Tasmanian chef Tim Sculthorpe brings traditional Indigenous food to Dark Mofo

When Tim Sculthorpe opened his street food business, palawa kipli, in Tasmania he wanted to do more than simply pay homage to his Aboriginal ancestors. A direct descendent of Fanny Cochrane Smith and the Palawa people, he's also the first indigenous Australian in the region to do it.

By plating up mutton bird, wallaby, and fried crickets he's raising cultural awareness and putting traditional Tasmanian grub on the menu. 

Through palawa kipli (which translates to Tasmanian Aboriginal food), Sculthorpe takes you on an historical journey with plenty of cultural ambition to connect the culinary dots. Guests attending this month's Dark Mofo During can sample this indigenous cuisine over two weekends during Winter Feast.

Cross-cultural elements

The tongue-in-cheek concept is dubbed 'bush tuckos' and features corn tortillas stacked with indigenous ingredients.

Sculthorpe seasons crickets with wild harvested salt bush and pepperberry sea salt, wallaby is slow cooked for eight hours with Tassie tomatoes and onions with a hint of kunzea (that's myrtle) while mutton bird is served with chips for a quirky take on the fish'n'chip classic.

There are more than 100 native herbs in Tasmania, many of which he finds a purpose for in the pop-up menu at Dark Mofo.

What is Australian food?

The former corporate marketing manager, who was born in Tasmania, traded life in London and Tokyo (where he worked for five years) to find meaning behind every meal his ancestors ate.

He wants to demystify the stereotype of what constitutes Aussie food.

"I have travelled to more than 30 countries for work and pleasure, and each time I arrived somewhere new, people would ask me what typical Australian food was like," says Sculthorpe.

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"I would often say Vegemite or Lamingtons, but the reality is, this is post-invasion food, it's not really Australian.  

"So, the idea to start this business was to remind people that indigenous Australian food has been around a lot longer than that," he says.

Sculthorpe might be banned by his mother from cooking yola (mutton bird) in her kitchen because she's averse to the smell, but says he's had fun finding the perfect flavour for the bird which is often described as a cross between chicken and fish.  

"Aboriginal communities always had mutton bird on the menu. If you want an authentic experience, that's the ticket in," he says.

Curating cuisine

Away from the festival, Sculthorpe runs his business as a catering one. He also hosts degustation and wine pairing which is proving popular too for those who want a cultural connection to land with a side of ceremony too.

Together with his girlfriend Mariana De La Rosa, they've merged her world (Mexican) with his Aboriginal roots to come up with a menu he describes as 'decolonising' your next meal.

"Aboriginal people were the original bakers," says Sculthorpe.

"The mortar and pestle have long been used by them to store grains and break them down. There's evidence Aboriginal people baked cakes and flatbreads as a peace offering to the British in Queensland," he adds.

"By bringing tacos to the menu at Dark Mofo, we wanted to show as a people they've been connected to grains longer than people might realise and that's why we're serving it up," he says.

Word play and power

Naming the experience 'bush tuckos' is a deliberate play on words, but not necessarily a term Sculthorpe endorses.

"People like to call Aboriginal food bush tucker, it's happened over the millennia and not something I like to use, but with that notion in mind, and with my girlfriend's Mexican background, we thought it would be perfect for this occasion," he says.

"This is my chance to not only spread the word about Tasmanian Aborigines on a national stage, but to say we're still here," he says.

"If we can educate people about these traditional ingredients and their connection to country, then that's a win in my book."

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