‘Great Cooks of the Desert’ is a five part radio and podcast series that explores the lives of five exemplary home cooks who call the desert home.

The series looks at the challenges and joys of contemporary life in the desert, from the impact of imported grasses on traditional hunting grounds to the risky reliance on transport networks in supplying fresh produce.

It also looks at the everyday reality of living thousands of kilometres from family, friends and the nearest capital city–and in a place of extreme contradictions.

Broadcasting Saturdays 12-1pm on 8CCC 102.1FM

Rita Cattoni

Rita Cattoni is Mparntwe based video and podcast producer and is also a regular radio show host on 8CCC Community Radio. Over the past 22 years, Rita has led of two major Indigenous media organisations– Indigenous Community Television (ICTV) in Alice Springs and PAW Media and Communications (PAW) in Yuendumu.
Rita is passionate about food, the culinary arts and community in Central Australia.

Thank you to the Community Broadcasting Foundation for their support of this project

Ep1: James Young – Leather Artisan, Cameleer, Salami Maker

James Young is a local leather artisan and part-time cameleer. For the past three winters, James has travelled the deserts of Central Australia with his partner, three children, the family dog, three camels and a wagon. It’s his idea of a family holiday.

In this episode we catchup with James while he’s doing some food preparation for the forthcoming camel trip.

Food is an important part of the adventure and home-made salami is the ideal trail food – not requiring refrigeration and providing lots of fun and fat.

Ep2: Rebecca Cadzow – Station Made Cheese

Rebecca Cadzow lives and works on Mt Riddock Station, a long thin cattle station that sits at the foot of the beautiful Hartz Ranges, 200 kms northeast of Alice Springs. Her works days are a dizzying combination of personal support and practical skills – from mental health care check-ins with the younger staff to moving a truckload of cattle by road train to Adelaide.

Rebecca also oversees the station kitchen, which means providing three meals a day, plus morning and afternoon tea to the station crew. And then, she has taken up cheese-making using milk from her own troupe of jersey cows, just ‘for the joy of it’.

In this episode, Rebecca invites us into her kitchen for a day of cheese making and a glimpse of station life.

Ep3: Yamuna Oldfield – Warlpiri Cuisine

Many Aboriginal people in communities around Central Australia still hunt for and eat bush foods. However as country changes with unseasonal weather events and the influx of non-native grasses, hunting bush foods becomes increasingly challenging.

In this episode, we go on a bush trip south of Yuendumu with Yamuna Oldfield and family to hunt for goanna and to explore the idea of a Warlpiri cuisine.

Ep4: Flora Mpofu -From Bulawayo to Alice
(Food and feelings for home)

Originally from Zimbabwe, Flora Mpofu is part of a large community of Zimbabwean health professionals who call Alice Springs home.

The ‘Zim’ (Zimbabwean) community in Alice meet regularly to speak language, to celebrate, to provide support and to keep their culture strong and vibrant.

In this episode Flora prepares traditional Zimbabwean food for a bride welcoming ceremony happening later in the day. She shows us how to cook Zimbabwean food and shares the journey that brought her from Bulawayo, city of kings, to Alice Springs, Australia.

Ep5: Laurie May – Eating Local

Central Australia is heavily reliant on fresh produce transported up from Adelaide via the Stuart Highway or Ghan Railway. A small amount of fruit and vegetables come from the north but not much. When there’s been a major road closure, supermarket shelves can be empty in a matter of hours. When this happened in 2022 with the closure of the Stuart Highway following a major traffic accident, you couldn’t get a single onion anywhere in Alice Springs by that evening.

 Asmall local produce market ran out of the community garden for a few years, but it’s not happening any more. Market gardens have come and gone, and it seems incredibly hard to sustain a business growing produce here. Those who are committed to reducing their food miles and eating locally have to become home innovative cooks, determined gardeners and barterers.

Laurie May is an Mparntwe based poet and media manager. She is also a great cook and gardener. In this episode we visit Laurie in her beautiful kitchen and garden and find out what it takes to eat local only in Alice Springs.

This program was produced and directed by Rita Cattoni

Location Sound Recording – Pin Rada

Stills Photographers – Oliver Eclipse, Sara Maiorino, Francis McIndoe

Audio Mix – Dave Crow

Production support – Miranda Mills

Video – Darcy Gooding

‘Warlpiri Cuisine’ co-directed by Theresa Napurrurla Ross.

Location Sound Recording –  Donovan Jampijinpa Rice

Additional Video – Tex Foxworthy

Translations – Theresa Napurrurla Ross

Other hunters: Tess Napaljarri Ross, Ruth Oldfield.

Produced with the assistance of 8CCC Community Radio, PAW Media and Communications  and the Community Broadcasting Foundation.

A special thanks to Yamurna and PAW Media;

to James Young and family;

to Flora Mpofu and the Zimbabwean community in Alice Springs for their generosity;

to Rebecca Cadzow and family;

and to Laurie May for her generosity.

(C) Rita Cattoni 2023