Kaya Carson’s hands-on demonstration of making mereny – or damper – celebrates its long tradition in Aboriginal culture and reveals its more recent association with economic disadvantage and discrimination in modern times
Kaya’s grandmother had 10 children to care for and every day, at every meal, they ate mereny. In the morning for breakfast, instead of toast, again at midday, and if they were lucky they would have it with a bit of kangaroo tail and a little gravy for dinner.
Her grandmother faithfully taught her how to make mereny but, as Kaya remembers, she did not like to eat it herself. She had made it her whole life because she had worked as a servant and her husband as a shearer. As many Aboriginal workers were in those days, her husband was paid in rations – flour, sugar and tea – instead of wages. The availability of readymade flour meant that mereny became an economical way to keep their bellies fuller for longer.
“Nowadays, not many people make mereny from scratch in the kitchen anymore,” Kaya explains. “In my grandmother’s time, it was not really our preferred choice to eat. It was just what was available to us, what we could afford. Now I make mereny with my own children in remembrance of my grandmother, and to enjoy some quality time with the kids. They love it.”
Through her damper-making workshops, she is reclaiming some of the joy that was felt in ancient bread-making practices before the advent of commercial flour and rationing.
“Originally mereny was something that only be eaten once a year during the warmer months,” explains Kaya. “We had to wait until the seeds from the red-eyed wattle had dropped so that we could gather them and prepare them for grinding. It was a very labour intensive and time-consuming process because parts of the seeds are actually inedible and needed to be separated, washed, dried and then ground with more water into a dough that was cooked on an open fire.”
A lot of love and care still goes into Kaya’s loaves of damper. She recommends you bake it in the oven for about 20 to 30 minutes each side or until the loaf is caramel in colour.
Serve with lots of butter, and jam and cream, and enjoy.
Click here to go to the Walyalup Aboriginal Cultural Centre.