ten months ago and all the animals and fish populations were restored.
After a truly enlightening morning, chef Jed takes us to the beaches and dunes just outside the city in the afternoon, one of the many places that he and his team forage for native products that define his ‘Modern West Australian’ cuisine. His eyes light up with enthusiasm as he sees the first plant, even though we have barely left the parking lot: “This is amazing beach rosemary, you can taste it in rapeseed oil so it takes on the flavor. And these buds taste like the beach, the ocean, they have a parsley and spinach flavor - it's natural seasoning.”
He also picks the beautifully-named sea mustard: “It tastes like you're eating hot English mustard and is perfect with kangaroo, emu and even beef. You grind it into a paste like a wasabi and the flowers can be used as a garnish, although they only bloom for a couple of weeks.”
Roots and wings
Back in Wildflower restaurant, he explains that “a lot of my technique is French-based, but I also like cooking on and in the fire with Jarrah hardwood, which is a very typical indigenous technique. For example, Nyungar people will smoke kangaroo and emu to preserve it, or make a paste from bush tomatoes and carry it around with them all day. I cook Wagyu from Margaret River over Jarrah, served with saltbush which tastes like sage.”
As he explains, “Many things grow here and nowhere else in the world” and he certainly makes the very most of them in truly innovative menus that have won critical and public acclaim.
That may mean beef with native five-spice powder that includes saltbush and pepper berries, or scallops with a cream of Geraldton Wax flowers, sea-parsley oil, fennel and apple dressing.
By pushing boundaries and learning about his country’s remarkable natural larder, the future looks bright for Gerrard.