Bunya Bounty

The Bunya pine, Araucaria bidwillii, is native to Queensland but can also be found in other parts of the Australian east coast. The process of Aboriginal cultural migration over thousands of years, as well as their towering appeal in parklands, has led to these trees thriving in parts of New South Wales and Victoria. These slow-growing  and long-lived trees have special significance for some Aboriginal groups,  with gatherings and festivals being held at times when Bunya nuts are in abundance.  In the past few weeks, our local Sydney crop swap group has been abuzz with Bunya pine tree sightings. While some members shared recipes and photos of their bunya bounty, others zealously guarded their tree locations, with most located in public spaces.

Photo of Bunya pines taken by Wayne Harris from the Queensland Environment and Heritage Protection website.

Last Sunday, as we were walking back to our car after a play at a playground, Andrew looked around us and excitedly announced that the park was surrounded by Bunya pines. He combed the grass for any fallen pine cones and sure enough, he stumbled across remnants of a pineapple looking green cone that had dropped to the ground. The impact of the fall from height must have smashed it, saving us having to pry open its spiky skin. The children picked up chunks of the cone while Andrew peeled open each piece to retrieve the nuts. “It’s like taking out durian seeds, but less smelly,” he said as our growing pile of Bunya nuts grew. 

We got around 80 nuts from the one partial pine cone.

Over the week, Andrew and I combed Google and Youtube for ways to prepare our Bunya nuts. The best takeaway message from all our online research was: do not dry the pine cones. Of course, by the time we got to this information, our nuts were already two days sun-dried. Our mistake led to an afternoon of cathartic smashing with mortar and pestle on my part. The raw ones I smashed emitted a faint smell like that released when peeling a green mango while the boiled ones gave out an earthy and nutty smell.   

My daughter laying the nuts out for drying. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but this is apparently bunya nut preparation mistake #1.
Our chickens and the neighbourhood birds left the nuts alone.

The nuts can be fried, boiled, powdered, roasted, or even eaten raw. We ended up roasting and boiling the nuts within the week of picking. The boiled Bunya nuts tasted like chestnut with a mashed potato creaminess while the roasted ones were a bit too raw  for my liking.  We shared half of the nuts we gathered because we only needed a few nuts for the dishes we had planned though the week. The Bunya season will continue well until March so we are looking forward to more foraging and crop sharing and swapping for the weeks to come.  

In the great big circle of crop swapping, I swapped my dad's snake beans for a bunch of fresh basil from my cousin Carlo's garden to make pesto.

My family’s chance encounter with that one Bunya pine cone has led to a week of memorable harvesting, cooking, and community sharing experiences. Our encounter has also led us to scrutinise other pines we have come across in our walks since. This increasing awareness for a particular tree and its uses will surely lead to more interesting and rewarding walks for my family this year. 

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Tamar Island Boardwalk, Launceston

The Tamar Island Boardwalk meanders through wetlands  that lead to the grassy Tamar Island then ends on a wooden platform overlooking the kanamaluka/Tamar River. The Tamar wetlands is home to a variety of birds, mammals, reptiles, frogs, fish, and insects. The wetlands currently supports over 1% of the world populations of pied oystercatchers and chestnut teals.  A few years ago, Andrew and I walked along the Tamar Island Boardwalk with our then eighteen-month-old daughter who wobbled along slowly next to the pram. Fast forward to 2017 and we were back with two children along with our new-found family walking buddies: my sister-in-law, Alicia, and her partner, Neil,  which you may remember from our previous Forest Path Walk. 

"You put your eyes on the black bit," Andrew explained.

We started our day at the Wetlands Centre where we picked up maps and the kids inspected preserved specimens of native animals common to the area. My son kept whispering “Is that dead?” then pointing to each display, which Andrew and I took turns in answering with varying versions of yes. Our kids are familiar with the sight of stuffed animals having visited many museums and I have explained, to my daughter at least, that although some animals are killed just because people want them in a collection, most are required to die naturally before they are preserved. At this stage, the age-appropriate version of “naturally” is old age which has recently led her to question why her great-grandmother is still alive. Some drawers were accessible to the visitors, one of which housed a replica of a copperhead snake that was enough to entertain the kids for a few minutes while us adults rummaged through the reference books, peeked through the spotting scopes, and checked the recent lists of bird sightings

Echidna on display.

After the Wetlands Centre, we continued walking for about 500 metres before veering to a side track sheltered by a small patch of melaleuca forest. Here, we were treated to the sight of a bevy of swans slowly navigating their way around trees in the shallow waters. When they sensed us watching, they hurried their pace and broke away from the forest to slow float on the lake next to the bird hide. My daughter said the bird hide smelt like our chicken coop which was enough to deter Neil from going in. 

We welcomed the cool shade cast by the melaleuca forest. There is limited shade between the Wetlands Centre and the picnic area on Tamar Island.
I explained to the kids that these trees were the inspiration behind their cousin Leuca's name.

Away from the melaleuca forest, a constant cool breeze soothed our skins from the stinging midday sun. The continuous rushing noise along the board walk from the wind-swept reeds and sedges served as reminder that these were the dominant vegetation in the area.  My son was intent on finding snakes, unstirred by a bird of prey gracefully circling above us, and the orange-beaked blobs – pelicans – flying towards the water. Alicia and I watched dragonflies darting in and out of the reeds working out the mechanics on how it was possible for our parents to have caught such delicate insects bare-handed. The horizon changed every few bends, from blue skies and cotton wool clouds grounded by farmlands on the mountain sides on one bend, to glimpses of power lines and urban sprawl running along the Tamar Highway the next. 

"Mummy is the black thing a snake?" met by "Umm, move away from the side," from me and "You have to stamp your feet and make a lot of noise," from his sister.
"I can see a bridge!"

There are three bridges along the walk, each offering a welcome breeze and views of the river. Each bridge had a few benches ideal for resting, re-adjusting piggy-back or shoulder-riding passengers, and the usual watching of the river, the reeds, the birds, the sky, the nearby mountains, whatever appeals to the beholder.  I am a bad birdwatcher so naming the birds we saw was a result of thumbing through the Birdlife brochures and bird books we had at home, long after our walk, where my kids and I shared small Eureka moments matching the pictures we took and the details we remembered to the photos we found on our bird books.   

We saw egrets, black swans, pelicans, chestnut teals, masked lapwings, and seagulls, their tracks imprinted on the glistening mudbanks.

An hour later, our shoes crunched gravel signalling our arrival on Tamar Island. We watched superb fairy wrens dart in and out the bushes along the path. Reeds and sedges behind us, we sat at the picnic area munching on some fruit and muesli bars to my son’s squeals of “I want to go home”.  Under the sympathethic gaze of the family of four at the picnic bench next to us, we carried on for another 500 metres, with my son on my shoulders. 

Grassy meadow on Tamar Island.

The walk ended at a platform overlooking a wide section of kanamaluka/Tamar River.  Here we watched a small boat rip through the small waves, a faint whirring sound in the otherwise quiet setting. Well, as quiet as the gusts of wind, the wet slaps of water on the timber posts, distant bird calls, my children’s giggles while pointing out bird poo patches on the platform, and conversations among us adults about wanting to move to Launceston for good.  We returned the way we came with Andrew and I sharing the load that was our son while Neil, Alicia, and my daughter set a fast pace back to the shady respite of the our cars.  

With Tamar Island behind us, we looked forward to more walks and adventures in Tasmania.




3.2 kilometres return



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Walking together

The start of the year is usually a time to set goals and reflect on the years gone by. Last year I set myself a goal of one bushwalk a month. Being a mum, I experienced mother’s guilt when I left my kids at home with Andrew while I hugged my special boulder near Charlotte’s Track in Thredbo and as I scrambled through the bush with my best friend at Wentworth Falls.  I wanted my whole family to experience the joys of being outdoors  together. Andrew loves photography and I’ve spent many years carrying his tripod around as we went on bushwalks before we had children. My son and daughter liked exploring and being outside and I’ve already tried activities with them inspired by the children in nature movement. That was how Walking With Kids came about.  

This year Andrew and I have a common goal of  going on one bushwalk a month with our children. We’re both into BHAGS (“Big Hairy Audacious Goals”) so we also started a family walking group. Our first walk was a short one-hour walk around Cumberland State Forest. My extended family came out to  support the inaugural walk and it was a delight to see grandparents bounding along the path with their grandchildren.  The five kids in the party enjoyed the walk but it was probably the ice blocks expertly packed in an esky in the 25-degree heat that they enjoyed most. Each of the adults and children in our very informal walking group bring their own life experiences and views of the world and I’m really looking forward to spending time and learning more from each of them.

 We would really love to see more families outside not only to connect with nature but also to connect with their families and communities.   Come and join us for a few walks this year. Besides, research has shown that you are 65% more likely to complete a goal if you commit to someone. 

Let’s make 2018 a year of more family walking journeys.  See you soon and happy walking with kids!

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Handy Tips for Night Walks

Walking from Euroka campground to Apple Tree Flat campground in the Blue Mountains on a spring night.
1. Plan and prepare ahead. 

On a recent camping trip, our children made friends with a three-year-old boy, Abel, from the tent next door. At 8.00 pm, Abel, dressed in his lightweight bushwalking gear mirroring his parents’ outfits, came running to our tent, excitedly jumping and asking my children to go with him on a night walk with his family.  Abel’s parents, with apologetic smiles, gently led him away.  Andrew and I discussed a walking plan as we hastily stuck citrus-smelling insect repellent patches on our clothes. It was our first night camping beyond our backyard so we were open to adventure. We decided to  perhaps follow the path Abel’s family took.

Bad idea. As I saw Abel’s family’s flashlights grow smaller in the distance, Andrew and I had to go back three times to pick up what we thought at the time were essentials.  The first trip was to get the camera. The second was to get a long sleeve shirt for one of the kids. The third time was to get another set of headlamps. In hindsight, we should have brought water and our first aid kit. We abandoned our plan to follow in the footsteps of Abel’s super organised and experienced night-walking family and settled instead on walking along a dirt road leading from one campsite to another. 

2. Bring light, but be prepared to turn it off. 

As Andrew came back with a headlamp for me, I thought we were winning at this night walking business. I can have one child on each hand and light the way for Andrew to take photos. 

I switched the headlamp on. I immediately felt tiny soft bodies kissing my face which after a few minutes turned into a swarm invading my nasal cavities.  I let go of the children as I fumbled for the switch, two kids screaming for me to turn the light back on, Andrew bumping into my back in the pitch-black trail. It took me a few more goes of turning the headlamp on and frantically waving before my son decided to use his flashlight, distracting the insects away from my face.  We used the lights as we walked the path. As we reached an open clearing, we turned the lights off to gaze at the sky hoping to catch a glimpse of any remnants of the Leonids meteor shower that peaked earlier that week.  Away from all the suburban lights, the cloudy sky yielded patches of celestial specks but no meteors.

3.  Learn more about the local wildlife you might encounter. Before or after the trip.

Andrew and I knew there would be a lot of kangaroos and wombats in the area. My daughter rolled her eyes as I informed her of this abundance as we drove in that afternoon, no doubt unimpressed by the staple wildlife at Australian zoos. My son on the other hand was entranced by the kangaroos feeding lazily at the open clearings. He photobombed many a campers’ photos as he ran towards kangaroos, hoping to pat and feed them like he does at zoos.  Of course, being wild, the kangaroos merely eyed his advances wearily as I watched a few steps back in case a kangaroo accidentally landed a kick on their pesky little stalker trailing behind them.  

As darkness fell, my daughter’s world was opened to a new way of appreciating the local wildlife. We heard low growling sounds as we stood near a patch of peeling gum trees waiting for our turn to use the pit toilet. At a wooden bridge, we turned our lights off and yielded to the sounds of soft trickling of water punctuated by croaking.  On our way back to our tent, ears well-adjusted to nocturnal sounds, the reassuring cicada hum was occasionally pierced by angry territorial screaming made by the local wombats, which continued well until dawn.  

4. Walk the track during the day.
We did go for a walk that day, but found that that track would be unsuitable for walking with the kids at night because the walk would involve a lot of scrambling up a very steep hill. The path was also bordered by clumps of long grass which could easily harbour snakes and other creepy crawlies. 
In future nightwalks, we will try and walk the track during the day so we can note landmarks in case we got lost and so we can work out vantage points for wildlife observing and stargazing.  Our walk was cut short because we did not know what lay beyond Apple Tree Flat.
5. Celebrate your group’s achievement with post-walk treats.
Just as we lacked preparation for our nightwalk, we continued to excel in doing so for our impromptu post-walk celebration. We brought marshmallows for treats but did not forage for sticks to use earlier and we did not bring firewood for the firepit.

Andrew and I resorted to skewering the marshmallows using unused tent pegs wrapped with tissue at the base and preparing our treats over my dad’s Korean hotpot stove.  Our children eagerly grabbed a tent peg each and propped themselves by the stove, intently watching the initial crackling ignition then retrieving their treat as they watched and blew on the slow sugary burn as Andrew had demonstrated to them.  “I don’t like it,” my son concluded with a wrinkled expression.  My daughter was of the same view but this did not stop both children roasting more marshmallows then offering it to Andrew and me.  

Marshmallow time before bed.

As we lay awake in our tent shortly after, we went through our family routine of recounting what we were thankful for that day. My son was thankful for the kangaroos, my daughter for meeting a new friend, Andrew for the weekend away, and myself for being with my family. We listened to the drone of voices from the other campers nearby before we fell asleep. At 2.00am, my son started screaming for milk. We didn’t bring any. But that’s another story.  

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Playing With Loose Parts

When we go bush walking with our kids, we always come across a multitude of natural loose parts – rocks, stumps, sand, twigs, bark, logs and water to name a few. They come with no specific instructions and the children alone can decide on how to use and/or combine materials. Playing with loose parts can assist in the holistic development of children because:

  • Loose parts can be adapted and manipulated in many ways, exercising children’s gross and fine motor skills.
  • Loose parts can be used in any way the children choose, encouraging creativity.
  • Loose parts encourage open-ended conversations between multiple players, allowing children to practice social, emotional, and language skills.

Loose parts in nature come for free, but we always ask our kids to leave anything they pick up for the creatures, great and small, who may need them. We also don’t have room in the car anyway. Of course, Andrew and I are always at hand to guide play, just in case sticks, turn into ninja nunchucks.

“Giving meaning to loose parts requires us to think about the possibilities of how a child learns and consider the materials and environments she uses. Loose parts create endless possibilities and invite creativity. For example, if a child picks up a rock and starts to play, most likely that rock can become anything the child wants it to be. Imagination, creativity, curiosity, desire, and need are the motivation of loose parts.”

– Mincemoyer, C (2016), “Loose Parts, What Does This Mean

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JD Tipper Loop and Point Loop, Muogamarra Nature Reserve, Cowan

Determined to give the family a break from our routine bushwalks in eucalypt-laden forests (well, okay, we live in Australia), I booked a walking tour at the Muogamarra Nature Reserve in Cowan. Muogamarra is only open to the public six weekends a year, between August to September, when the wildflowers are in bloom. The Reserve is home to over 900 species of native plants, 16 reptiles, and 140 native birds have been sighted here.  We got a sense of the Reserve’s popularity when at 9.30 am on the day of our walk, we arrived to an almost full carpark and lined up for maps behind a throng of nature buffs, young and old, all bright, early, and eager to explore.

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Bungoona Path and Rawson Parade Trail Loop, Audley

Approximately 1 km loop, 30 minutes  

Decades ago when I was growing up in the Philippines, a distant relative we called Lola [grandma] Eling stayed with us one summer.  That summer, Lola Eling took me, my brother, and her grandson on outings with minimal fuss and preparation.  Our recent walk at the Bungoona Path and Rawson Parade Trail in the Audley end of the Royal National Park reminded me of the impromptu days out to parks with Lola Eling with just breakfast leftovers neatly tucked in her handbag. One time she just picked up a pot with some leftover rice that was mostly the brown crunchy bit, dumped the leftover fried egg and tuyo [dried fish] inside, wrapped some plates and cutlery in tissue, put all these in a plastic bag, then off we went to rent bikes at the local park. In Lola Eling style, this impromptu walk was agreed to on the day because the track was short and it was near where we had to drop off my sister-in-law, Alicia, anyway. We brought some leftover fruits and crackers from home.

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Forest Path, Royal National Park

4.4 km loop, 1 hour 45 minutes 

My sister-in law, Alicia, and her partner, Neil, recently joined my family for a winter walk at the Forest Path in the Royal National Park. The Forest Path was built in 1886, seven years after the park was declared a “National Park”.  Logging was permitted in the area during the early part of this century, but public pressure led to the cancellation of the logging contracts. The signboards at the start of the walk remind visitors that “These majestic forests remain a memorial for those people who spoke for them.”

Despite having weeks to check out the Wildwalks track notes for the Forest Path, Andrew and I left reading them to the last minute. This meant we ended up being at the wrong entrance to the walk in Audley, while Alicia and Neil were at the correct entrance, closer to Waterfall.  The kids were oblivious to the slight mishap. With a stroke of serendipity, Alicia and Neil were able to receive Andrew’s voicemail on our whereabouts before their reception failed and it turned out they had to come back to the NPWS Office in Audley to buy their park entrance ticket anyway.

After swooping to a branch then to this bench, this cockatoo warily watched the kids.

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Moon Walk: The Almost Circle Moon

“Take the day and leave us the moon ‘carpe noctum’ and we will seize the night.” – Atticus

I recently read Richard Louv’s book, Vitamin N, and was inspired to incorporate some of his practical outdoor activities in my family life.  I started with the moonwalk: a winter walk on the night of a full moon. Our first moonwalk was on the afternoon of my day off, when  the sky was still blue and on the cusp of darkening, with streaks of pink clouds on the horizon. Earlier that afternoon, as I parked into our driveway, I looked back at the rear view mirror hoping that the kids were asleep so we didn’t have to go on the moonwalk in the 9°C weather.  The kids were both wide-eyed, twisting and turning, eager to get out of their car seats. With their high-pitched voices they announced that we didn’t have to go on a moonwalk because they could see the moon outside the car window anyway. I assured them that the walk would be quick and that we would bring a flashlight and a scooter. We rummaged through the layers of toys, books, and dirty clothes on their bedroom floor – no flashlight. We took out everything in our boot – no scooter. We just had to make do with what the outdoors had to offer.

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Gadyan Track, Berry Island Reserve, Wollstonecraft

750 metres loop, 40 minutes 


It was a sunny winter morning when we decided to stop by Wollstonecraft to explore the Gadyan Track in Berry Island. Berry Island used to be a stand alone island until it was connected to the mainland in the 1960’s through a man-made isthmus of rocks and mud, making the flat picnic area enjoyed by many today. The island contains rock engravings, stone grinding grooves, and middens made by the original occupants of the North Sydney region, the Cammeraygal. To the east of the island lies an Australian Navy establishment and to the west lies a fuel import and storage facility.

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Beach Track and Providential Point Lookout Track, Watamolla

1 km loop

The Royal National Park is Australia’s first national park and the second oldest national park in the world after Yellowstone in the United States.  It was a crisp winter Sunday morning and we started the day lounging at my sister-in-law and her partner’s place in Engadine for a quick visit to return their car that we borrowed last week before heading to the Royal National Park next door. I was so excited to show my kids the ocean-fronting clifftops, the open Pacific Ocean, and coastal heathland that captured me in my twenties but I was met with both of them saying “I don’t like bushwalks,” eyes glued to the TV, intent on finding out how Owlette, Catboy, and Gecko would thwart Romeo’s evil plans. Andrew and I finally succeeded in prying them away from the TV (after all we’re about walking with kids) but it really made me wonder whether they were actually getting anything out of our walks.

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Nepean Lookout, Glenbrook

1.4 km return, 40 minutes

After a week of winter rain, I was relieved that the sun finally came out on the last day of the Queen’s Birthday long weekend. With our daughter spending the long weekend with my parents, Andrew and I decided to take our two-year-old son for an easy walk to the Nepean Lookout in Glenbrook. The Nepean Lookout boasts stunning views of Fairlight Gorge that was carved by the Nepean River along part of a fault line running along the eastern edge of the Blue Mountains.

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Cumberland State Forest, West Pennant Hills

Sensory Trail, 350 m loop, 30 minutes

Forestry Trail, 1.3 km loop, 1 hour

The Cumberland State Forest in West Pennant Hills is home to over 100 species of birds being the last remnant of genuine forest in the Sydney Hills District. The Forest was established in 1939 with parts of it naturally regenerated from earlier agricultural clearing and other parts planted as an arboretum. According to the Forestry Corporation, the Dharug, Guringah and Gummeriagal Aboriginal people traditionally visited the Forest.

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Waterfall Track, Hunts Creek Reserve, Carlingford

2.5 km return, 50 minutes

After a lazy Saturday breakfast of rice bubbles, leftover Thai, and what turned out to be stale peanut butter on toast, our family decided to go on a bushwalk. Andrew and I consulted our trusty go-to list of bushwalks then  agreed to take the kids to the waterfall at the Hunts Creek Reserve in Carlingford. A bushwalk leading to a waterfall and only 25 minutes away? It was hard to say no.

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Would you let your kids play with fire?

Dutch organisation is encouraging parents to allow their children to be involved in risky play. Risky play is defined as thrilling and challenging forms of play  that involve a risk of physical injury and this is usually done outdoors. Risky play involves allowing children to experience height and depth, movement and speed, den building and using tools, and fire. Something to keep in mind for the next walk?

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Leura Cascades Circuit, Leura

844 metres loop, 30 minutes

“I am not wearing that raincoat because it is not raining!” my four-year-old daughter cried as our small family of four packed into our car. “But it might be raining up the mountains today so we have to be prepared.” I answered in exasperation looking up towards the overcast sky.  Her expression changed to wonder as she asked quietly “Why is it raining up the mountains and not here?” I made a mental note to Google how to explain it better in the future and settled with “The world is a very big place and sometimes it rains in one place but not in another.”

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