The Australian archaeological and ethnographic record indicates that Aboriginal people had a varied diet that included animals such as macropods (kangaroos and wallabies), emus, wombats, possums, reptiles, small birds and shellfish. However detailed analyses indicates strong prey selection and butchery patterns of particular animals in certain parts of the country. For example, in Ice Age southwest Tasmania people predominately hunted the medium-sized Bennett’s wallaby (focusing on the ‘meaty’ hindlimbs where the longbones were always split open to access the marrow) and the wombat (focusing on its head, pectoral girdle and forelimbs which were not always split open and ignored the meatier pelvic region). To understand why this pattern occurred modern butchery or economic utility and nutritional analyses of the meat, marrow and fat of the wombat was conducted. It was found that wombats contained a large amount of readily obtainable flesh and fat along their backs and across their pectoral girdle or shoulders. Nutritional analyses of both wombat fat and bone marrow indicated that neither was particularly high in nutritious unsaturated fats which are not only healthy for us, but taste good and keep us satiated for longer. Overall, it was found that 25% to 40% (7kg to 9.5kg) of a wombat consists of flesh, however its meat and fat are not as healthy as other native animals.
This approach is now being extended to a range of other Australian prey animals that have been recorded from Australian archaeological assemblages, under the umbrella of the 'Native Bush Tucker' project. These include the Eastern grey kangaroo, brushtail and ringtail possum's, bandicoot's, Tasmanian potoroo, Tasmanian pademelon, echidna, platypus, Australian fur seal, and common freshwater and marine shellfish species. This is enabling the development of a comprehensive database of the potential dietary benefits of specific prey animals and their nutritional quality. When complete it will be biggest database of its type anywhere in the world.
Some of the research findings of the 'Native Bush Tucker' project so far:
1. While the common wombat provides a lot of readily obtainable fat it is not particularly healthy (high in saturated fats).
2. The Eastern grey kangaroo has a large amount of meat around its pelvis, but it is very lean. However its bone marrow is highly nutritious.
3. The smaller macropods (pademelon and potoroo) might not provide as much meat as a large kangaroo, but their marrow is much healthier for you.
4. The ringtail and brushtail possum's and the bandicoot's meat is very lean and do not contain much fat.
5. Despite being thought of as ‘fatty’ the platypus is actually very lean.
6. The echidna has a thick layer of fat between its quills and skin which is highly nutritious (high in unsaturated fats).
7. The seal has a large amount of fat or blubber, while its meat is also fatty.
This database will continue to be expanded as animals become available (the majority are collected as roadkill). Eventually it will available online so that anyone interested in Australian fauna can access it.