In this painting Marie Ryder depicts women collecting merne awele awele, known as the wild tomato or gooseberry (Solanum ellipticum) and merne utyerrke, known as the wild or desert fig (Brachypoda). Merne means food in Marie’s language.
The clonal sub-shrub of the awele awele grows most commonly on foothills and lower hill slopes throughout Central Australia. It produces beautiful purple flowers and velvety grey or bluish-green leaves. Drought resistant it can produce tomatoes when the weather is dry, but the tomatoes are produced in abundance during good moisture conditions. The tomatoes are a traditional staple food of the Central desert aboriginals. Once collected, the Aboriginal people eat the tomatoes raw or put them in the hot earth by the fire, sprinkle water on top and cook them.
The figs grow on a large shrub that is found throughout Central Australia. This shrub has smooth grey bark and large glossy green, leathery leaves that were often used in women’s leaf games and love magic. When the figs mature they turn a yellow tint and then to red-brown. These are an important food source and can grow at any time of the year in frost free areas, depending on rainfall. The figs are also an extremely important drought food due to their storage abilities; they can be ground into a paste and rolled into balls for later use. In Aboriginal mythology this plant is also very important and in some places so sacred that anyone known to damage it may be killed.
The U shaped symbol in this painting represents a woman sitting, collecting this bush tucker. She has her digging stick on one side and a decoratively carved coolamon (wooden bowl) on the other side.
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