Up in the Top End, the saltwater crocs are getting restless as they enter their breeding season. For those not familiar with the far north of the Northern Territory that sounds terrifying. For the local Gulumoerrgin (Larrakia) people that marks the end of the of Dalay season as it moves into Mayilema season, one of seven seasons with distinctive patterns of weather changes and plant and animal activity.
It’s an important time as the rain eases and the floodplains drain into the sea. This run off creates the perfect environment for barramundi, with lots of fish swimming around the mouths of creeks and rivers.
And that means there will be ceviche NT barramundi with salted cucumber and river mint on the menu at Darwin Convention Centre.
The barramundi main course is part of the Darwin Convention Centre’s Seven Seasons menu, which has been created by executive chef Toby Beaton.
“Understanding the Larrakia’s seven seasons was the first important step in creating the menu, knowing what native foods are plentiful during each season,” he says.
“Then it was a matter of how we could incorporate these ingredients into dishes, to create both a seven-course degustation menu and 3-4 course banquet menu for our guests, allowing them to experience the story of the seasons.”
For Beaton, the deeper understanding that each season has their own special purpose was “an amazing privilege”, especially as a local Territorian.
“Our wish is that guests will have a fuller appreciation of the deep connection the Larrakia people have for the land on which the Darwin Convention Centre stands,” he says.
“With the wisdom and guidance from the Larrakia elders, we are proud to offer an essence of this journey that has been evolving for more than 65,000 years. To be part of this vision will always hold a special place in my heart.”
Marie-Louise Rankin, executive officer of the Statistical Society of Australia, experienced the menu first-hand on her recent visit to Darwin.
“Personally, I feel that one of the best aspects of travel is the opportunity to try new and different foods,” she says.
“We seem to be more adventurous when travelling and more willing to take risks when trying different foods. And in doing this, we create memories of places, memories that will surface for the rest of our lives, often triggered by the smells and tastes that we experienced in a certain place.
“The Seven Seasons menu did exactly that – the stunning food, served with fascinating background information on the individual ingredients – gave me a sense of experiencing authentic Australian cuisine that I will forever connect with Darwin and the Northern Territory.”
For international groups food plays an even greater part of the destination experience, says Daniel Chua, chief executive of Singapore-based experiential communications agency AONIA.
“Food is an absolutely integral experience for any destination,” he says. “It’s also a way to reflect about the human experience.
“A deep spiritualism resides in the outback experience that can help restore harmony amongst city-dwelling visitors.”
It’s also a way to connect with the traditional owners of the land and share in their deeper understanding of the Gulumoerrgin seasons.
“Teaching the next generation and non-Aboriginals about the seasons will educate people on looking after the land and understanding all the plants and habitats each have their own special purpose,” says Larrakia Elder Roque Lee.
“I am very excited to see our traditional food being used in modern cuisine and we are getting to share the Larrakia culture with people from all over the world.”
Beaton says the menu looked beyond just the ingredients.
“We looked at the history of the food, how it was gathered, how it was prepared and how it was cooked,” he says.
“We have provided guests the opportunity to be part of a journey that has been evolving for over thousands of years. The menu is not only about the taste, smell and look of the food, it is about understanding the local land and how Aboriginal people have used the ingredients available to them.”
Each course has accompanying sound and vision, immersing guests into the distinctive weather patterns of the seasons. Every season offers unique sounds, sights, tastes and experiences. Starting with the rhythmic sounds of the didgeridoo, local Larrakia Elder Bilawara Lee introduces each season, with specially commissioned animated imagery and the sounds of nature prevalent for the specific season.
Cassandra McAllister, from Simply Business Solutions, says that adding extra sensory elements created a memorable experience.
“I found myself immersed in a truly unique cultural experience highlighted not only by sound, light and dance but a spectacular taste of what seasonal Darwin has to offer,” she says.
“The music and voice accompanied by a simple light show made us feel like we had been transported to another place and were truly experiencing the different seasons as they change through the eyes of an Indigenous person.”
A trip to the Top End is more than just a new destination for those that have never been – it’s a sensory experience as varied as the Gulumoerrgin seasons.
So how to best showcase that to groups?
“By giving visitors opportunities to experience the unique weather patterns both in the outdoors and within settings such as the Seven Seasons event, complimented with local cuisine with an Indigenous flavour,” says McAllister.
“I really enjoy the relaxed style in Darwin – so full of stories and history very different to anywhere else.”
For more information on holding an event in Darwin head here.