The Bunya Pine (Araucaria bidwillii) is a large tree, growing 30-45 metres in height, with a straight, rough-barked trunk and a very distinctive, symmetrical, dome-shaped crown. It has sharply pointed, lance-shaped leaves, about 2.5cm long, which make it uncomfortable to be around if barefoot, as it drops twigs and leaves frequently. The timber of the Bunya Pine is beautifully grained and is highly valued as a cabinet timber and by woodworkers.
It is an emergent species in rainforest and is confined to Queensland, where it occurs mainly between Nambour and Gympie and west to the Bunya Mountains, with a small occurrence in north Queensland on Mt. Lewis and at Cunnabullen Falls.
The Bunya Pine produces large green cones the size of footballs, each containing 50-100 large nuts, which are encased within a woody shell. The kernel of this nut is a pale beige colour with a firm but waxy texture. The interior of the shell is lined with a fine brown fibre, some of which usually adheres to the nut, but can be eaten with no problems. Cones are to be found during late January and early February in the coastal districts of southern Queensland, and usually about March in the Bunya Mountains. They are not produced every year.
These Bunya Nuts were a rich source of food for the Aborigines of south-east Queensland. During the Bunya season they would temporarily set aside their tribal differences and gather in the mountains for great Bunya Nut Feasts. The aboriginal word for the Bunya Pine was actually bon-yi and the Blackall Range, west of the Sunshine Coast, was known to our local Pine Rivers aborigines as the Bon-yi Mountains. Rollo Petries grandfather, Tom Petrie, was the only free white man to ever attend a bon-yi feast. It was Toms father, Andrew Petrie, who discovered this tree around 1838, and who later gave specimens to Mr. John Bidwill, after whom it was ultimately named.
The Aborigines ate the Bunya Nut raw or roasted, and they also buried them in mud for several months. This was said to greatly improve the flavour and may have been a means of storing them. Certainly, raw nuts in their shells, that have been stored in the bottom of the refrigerator in a sealed container for several months, have a much sweeter taste, and are as fresh as the day they fell from the tree, even though the shells may look a bit mouldy.
I have found many uses for the fruit of the Bunya Pine, both cooked and raw and in savoury and sweet dishes. It is one of the most versatile and useful of all our native foods My family and friends have been mostly willing, but sometimes unwitting guinea pigs, as I researched various recipes for the Go Native - Wild Food Cookbook. So far I have used Bunya Nuts in soups, casseroles, quiches, pies, pastas, vegetables, desserts, cakes, biscuits, bread, damper, scones, pikelets, pastry, lollies and porridge.
The simplest way to prepare Bunya Nuts for eating is to put them in a saucepan of water and boil for about half an hour. Remove from the water and split open while still hot. Remove from the shell and serve with butter (pepper and salt if required). They may be eaten cold, but are better hot.