Health and wellbeing

Bush tucker meets modern nutrition

Cooking guru Aunty Beryl Van-Oploo combines knowledge from her Elders with contemporary foods and modern nutrition.

Aunty Beryl

Of all the wonderful local ingredients found in inner Sydney, lemon myrtle is one of cooking guru Aunty Beryl Van-Oploo’s favourites.

Lemon myrtle can be used in both savoury and sweet dishes, think baked barramundi or biscuits and cheesecake, and in medicinal and beauty products.

Other local ingredients that grow in Sydney include the fruit from lilly pillies and quandongs. Kangaroo is now in supermarkets, while crocodile and other game meats are also available.

Over her 50-year career, Aunty Beryl has run catering enterprises, restaurants and cafes, always with a focus on bush tucker and native ingredients. Now she is passing this know-how on to the younger generations.

Crowds at NAIDOC in the City.
Crowds at NAIDOC in the City.

Aunty Beryl combines knowledge from her Elders with contemporary foods and modern nutrition.

It’s not a difficult leap to make. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are resilient and have survived off the land for many thousands of years. Aunty Beryl says diets were healthy and seasonal. People locally lived off fish and crustaceans from the ocean. In the country it would have been emus, kangaroos, wallabies or even honey ants in the Northern Territory.

She says we all belong to the land, not the other way around. And the land, waterways and sunshine look after us.

Aunty Beryl’s Elders always told her to get an education. She did.

Today she teaches cooking and hospitality skills to young students at the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence. She helps them secure internships and jobs in the restaurant trade.

If you have an education, you have a voice, and a choice.

Aunty Beryl sees students acquire skills and then flourish, taking control of their own journey and enjoying a better quality of life. And Aunty Beryl also sees firsthand the link between education, wellbeing and health.

“If you eat healthy, you can look after somebody else,” she says.

Aunty Beryl showed crowds how to make lemon myrtle biscuits and barbecue kangaroo fillets with native pepper berries. Her demonstration took place at this year’s NAIDOC in the City with the theme, Because of her, we can!

“Women are the backbone in the family and always will be,” says Aunty Beryl. “[They] play the most important part in the family... They’re always there, regardless”.

Aunty Beryl’s lemon myrtle butter biscuits


2 cups (250g) self-raising flour

1 teaspoon dried lemon myrtle

180g butter, softened

½ cup (125g) sugar

1 beaten egg

  1. Preheat oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Sift flour and dried lemon myrtle into a bowl, then rub in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs.
  2. Add sugar and beaten egg and mix into a stiff dough, turn out onto a floured surface and knead gently until smooth.
  3. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for about 30 minutes.
  4. Roll out onto a floured surface about 5mm thick and cut into about 30 biscuits.
  5. Place on a greased baking tray and place in oven at 180 degrees Celsius for about 12 to 15 minutes until golden.

Published 20 July 2018