By Jo Rittey

With 10 ton of mussels being sold at the Portarlington Mussel Festival on Saturday and it being summer with time spent at beaches, I thought we could turn our attention to the alliterative duo of middens and mussels.

I’m sure you all know what a midden is, but I didn’t until very recently, so for those of you who are like me, here’s the low down so that next time you’re at a beach out of the city, you can have a look.

Coastal shell middens contain the remains of shellfish eaten by Aboriginal people. They can consist of the shells from a single meal or many different meals eaten in the same location over many years. They can also contain the remains of a more varied diet including fish, seal and kangaroo. Charcoal and hearthstones from fires as well as other cultural items such as stone and bone artefacts can also be present.

Shell middens are found in many areas along the Victorian coast. They can be located in sheltered positions in the dunes, coastal scrub and woodlands, within rock shelters, or on exposed cliff tops with good vantage points. They can occur near rocky or sandy shores and also close to coastal wetlands, inlets, estuaries, bays and river mouths.

Coastal shell middens are found as layers of shell exposed in the sides of dunes, banks or cliff tops, or as scatters of shell exposed on eroded surfaces. They range in size from a few metres across to many hundreds of metres and can consist of a thin, single layer, or multiple layers forming a thick deposit.

Shell middens tell us a lot about Aboriginal activities in the past. The types of shells in a midden can show the type of marine environment that was used, and the time of year when Aboriginal people used it.

Feel like cooking up some mussels now? Well here’s a quick and easy way to serve up something tasty and at the same time give thanks to the traditional owners of the land, who for so long respected their environment and knew how to support the ecosystem through eating certain foods at certain times.

Moules mariniere

Allow 12 mussels per person. You will also need butter, an onion, dry white wine, black pepper and chopped parsley.

Clean your mussels, then in a saucepan large enough to fit all your mussels heat the butter and fry the chopped onion until softened. Add the wine (for 6 people, about ¼ cup). Place the mussels on top and cook on high heat until all the mussels have opened. You can stir or shake from time to time. Season with pepper and sprinkle over the parsley.

Thanks to the Victorian Government website for the factual information on middens.



Jo Rittey is a freelance writer who wants to live in a world where apostrophes are used correctly and smiles are genuine. When she’s not roaming the streets of the northside in search of great food, she likes getting lost in beautiful films and having wildly enthusiastic discussions with her friends.

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