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The Bush Tucker Man is back and he’s bringing the outback to your smartphone

August 13th, 2019 | | news

In the late 1980s, in the depths of remote Arnhem Land, a captain from the Australian Army sleeps in a swag and fishes the creeks.

As he ventures through the bush, he picks leaves, berries and bark from the dense, wild land.

He knows which are poisonous and which make for a nice cup of tea. He knows how to find fresh water on an isolated beach and how to create fire from tree sap.

Thanks to invaluable local knowledge gleaned from local Indigenous communities, he knows exactly how to survive.

This is Les Hiddins — aka the Bush Tucker Man, Australian icon and beloved ABC TV personality — doing what he does best.

Les Hiddins steps across a small waterfall.

PHOTO: Hiddins travelled all over northern Australia in his quest for bush tucker. (Supplied: Les Hiddins)

An Australian icon

With no scientific background or formal training, Hiddins was led by natural curiosity.

He returned from the Vietnam War in the late 1960s and decided he needed a change of scenery.

“When I came back, I corps transferred from infantry to army aviation and as a result of that found myself in the left-hand seat of a helicopter flying all around northern Australia and Arnhem Land,” he said.

Les Hiddins stands over a Kakadu plum to photograph it.

PHOTO: Les Hiddins takes his first photographs of the Kakadu plum in 1980. (Supplied: Les Hiddins)

“When you go to these very remote areas, you’ve got to ask yourself the question, ‘how would I get on if something happened and I had to survive here?’ So I started doing it as a hobby.

“I would say to the locals, ‘what bush tucker have you got here?'”

In 1987, he was awarded a Defence Fellowship to continue his research into survival in the bush and principally authored the Australian Army’s military survival manual.

He was awarded membership of the Order of Australia the same year.

In July 1988, the first episode of Bush Tucker Man aired on ABC TV. It would soon catapult him to national acclaim.

In the first episode, Hiddins explained that the only Australia native food exported to the world market was macadamias. That has since changed.

“There’s a plum we found in NT, it’s about as big as my thumb,” he said.

“Its common name used to be billygoat plum but we renamed it and we called it the Kakadu plum [and] it is now leading the world in ascorbic acid, Vitamin C. That’s a pretty interesting thing.”

His passion led him to the most remote parts of the country’s north, learning mostly from women in Indigenous communities, and in 2008 he was awarded an honorary doctorate of science from James Cook University.

Into the 21st century

Although his immensely popular TV show ended in 1996 after three seasons, Hiddins didn’t stop learning or communicating his fascinating findings.

Twelve books later, including the much sought-after Field Guide and four children’s books, he has now embraced modern technology.

He and wife Sandy set up an Instagram account to showcase their mix of current and archival photos for a new and younger fan base.

Mrs Hiddins said they often get messages of appreciation via the app.

Les Hiddins writes field notes on a fold-up table in the bush.

PHOTO: Hiddens’s Instagram features archival photos like this, which shows Les writing field notes on location in 1980. (Supplied: Les Hiddins)

“Some of the followers are amazing, they’re primary school teachers in remote Indigenous communities in Arnhem Land,” she said.

“They have written in and sent messages saying, ‘this is so great, my grade four kids love your posts and now we’re watching the DVDs’, and I think that reaches a bigger audience than the books.”

Hiddins has also just launched a user-pays website featuring his comprehensive digital database of bush tucker.

It allows people to search a location and season to discover the types of flora and fauna they can expect to find in that region.

The website was designed by Brisbane company Ruby 6, with whom Hiddins worked closely to ensure it had the Bush Tucker Man feel.

A screenshot of the Bush Tucker Man website.

PHOTO: The Bush Tucker Man website allows users to search Hiddens’s vast database.

“We did originally put out a field guide [but] I thought, why do we want to republish again in paper format?” he said.

“Ruby 6 put all of that together for me, I just handed across to them the information, the photographs, the distribution map.

“I couldn’t do that myself so I had to get some other people who knew what they were doing to do that.”

The more things change the more they stay the same

For Hiddins, not much has changed.

He said life is good and he and Mrs Hiddins still go on regular camping trips to remote Australia.

Mrs Hiddins pointed out that work never really stops for the Bush Tucker Man, but that’s not a bad thing.

Source: ABC

Sourced by Mike Barrow