Viewers know him as the bloke with the exceedingly cool hat with an equally cool Land Rover. The passion he has for his work carries over across the screen to living rooms around the world, and in doing so, Les Hiddins sparked an interest in nutrition for guys around the world.

Viewers know him as the bloke with the exceedingly cool hat with an equally cool Land Rover. The passion he has for his work carries over across the screen to living rooms around the world, and in doing so, Les Hiddins sparked an interest in nutrition for guys around the world.

The most teen guys know about the Australian Outback is a vague image of Uluru, or Ayers Rock, and another image of a bouncing kangaroo or two. Now they know about Land Rovers too, the original all-terrain four wheel drive vehicle.

The now retired Major Les Hiddins of the Australian Army gave thousands of viewers in Canada and Australia a glimpse of what it’s like to work in the outdoors, be part of the army, and get a drive a Land Rover while he enjoyed doing all of it. Collaborating with ABC (Australia Broadcasting Corp.) to film his adventures in a series called The Bushtucker Man, Major Hiddins explored hundreds of miles of Australia, cataloging bush foods, medicines, useful plants and cooking methods used by the local Aboriginals of each area.

Hiddins started on his ‘Army Combat Survival Project’ around 1981. It had occured to him that humans today are still as unable to survive ‘out there’ as there were a hundred years ago due to a lack of basic knowledge. He set a task for himself to go around Australia cataloging not just the edible fruits or leaves, but the toxic ones as well.

There were bushfoods in between the two extremes; some nuts may be toxic when unripe, but perfectly edible and full of calories needed during times of survival when ripe during a very short window of opportunity. The samples of nuts, berries, flowers, bark and so on, were sent to labs to test them for vitamin content, calories, medicinal properties and other nutritional aspects. He also documented many species of fish, small game and other protein sources.

Hiddins showed ABC viewers how every part of certain plants were used for bushstring, bush medicines, and to add comfort to a camp site. A single candle nut (Aleurites moluccana) for example, not only contain a few thousands times the amount of energy of a piece of bread or a cup of rice, but it also so full of fat that they make great candles for some romantic campside lighting, hence the name. He also demonstrated game and fish catching methods, and improvised, such as getting water in the middle of the desert during dry season by covering a tree with a plastic sheet to trap the moisture it releases from its leaves.

Just how important this work is to basic survival was documented when Hiddins traced Ludwig Leichhardt’s route across Australia as recorded in Leichhardt’s expedition journals. It’s a real eye-opener to see just how easily available food was if members of Leichhardt’s expedition had just looked up…or known what would be non-poisonous in a particular season, and which parts of a poisonous fruit WAS edible.

The same goes for Hiddins’ tracing of many other explorers’ whose suffering and early deaths could’ve been avoided, such as the route prisoners escaping from a penitential colony in Darwin (western Australia) – cannibalism would’ve been completely unnecessary!

There have been several people who’ve made an effort to document bushfoods, including Jennifer Isaacs and Peter Latz. But no one did more to demonstrate exactly how they should be used and the importance of selecting the right foods for nutrition and energy than Major Les Hiddins. Since his ABC Bush Tucker Man documentaries began airing, bushfood fanatics have popped up and created recipes for everyday life that include the tucker Hiddins talked about. Warrigal greens pie, Native ginger tea, riberry cake, kangaroo shepherd’s pie and Davidson’s plum jam, are on the shelves of Australian supermarkets. This helps to preserve Aboriginal knowledge that was once “endangered”.

The main reasons I wager guys have become addicted to the Bushtucker Man is because of his honesty, the willingness to get wet, muddy, dirty and dusty, and take difficulties in the Outback in stride. And he wore his regular army clothes instead of promoting some big fashion brandname.

Before his ABC series aired, few people, and few Australians, knew about what was in their own Australian backyard. His enthusiasm, down-to-earth qualities and easy-going manner also come across in the few books he has authored and in his CD-ROM. Guys tune in for his addictive half-hour episodes because Hiddins is a kind of role model in a world where there are very few role models for young men. So should you watch reality tv? Absolutely! Just make sure you tune into the Bush Tucker kind of reality tv (now on videos in Australia and UK available in PAL).

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