At the State Library we get some unusual and quite interesting requests from clients. One such query came this week via a phone call from Art Gallery Food & Wine which is the restaurant for the Art Gallery of South Australia. The restaurant is refreshing their menu and have added some traditional foods – one of these being finger limes (Citrus australasica). To add to the authenticity of the menu, the restaurant were including the traditional language names from the area where the food originates. Finger limes were traditionally found in the sub-tropical rainforests of the border ranges of the Northern NSW and Queensland – this area is part of the Bundjalung language nation.
The commercial potential of finger limes was identified as early as 1895 in the Kew Economic Botany Collection; however it wasn’t until the 1980’s that finger limes were commercially harvested in Australia for the hospitality industry. Traditionally finger limes were harvested and eaten during the November-June period with the contents scooped out. The above image is from the Comprehensive Catalogue of Queensland Plants, to which are added, where known, the aboriginal and other vernacular names with numerous illustrations, and copious notes on the properties, features etc., of the plants. Unfortunately, there was no language word recorded in the accompanying text.
Contemporary articles describe finger limes as ‘citrus caviar’ that adds a zing to sweet and savoury dishes. A quick Google turns up a range of recipes including fruit cakes and slices, cordials, pasta, seafood as well as zesty salads. The above article is from the Brisbane Telegraph (1939) highlights the benefits of using finger lime and other native juices to make cordial.
Fortunately, the State Library collections hold a number of items relating to Bundjalung including linguistic work from Margaret Sharpe and Brian and Helen Geytenbeek. A quick scan of published materials found the answer – gulalung which is from one of the Bundjalung dialects.
Interestingly, there is also a separate word for the tree as most Aboriginal languages use the same word when referring to a tree and its fruit or nut. After resolving this language query, I am curious to taste a finger lime!
Indigenous Languages Coordinator, Queensland Memory
SLQ Indigenous Languages webpages
References and Further Reading
Bailey, F. M. (1909) Comprehensive catalogue of Queensland plants both indigenous and naturalised. NAT 581.994 bai
Geytenbeek, B & H. (1971) Gidabal grammar and dictionary. Q499.15 gey
Sharpe, M. (1988) An introduction to the Bundjalung language and its dialects. Q 499.15 SHA
Sharpe, M. (1995) Dictionary of western Bundjalung including Gidhabal and Tabulam Bundjalung. Q 499.15 sha
Stewart, K. & Percival, B. (1997) Bush foods of New South Wales: a botanic record and an Aboriginal oral history. G 581.63209944 1997
Wafer, J. & Lissarrague, A. (2008) A handbook of Aboriginal languages of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. Q 499.15 waf
‘Cooling summer drinks from native fruit juice’, The Telegraph (Brisbane), p. 24. 7 February, 1939.