The Pindan walnut (Terminalia cunninghamii), also known as the “Kalumburu almond,” is native to the North Western Coast of Australia above the Tropic of Capricorn. It is a relatively new discovery to Europeans and their descendents, who only explored this area of Australia in the early 1900s, but it has been previously known and used by the Aborigines. The local Karajarri people call the nut “Kumpaja.” Eaten raw, the kernel of the nut tastes like almond, but when roasted it tastes like cashew nuts. It is mostly eaten raw. Around thickets of wild trees, it is not unusual to find a carpet of nutshells next to a stone “anvil” with a depression in it and stone “hammers” nearby used to conveniently crack the nuts.
It is a small nut, the size of a large cherry. Within the outer skin is a hard, woody coating, and is a difficult nut to crack. Despite the impenetrability of its cork-like inner husk, it is not dissimilar to – and actually easier to crack – than the Macadamia nut (a native to the east coast of Australia). Currently, it is largely harvested from the wild, although for the past ten years it has been the subject of cultivation trials in practical training programs with local Aboriginal people from the West Kimberley. This program has developed techniques to successfully grow the tree as part of an initiative to establish plantations of traditionally important bush foods on remote communities across the region. There is no necessity for actual picking as, when ripe, the nuts fall from the trees, where they can remain on the ground and viable for many months, even years in drier areas. For this reason, the nut is a particularly important and prized food as it is available virtually all year round, though it is harvested mainly for home consumption as opposed to commercial sales.
This species, native to Gondwana (the former supercontinent containing the landmasses of today’s southern hemisphere), has existed for tens of millions of years. It would have been eaten and feasted on by the first human populations, the Aborigines, who arrived on the Australian continent between 40,000 and 60,000 years ago. There are no traditional recipes, as it could be and usually has been eaten raw. Although it is indigenous to the northwestern Australian coast, it is currently entirely wild-harvested around Broome in western Australia. It is a unique species, and a relic from the Gondwana ecosystems that were very different to the fire-tolerant savannah of today, which replaced the vast forests around 46,000 years ago. There is a widely supported theory that plant species like the Pindan walnut were once much more widespread, and for millions of years were fed on - and their seeds spread by - various mega fauna. Since the extinction of the mega fauna, these plants have steadily been reduced into more isolated pockets, a process still occurring and even accelerating today with the increasing incidence of wildfires across the landscape due to the cessation of traditional Aboriginal burning practices. Even its contemporary habitat is under threat from the increasing number of wildfires and massive industrial expansion. Successful commercial cultivation of the nuts could empower local indigenous Aboriginal communities and bring worldwide recognition to this indigenous Australian food.