Finger Lime

Finger Lime, Bailey (1909).

Native Limes, Bailey (1909).

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.

Native Limes, Bailey (1909).

Native Limes, Bailey (1909).

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.

"Cooling summer drinks..." Telegraph, 7 February 1939.

“Cooling summer drinks…” Telegraph, 7 February 1939.

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.

Dictionary of Western Bundjalung..., Sharpe (1995).

Dictionary of Western Bundjalung…, Sharpe (1995).

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.

Gulamygun finger lime, Sharpe (1995).

Finger lime entry, Sharpe (1995).

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!


Desmond Crump

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 naturalisedNAT 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.