A modern taste of history

I was old enough to earn my own living as a waitress during the recession ‘we had to have’ in the early 1990s. I remember that tips shrank and the unrestrained quaffing of champagne (not sparkling wine) ceased at the popular restaurant I worked in. So our current ride on the downward side of the economic cycle is only my second one but I know that sure as mince pies at Christmas that we will go back up and come down again no matter the repentful promises made. I know this because while researching a book on Melbourne’s food history I learnt that this cycle of boom and bust was a leitmotif in this city’s story. I also noted that it is not only our economic cycle that repeats itself. While the way we eat has majestically evolved there are several current food trends that are making a return appearance rather than a debut.

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Fruitier Melbourne 1856 Collection of the State Library of Victoria

 

Seasonal & local

Current food buzzwords such sustainable, seasonal, local and unadulterated, describe precisely the type of diet the Indigenous people of the Melbourne area ate before Europeans arrived. For tens of thousands of years they had fed themselves well while making little impact on the environment. They moved around their tribal lands with the seasons to gather their food, bowing to what nature was willing to offer them rather than pushing her to produce. European settlement destroyed most indigenous food sources and the rich natural gastronomic bounty of the region was irrevocably lost: we will never again eat a diet that is truly local and seasonal to Melbourne. What we can eat is the ‘new’ seasonal and local that was introduced by the white settlers.

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Coffee Stall Bourke Street 1863. Collection of the State Library of Victoria

Local Production

The appearance of small scale ‘boutique’ producers of food and drink such as beer, whisky, gin, cocoa and chocolate mirrors Melbourne’s earliest days. In the early 1840s many of the businesses in the town were small concerns in the food or beverage way (although these would not have been then described as boutique or artisan). There were flour millers, chocolate, cocoa and biscuit manufacturers, coffee roasters, cordial, ginger beer and aerated water producers, pickle-makers, confectioners and a curry powder fabricator amongst others. There were also three brewers and the beer brewed in Melbourne at this time really was ‘local’ using as it did water from the Yarra River: water that was naturally muddy and that served both as the town’s water supply and as the receptacle of its sewage, rubbish and industrial effluent. In 1843 John Mills was forced to close his brewery when it was suspected that his product had been responsible for the death of sixteen people.

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Melbourness pioneering 19th c street vendors. Collection of the State Library of Victoria

 

 

As the town grew into a city some small-scale producers grew into bigger concerns but even as they expanded they kept their means of production ‘local’. Melbourne biscuit company Swallow & Ariel milled their own flour and refined their own sugar (grown on company owned sugar plantations in Queensland). The iconic MacRobertson’s confectionary company made almost every component needed to make their products at their plant in Fitzroy. Raw cocoa kernels (from company owned plantations in New Guinea) were conched, roasted, ground and refined there before being turned into Old Gold chocolate, Cherry Ripe bars and Freddo Frogs. The machinery and moulds used to make or these sweets and the packaging for them was also made on site. Both companies also employed significant workforces during their years of operation.

Restaurant kitchen gardens

The modern Melbourne restaurateurs and chefs who have recently set up their own food gardens may or may not have taken their inspiration from some of the city’s seminal restaurateurs. In the 1870’s Parer’s Crystal Café in Bourke Street was one of the finest eating establishments in Melbourne, particularly noted for its high quality pork. The Parer family had immigrated to Melbourne from Barcelona in the 1860s and built up a solid reputation as Melbourne restaurateurs and caterers. The Parer’s kept a small farm at Box Hill where they raised the pigs that produced the celebrated pork on restaurant waste and grew much of the produce they used.

In the early years of the twentieth century Melbourne’s most celebrated restaurant —and at a gold guinea for dinner the most expensive —was Café Denat at 178 Exhibition Street (one of several sites it occupied) It was run by French-Swiss émigré Calexte Denat and his Australian born wife Mary Watson. Mary ran the dining room and the business side of the restaurant; Denat the kitchen and a market garden in East Brighton where he grew vegetables and fruit for the restaurant (he also purportedly consumed a bottle of brandy each day and put his cooking career to an end when he fell off a tram on his way home from the restaurant one evening).

To cope with the shortages of fresh fruit and vegetables during World War Two some of Melbourne’s Italian restaurateurs turned their domestic gardens to work growing vegetables to supplement the limited food they could buy.

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Victoria Market 1882. From the collection of the State Library of Victoria.

Frugality

Thanks to the ‘recessionary climate ‘frugality’ has been declared fashionable. Luckily we can plunder the past for plenty of tips on making do with less in the kitchen. Modern ‘freegans’ (aka ‘dumpster divers’) choose to scavenge their food from rubbish bins or other cost neutral sources as an anarchist act. During the Great Depression scavenging a meal from waste sources was not a political act but a necessary means of survival. The writer Alan Marshall lived in Melbourne during the Depression and he witnessed hungry men patiently queuing at the backdoors of city restaurants waiting to receive the refuse of paid meals — chop bones, ‘nibbled portions of cheese’, ‘fatty salvages of steak’ and crusts of pies all mixed in with tea leaves and coffee grounds —for their dinner. One night a man sat down after him in a restaurant and ate the gristle Marshall had left on his plate.

The majority of families did not experience the extreme depravity faced by the men Marshall describes but Melbourne housewives had to be prudent with food, and energy, and not a bit of either was wasted. The peelings from various fruit was dried and used as tea; pumpkin skins were turned into jam and half cooked meals were removed from the stove and the hot saucepans wrapped in blankets or cushions to capture the heat and complete the cooking process. The commodious backyards of suburban Melbourne became a significant source of food during the Depression as people had the space to grow vegetables, keep poultry and cultivate fruit trees (they also saved municipalities some work by collecting any horse manure deposited on the streets to fertilise their gardens). All this food frugality stood people in good stead when World War Two broke out in 1939 and the demands of feeding the troops required that most foods be rationed.

Restaurant survival

Given that the restaurant industry is typically one of the first to feel the chill of an adverse financial climate a look at the experience of those who have weathered previous downturns might provide some sage advice. In 1893 Victoria’s banks closed for a week for what was euphemistically termed a ‘bank holiday’. The truth was that the banking system had collapsed, due in large part to the failure of numerous land speculation schemes, and Victoria went into a devastating depression. Melbourne’s restaurant proprietors quickly adapted and brought their prices down; even the most expensive restaurants charged no more than what was a very reasonable two shillings and sixpence for a six-course dinner. This strategy seemed to work as the restaurant listings in the directory over the next few years show no discernible decrease in numbers. When the temporary citing of the new Australian parliament in Melbourne in 1901 returned the city to prosperity fancy establishments such as Café Denat were able to reinstate higher prices.

During the Great Depression Melbourne’s Italian restaurateurs allowed patrons to chalk up their debt on a blackboard to be paid when circumstances permitted. This kept their businesses going but it was also a small act of humanity in hard times. On the heels of the Depression Café Petrushka —‘the only Russian kitchen’ in town opened in Collins Street. Its popularity with the city’s bohemian crowd made it madly fashionable but its patrons were not always flush with cash. The proprietors allowed hard-up patrons to assist them with market shopping or handwrite the menu in exchange for a meal.

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Cafe de Paris Bourke Street 1862. Collection of the State Library of Victoria.

 

Waste Not

Even after World War Two ended Britain continued to endure food shortages and rationing. To assist our British kin in coping with this instigated a ‘Fat for Britain’ campaign was instigated. The good citizens of Melbourne were encouraged to collect the excess fat extruded from their roasts and chops and donate it at ‘fat depots’ from where it was collected, consolidated and shipped to London (by which time it was usually rancid). With a bit of luck we wont have to reinstate fat collection to support anybody through these current hard times but if you are looking for some suggestions on more economical use of your food here are some rather good recipes from Melbourne’s food heritage that you may like to try.

Margaret Pearson was a popular Melbourne cookery teacher and cookbook author in the later decades of the nineteenth century. A Scot by birth she prided herself on ‘economy’ in her cookery so this recipe would have been dear to her heart as it employs stale cake (which might otherwise been shown the bin) – quite deliciously – to make it.

Pineapple Pudding

Ingredients

Serves 6

250 g fresh pineapple, thinly sliced

1 cup brown sugar

1 small plain cake (preferably a few days old), sliced 

Method

Butter a deep pie dish and line the bottom with slices of pineapple. Strew with sugar and continue to do this in layers until the pineapple is used up. Cover the top with slices of cake. Pour a cup of hot water over the cake and cover it with buttered foil. Bake at 160 °C for 60 minutes or until pineapple is cooked through and the water absorbed.   Serve hot with cream.

Devilled Bones 

‘Deviling’ foods was popular in the Edwardian era and it was often applied to left-overs to permit them to make a encore appearance on the dining table. This recipe for devilled bones is from the 1905 edition of Mrs Maclurcan’s Cookery Book (Maclurcan was a Queenslander but this edition was published in Melbourne by George Robertson & Company so I give it a pass as a ‘Melbourne book’).

Ingredients

Serves 4

bone from a lamb roast

cooked chicken bones

1 teaspoon mustard powder (or to taste)

30 g butter

cayenne pepper

salt to taste

a little melted butter

 Method

Chop the bones to a medium size and score them with a knife. Mix the mustard powder with the butter, cayenne pepper and salt to taste. Rub this mixture into the scores you have made on the bones. Grill the bones until hot and then sprinkle a little more melted butter over them.  Serve hot with homemade potato chips.

Grilled Open Sandwiches  

The rationing of food during World War Two actually served to improve the diet of Australians as they ate less meat, saturated fat and sugar. The domestic economy columns of Melbourne’s newspapers were full of tips and recipes to help housewives ‘stretch’ their meat rations and to create sweet treats using significantly reduced quantities of sugar.This recipe comes from an article ‘How to stretch your meat ration’ from the Argus, 7 May 1945.

Ingredients

Makes 3 sandwiches

2 red apples

1 teaspoon sugar

45 g bacon fat (this would have been saved from cooking bacon; use butter if you don’t have any)

6 sausages

6 slices bread

170 g cheddar cheese, sliced

salt and pepper

Method

Core the apples and cut into slices ¼ inch thick, sprinkle each slice with a little sugar and bacon fat or butter. Grill under a slow heat until tender. Cut the sausages in half lengthwise and grill or dry fry.

Toast the bread slices, spread lightly with bacon fat or butter and on each slice place hot grilled apple, the two sausage halves and season with salt and pepper. Top with cheese and grill under a low heat until the cheese melts. Serve at once.

Austerity Pudding

This recipe for a steamed pudding appeared in the Age in August 1943. Its sweetness is gained from the inclusion of fresh carrot or parsnip and dried fruit.

Ingredients

Serves 6

475 g plain flour

½ teaspoon bicarb soda

30 g sugar

60 g suet*

90 g breadcrumbs

115 g dried fruit (chop finely if using larger fruits such as figs)

115 g raw carrot, parsnip or beetroot, grated

150 ml pint milk

Method

Sift the flour, bicarb soda and the sugar together into a bowl. Rub the suet into the flour. Mix in the breadcrumbs, dried fruit and grated vegetable. Stir in the milk and pour into a steaming dish (if you don’t have such a dish, cover a heat-proof bowl firmly with aluminum foil and secure with string). Place in a large pot of boiling water and steam for 2 hours. Serve hot.

*suet is available from supermarkets; you can substitute butter but the pudding will have a heavier texture.

 

The New Temperance ?

 

Recent headlines announcing the closure of the iconic Tote Hotel due in part to amendments to the Liquor Control Reform Act; radio talkback about the possible causes of alcohol fuelled street violence and looming billboards showing a child’s view of a parent filtered through a wine glass reminded me that Melbourne has had a precarious relationship with intoxicating beverages from its inception. Alcohol related troubles are not new to this city and the cures currently being prescribed for these ills have been tried before.

Melbourne’s very foundations were watered with alcohol. Several barrels of rum were amongst the provisions unloaded onto the banks of the Yarra by the founding European settlers in 1835. The first —relatively —substantial structure to be erected in the early settlement was a hotel run by John Fawkner. Commercial motive had compelled Fawkner across Bass Strait to Melbourne (then called the Port Phillip District) and he did not let the fact of his being a teetotaler get in the way of what he rightly deduced to represent his best opportunity to make a profit. Within twelve months the small population of just over 200 had put away some 9000 litres of rum, 6000 litres of brandy and considerable measures of beer and gin. Not all of this was dispensed over Fawkner’s bar but he did a fine trade and soon had serious competition. The number of public houses multiplied at an extraordinary rate in comparison to the size of the population and three years after settlement such was the demand for grog that three breweries were operating to keep up the supply. By 1840 Melbourne had an international reputation as a rowdy place whose inhabitants indulged too freely in ‘strong potations’ with estimates putting their rate of alcohol consumption to be twice that of people in Britain.

The profits to be made selling alcohol in Melbourne’s nascent years were enhanced by its illegality (the entire settlement was illegal). No publican held a licence therefore no government dues were paid. This was remedied in 1839 when William Lonsdale was sent from Sydney to bestow legitimacy on the community and ensure that the authorities got their share of this lucrative liquor trade via fees, taxes and fines. The issuing of licences came with government controls such as prescribed opening hours and stipulations about whom alcohol could be sold to: for example a penalty could be levied against a publican who sold liquor to a married person whose consumption of alcohol was known to cause difficulties in his family.

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Diggers of low degree by T.S Gil, held in the collection of the State Library of Victoria 

Recent headlines announcing the closure of the iconic Tote Hotel due in part to amendments to the Liquor Control Reform Act; radio talkback about the possible causes of alcohol fuelled street violence and looming billboards showing a child’s view of a parent filtered through a wine glass reminded me that Melbourne has had a precarious relationship with intoxicating beverages from its inception. Alcohol related troubles are not new to this city and the cures currently being prescribed for these ills have been tried before.

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Preparing to go through the court: a very distressing case. Frederick Grosse. Collection of the State Library of Victoria.

Melbourne’s very foundations were watered with alcohol. Several barrels of rum were amongst the provisions unloaded onto the banks of the Yarra by the founding European settlers in 1835. The first —relatively —substantial structure to be erected in the early settlement was a hotel run by John Fawkner. Commercial motive had compelled Fawkner across Bass Strait to Melbourne (then called the Port Phillip District) and he did not let the fact of his being a teetotaler get in the way of what he rightly deduced to represent his best opportunity to make a profit. Within twelve months the small population of just over 200 had put away some 9000 litres of rum, 6000 litres of brandy and considerable measures of beer and gin. Not all of this was dispensed over Fawkner’s bar but he did a fine trade and soon had serious competition. The number of public houses multiplied at an extraordinary rate in comparison to the size of the population and three years after settlement such was the demand for grog that three breweries were operating to keep up the supply. By 1840 Melbourne had an international reputation as a rowdy place whose inhabitants indulged too freely in ‘strong potations’ with estimates putting their rate of alcohol consumption to be twice that of people in Britain.

The profits to be made selling alcohol in Melbourne’s nascent years were enhanced by its illegality (the entire settlement was illegal). No publican held a licence therefore no government dues were paid. This was remedied in 1839 when William Lonsdale was sent from Sydney to bestow legitimacy on the community and ensure that the authorities got their share of this lucrative liquor trade via fees, taxes and fines. The issuing of licences came with government controls such as prescribed opening hours and stipulations about whom alcohol could be sold to: for example a penalty could be levied against a publican who sold liquor to a married person whose consumption of alcohol was known to cause difficulties in his family.

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Evening Service. Melbourne Punch 1856. Collection of the State Library of Victoria 

The existence of such a law was indicative that the predilection for alcohol in Melbourne was not without community impact but the police force was too small to ensure that regulations were robustly adhered to. Even when offenders against licensing regulations were caught they were not educated, or penalized heavily enough, towards discouraging repeat offences. It therefore fell on the citizens of Melbourne themselves to take action. In 1837 the Port Phillip Temperance Society was inaugurated; its mission to gain the prohibition of the use of ‘ardent spirits for anything other than medicinal purposes’: they had not picked an easy battle. When the Melbourne Total Abstinence Society invited the well-known temperance evangelist Isabella Dalgarno to deliver a lecture on the evils of drink in Melbourne in 1842, a consortium of local publicans organized for some thugs to attend her lecture and rustle her from the stage. When the matter appeared in court the next day the bruised Dalgarno, the victim in the case, found herself admonished by the judge —who happened to alternate his judicial duties with selling wine and spirits — for having the audacity to speak in front of men: her attackers were let off without even a warning.

This incident reflected where the allegiance of Melbourne’s powerbrokers lay in respect to drink, and this had as much to do with pleasure as money. When petitioned to lend his support to the temperance cause the Anglican Archbishop refused saying that wine was a gift that god intended his flock to enjoy. Lacking the support of any significant civic, commercial or spiritual leader the temperance movement made few gains towards its goal and its voice was pretty much drowned out by the din of the gold rush.

Within a year of gold being discovered in Victoria in 1851 Melbourne’s population more than doubled with 10,000 people a week arriving in the town at the height of the rush. To provide for all these people there was a rapid growth of commercial enterprises particularly hotels. There was, without exaggeration, a licenced house on every street corner and several more on the block in between and all well patronized. Having observed the profits to be made serving drinks in Melbourne while passing through on route to the goldfields Frenchman Antoine Fauchery later returned and opened a small café in Little Bourke Street serving coffee and alcoholic beverages. He traded without a licence but the police turned a blind eye to this as his clientele —foreigners and bohemian types — were quiet and didn’t cause any trouble unlike many of the patrons of the legitimate licenced premises.

Gold money grew Melbourne from a dusty frontier town to one of the largest cities in the British Empire by the 1880s. Once dusty city streets were recast as elegant tree lined boulevards and grand buildings cut a majestic skyline but it remained a city with a drinking problem. George Meudell described Melbourne at this time as a ‘roughish sort of town, wide open and frankly immoral’: a place where French champagne flowed in bars that traded long beyond opening hours because there were not enough police to stop them. In the less salubrious allies and laneways around Little Lonsdale street booze was imbibed as generously though its provenance was likely a local brewery or sly grog still.

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The Night Birds of Melbourne 1877

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Counter Attractions at the Royal, T.S. Gil circa 1856, Collection of the State Library of Victoria 

 

Man-about -town Muedell could hold his drink but many others couldn’t resulting in violence on the streets and in the privacy of homes. Community opposition to the selling of alcohol in Melbourne – and Victoria —was growing louder. This time the temperance leagues had might on their side: several of the city’s most pious teetotalers were also rich and influential men, most notably the ‘dour Scot’ James Munro (who at the pinnacle of his power became Premier and Treasurer of Victoria in 1890). In consortium with other like-minded men Munro developed several grand ‘coffee palaces’ around the city. From all reports these were most amenable places where patrons could avail themselves of all manner of food and drink —except alcohol — yet most failed to show a decent return. Like Fawkner, Munro was not one to let his principles get in the way of financial gain (in more ways than one). After ceremoniously burning the licence for the Grand Hotel (now the Windsor) he later reapplied for it after the hotel failed to make a profit as a coffee palace. Munro and his ilk did not manage to eradicate alcohol from the city but Melbournians were rudely forced to sober up in 1893 when Victoria’s economy collapsed: thanks in no small part to Munro who was caught with his hands in the till. With one of their most prominent advocates deeply implicated in the dodgy dealings that had resulted in truly widespread community misery the temperance leaguers went quite for a while. They were vociferously campaigning again by the turn of the century though.

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All is Right When Dad is Sober 1872. Collection of the State Library of Victoria

 

In 1912 a collective of temperance groups and professional caterers joined together to demand the abolishment of the free counter lunches then available in many Melbourne pubs. The group claimed that the provision of these meals was an unfair and morally reprehensible business practice as they were offered as an inducement to purchase alcoholic drinks (which indeed they were). The free lunches were abolished in 1914 but this was due to austerity measures imposed with the advent of the First World War. A year later 6pm closing for hotels was instituted—and remained in place until1966. Ultimately this law did little to curb drinking: men just spent the hour between knocking off work at five and hotel closing time frenetically downing glasses of beer. At six o’clock they were disgorged on mass from hotels across the city many vomiting on footpaths and others looking for, and often finding, a fight.

It was the inter-war years that saw the anti-liquor crusaders reach the apogee of their influence. Inspired by America’s prohibition laws Victorians went to a ‘no-licence’ poll in 1920 at which the citizens of Boroondara and Nunawading voted for the sale of alcohol to be banned in these areas. In 1926 the Women’s Christian Temperance Union succeeded in having the half-cup of brandy specified in a fruitcake recipe contained in a cookbook used in Victorian schools removed from the ingredients list. Another poll was held in 1930 and again in 1938. The issue at stake was the same at both: the abolishment of liquor licences and closure of all bars and premises that sold alcohol in Victoria. Campaigning on this issue was fierce, and prescient of the aforementioned billboards, the effect of drinking on children was writ large. Pamphlets distributed by various prohibitionist groups bore pictures of angelic children and captions reading: ‘My daddy sold me to a brewery’ and ‘Daddy if you vote for Liquor, will you blame me if I drink?’. Both the polls were defeated but a strong repugnance against the ‘demon drink’ lingered and the liquor licensing laws deliberately implemented to curb social drinking during World War One largely remained in place for the next two decades.

Melbourne in the 1950s had a reputation as drab city of ‘wowsers’ — due in no small part to the ‘antiquated’ liquor licensing laws that its citizens seemed to prefer. There were those though who wanted to enjoy a glass of wine with their meal when they dined out or to facilitate this experience. For years Victorian restaurateurs, wine retailers, wine makers and their patrons had been ardently rallying against the licensing laws. In 1956 – the year Melbourne hosted the Olympic Games— they won the first increment of reform when hotels gained licence to serve liquor with meals until 10pm in their dining rooms. In 1960 restaurants not attached to hotels won the right to serve liquor with meals until 10pm; in 1966 six o’clock closing was repealed and bars were allowed to serve alcohol until 10pm and in 1968 patrons were permitted to bring their own wine (BYO) to a restaurant. This contributed to a boom in BYO establishments. There was no such comparative growth in the licensed restaurant sector – a circumstance that restaurateur Richard Frank blamed on Victoria’s ‘loony’ liquor laws. These laws made it relatively simple and inexpensive to apply for a BYO permit, but required applicants for a restaurant licence to undergo a lengthy and expensive process, including a scrutiny of their morals, to obtain a permit to operate a licensed restaurant.

In 1987 Victorian licensing laws were radically overhauled after a report commissioned by the government (the ‘Nieuwenhuysen Report’) recommended a more liberal and civilised attitude towards liquor licensing be adopted in Victoria. The Liquor Control Act 1987 allowed for extended trading hours for licenced premises; permitted licenced restaurants to sell liquor without meals and allowed for different types of businesses to sell alcohol. A survey conducted by Nieuwenhuysen found that the general populace was reluctant to support such wholesale changes to the way alcohol was sold in Victoria. Yet when these changes were implemented they catalysed a revolution in the way Melburnians ate, drank and socialized: the rest as they say is history — or history repeating itself.

Since licensing deregulation was implemented in Victoria in1988 bars in particular have proliferated in the CBD and inner city at a rate not seen since Melbourne’s earliest decades. Community opinion has landed the blame for our current alcohol related social problems such as street violence and binge drinking on the ease of availability of alcohol. The government’s response has been to introduce restrictions on liquor licensing: a strategy that history shows does not work. While more considered argument suggests that we need to look at the prevailing —and again, historical — cultural attitude that views excessive consumption of alcohol as a normal social behaviour; that violence is happening outside of and not on licensed premises and not allow the anti-social behaviour of a few to restrict the amenity of the majority.

To my mind there is another issue here and its roots go back to John Fawkner. In recommending licensing changes Nieuwenhysen argued that these would bring significant economic and cultural benefits to Victoria, which indeed they have. This has also led to what some in the hospitality industry describe as an ‘oversupply’ of places to eat and drink. So here’s the link with Fawkner: profit. Does the hospitality industry actually need people to consume more alcohol for it to remain viable?

Restaurants earn a better return on serving alcohol than food and for bars it is their stock in trade. Those who lament the oversupply of food and wine businesses also suggest that local planning is to blame for this. Perhaps then planning controls could be implemented as an adjunct to easing our current alcohol related social problems. The safe rate of alcohol consumption could be divided by the adult population of a local government area to arrive at an amount of liquor permitted to be sold there each day. Calculations could then be made as to the number of profitable businesses this could reasonably allow for and permits only issued for that number. Yes I know it’s an silly idea for all sorts of reasons but at least it’s a novel one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recent headlines announcing the closure of the iconic Tote Hotel due in part to amendments to the Liquor Control Reform Act; radio talkback about the possible causes of alcohol fuelled street violence and looming billboards showing a child’s view of a parent filtered through a wine glass reminded me that Melbourne has had a precarious relationship with intoxicating beverages from its inception. Alcohol related troubles are not new to this city and the cures currently being prescribed for these ills have been tried before.

Melbourne’s very foundations were watered with alcohol. Several barrels of rum were amongst the provisions unloaded onto the banks of the Yarra by the founding European settlers in 1835. The first —relatively —substantial structure to be erected in the early settlement was a hotel run by John Fawkner. Commercial motive had compelled Fawkner across Bass Strait to Melbourne (then called the Port Phillip District) and he did not let the fact of his being a teetotaler get in the way of what he rightly deduced to represent his best opportunity to make a profit. Within twelve months the small population of just over 200 had put away some 9000 litres of rum, 6000 litres of brandy and considerable measures of beer and gin. Not all of this was dispensed over Fawkner’s bar but he did a fine trade and soon had serious competition. The number of public houses multiplied at an extraordinary rate in comparison to the size of the population and three years after settlement such was the demand for grog that three breweries were operating to keep up the supply. By 1840 Melbourne had an international reputation as a rowdy place whose inhabitants indulged too freely in ‘strong potations’ with estimates putting their rate of alcohol consumption to be twice that of people in Britain.

The profits to be made selling alcohol in Melbourne’s nascent years were enhanced by its illegality (the entire settlement was illegal). No publican held a licence therefore no government dues were paid. This was remedied in 1839 when William Lonsdale was sent from Sydney to bestow legitimacy on the community and ensure that the authorities got their share of this lucrative liquor trade via fees, taxes and fines. The issuing of licences came with government controls such as prescribed opening hours and stipulations about whom alcohol could be sold to: for example a penalty could be levied against a publican who sold liquor to a married person whose consumption of alcohol was known to cause difficulties in his family.

The existence of such a law was indicative that the predilection for alcohol in Melbourne was not without community impact but the police force was too small to ensure that regulations were robustly adhered to. Even when offenders against licensing regulations were caught they were not educated, or penalized heavily enough, towards discouraging repeat offences. It therefore fell on the citizens of Melbourne themselves to take action. In 1837 the Port Phillip Temperance Society was inaugurated; its mission to gain the prohibition of the use of ‘ardent spirits for anything other than medicinal purposes’: they had not picked an easy battle. When the Melbourne Total Abstinence Society invited the well-known temperance evangelist Isabella Dalgarno to deliver a lecture on the evils of drink in Melbourne in 1842, a consortium of local publicans organized for some thugs to attend her lecture and rustle her from the stage. When the matter appeared in court the next day the bruised Dalgarno, the victim in the case, found herself admonished by the judge —who happened to alternate his judicial duties with selling wine and spirits — for having the audacity to speak in front of men: her attackers were let off without even a warning.

This incident reflected where the allegiance of Melbourne’s powerbrokers lay in respect to drink, and this had as much to do with pleasure as money. When petitioned to lend his support to the temperance cause the Anglican Archbishop refused saying that wine was a gift that god intended his flock to enjoy. Lacking the support of any significant civic, commercial or spiritual leader the temperance movement made few gains towards its goal and its voice was pretty much drowned out by the din of the gold rush.

Within a year of gold being discovered in Victoria in 1851 Melbourne’s population more than doubled with 10,000 people a week arriving in the town at the height of the rush. To provide for all these people there was a rapid growth of commercial enterprises particularly hotels. There was, without exaggeration, a licenced house on every street corner and several more on the block in between and all well patronized. Having observed the profits to be made serving drinks in Melbourne while passing through on route to the goldfields Frenchman Antoine Fauchery later returned and opened a small café in Little Bourke Street serving coffee and alcoholic beverages. He traded without a licence but the police turned a blind eye to this as his clientele —foreigners and bohemian types — were quiet and didn’t cause any trouble unlike many of the patrons of the legitimate licenced premises.

Gold money grew Melbourne from a dusty frontier town to one of the largest cities in the British Empire by the 1880s. Once dusty city streets were recast as elegant tree lined boulevards and grand buildings cut a majestic skyline but it remained a city with a drinking problem. George Meudell described Melbourne at this time as a ‘roughish sort of town, wide open and frankly immoral’: a place where French champagne flowed in bars that traded long beyond opening hours because there were not enough police to stop them. In the less salubrious allies and laneways around Little Lonsdale street booze was imbibed as generously though its provenance was likely a local brewery or sly grog still.

Man-about -town Muedell could hold his drink but many others couldn’t resulting in violence on the streets and in the privacy of homes. Community opposition to the selling of alcohol in Melbourne – and Victoria —was growing louder. This time the temperance leagues had might on their side: several of the city’s most pious teetotalers were also rich and influential men, most notably the ‘dour Scot’ James Munro (who at the pinnacle of his power became Premier and Treasurer of Victoria in 1890). In consortium with other like-minded men Munro developed several grand ‘coffee palaces’ around the city. From all reports these were most amenable places where patrons could avail themselves of all manner of food and drink —except alcohol — yet most failed to show a decent return. Like Fawkner, Munro was not one to let his principles get in the way of financial gain (in more ways than one). After ceremoniously burning the licence for the Grand Hotel (now the Windsor) he later reapplied for it after the hotel failed to make a profit as a coffee palace. Munro and his ilk did not manage to eradicate alcohol from the city but Melbournians were rudely forced to sober up in 1893 when Victoria’s economy collapsed: thanks in no small part to Munro who was caught with his hands in the till. With one of their most prominent advocates deeply implicated in the dodgy dealings that had resulted in truly widespread community misery the temperance leaguers went quite for a while. They were vociferously campaigning again by the turn of the century though.

In 1912 a collective of temperance groups and professional caterers joined together to demand the abolishment of the free counter lunches then available in many Melbourne pubs. The group claimed that the provision of these meals was an unfair and morally reprehensible business practice as they were offered as an inducement to purchase alcoholic drinks (which indeed they were). The free lunches were abolished in 1914 but this was due to austerity measures imposed with the advent of the First World War. A year later 6pm closing for hotels was instituted—and remained in place until1966. Ultimately this law did little to curb drinking: men just spent the hour between knocking off work at five and hotel closing time frenetically downing glasses of beer. At six o’clock they were disgorged on mass from hotels across the city many vomiting on footpaths and others looking for, and often finding, a fight.

It was the inter-war years that saw the anti-liquor crusaders reach the apogee of their influence. Inspired by America’s prohibition laws Victorians went to a ‘no-licence’ poll in 1920 at which the citizens of Boroondara and Nunawading voted for the sale of alcohol to be banned in these areas. In 1926 the Women’s Christian Temperance Union succeeded in having the half-cup of brandy specified in a fruitcake recipe contained in a cookbook used in Victorian schools removed from the ingredients list. Another poll was held in 1930 and again in 1938. The issue at stake was the same at both: the abolishment of liquor licences and closure of all bars and premises that sold alcohol in Victoria. Campaigning on this issue was fierce, and prescient of the aforementioned billboards, the effect of drinking on children was writ large. Pamphlets distributed by various prohibitionist groups bore pictures of angelic children and captions reading: ‘My daddy sold me to a brewery’ and ‘Daddy if you vote for Liquor, will you blame me if I drink?’. Both the polls were defeated but a strong repugnance against the ‘demon drink’ lingered and the liquor licensing laws deliberately implemented to curb social drinking during World War One largely remained in place for the next two decades.

Melbourne in the 1950s had a reputation as drab city of ‘wowsers’ — due in no small part to the ‘antiquated’ liquor licensing laws that its citizens seemed to prefer. There were those though who wanted to enjoy a glass of wine with their meal when they dined out or to facilitate this experience. For years Victorian restaurateurs, wine retailers, wine makers and their patrons had been ardently rallying against the licensing laws. In 1956 – the year Melbourne hosted the Olympic Games— they won the first increment of reform when hotels gained licence to serve liquor with meals until 10pm in their dining rooms. In 1960 restaurants not attached to hotels won the right to serve liquor with meals until 10pm; in 1966 six o’clock closing was repealed and bars were allowed to serve alcohol until 10pm and in 1968 patrons were permitted to bring their own wine (BYO) to a restaurant. This contributed to a boom in BYO establishments. There was no such comparative growth in the licensed restaurant sector – a circumstance that restaurateur Richard Frank blamed on Victoria’s ‘loony’ liquor laws. These laws made it relatively simple and inexpensive to apply for a BYO permit, but required applicants for a restaurant licence to undergo a lengthy and expensive process, including a scrutiny of their morals, to obtain a permit to operate a licensed restaurant.

In 1987 Victorian licensing laws were radically overhauled after a report commissioned by the government (the ‘Nieuwenhuysen Report’) recommended a more liberal and civilised attitude towards liquor licensing be adopted in Victoria. The Liquor Control Act 1987 allowed for extended trading hours for licenced premises; permitted licenced restaurants to sell liquor without meals and allowed for different types of businesses to sell alcohol. A survey conducted by Nieuwenhuysen found that the general populace was reluctant to support such wholesale changes to the way alcohol was sold in Victoria. Yet when these changes were implemented they catalysed a revolution in the way Melburnians ate, drank and socialized: the rest as they say is history — or history repeating itself.

Since licensing deregulation was implemented in Victoria in1988 bars in particular have proliferated in the CBD and inner city at a rate not seen since Melbourne’s earliest decades. Community opinion has landed the blame for our current alcohol related social problems such as street violence and binge drinking on the ease of availability of alcohol. The government’s response has been to introduce restrictions on liquor licensing: a strategy that history shows does not work. While more considered argument suggests that we need to look at the prevailing —and again, historical — cultural attitude that views excessive consumption of alcohol as a normal social behaviour; that violence is happening outside of and not on licensed premises and not allow the anti-social behaviour of a few to restrict the amenity of the majority.

To my mind there is another issue here and its roots go back to John Fawkner. In recommending licensing changes Nieuwenhysen argued that these would bring significant economic and cultural benefits to Victoria, which indeed they have. This has also led to what some in the hospitality industry describe as an ‘oversupply’ of places to eat and drink. So here’s the link with Fawkner: profit. Does the hospitality industry actually need people to consume more alcohol for it to remain viable?

Restaurants earn a better return on serving alcohol than food and for bars it is their stock in trade. Those who lament the oversupply of food and wine businesses also suggest that local planning is to blame for this. Perhaps then planning controls could be implemented as an adjunct to easing our current alcohol related social problems. The safe rate of alcohol consumption could be divided by the adult population of a local government area to arrive at an amount of liquor permitted to be sold there each day. Calculations could then be made as to the number of profitable businesses this could reasonably allow for and permits only issued for that number. Yes I know it’s an silly idea for all sorts of reasons but at least it’s a novel one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The existence of such a law was indicative that the predilection for alcohol in Melbourne was not without community impact but the police force was too small to ensure that regulations were robustly adhered to. Even when offenders against licensing regulations were caught they were not educated, or penalized heavily enough, towards discouraging repeat offences. It therefore fell on the citizens of Melbourne themselves to take action. In 1837 the Port Phillip Temperance Society was inaugurated; its mission to gain the prohibition of the use of ‘ardent spirits for anything other than medicinal purposes’: they had not picked an easy battle. When the Melbourne Total Abstinence Society invited the well-known temperance evangelist Isabella Dalgarno to deliver a lecture on the evils of drink in Melbourne in 1842, a consortium of local publicans organized for some thugs to attend her lecture and rustle her from the stage. When the matter appeared in court the next day the bruised Dalgarno, the victim in the case, found herself admonished by the judge —who happened to alternate his judicial duties with selling wine and spirits — for having the audacity to speak in front of men: her attackers were let off without even a warning.

This incident reflected where the allegiance of Melbourne’s powerbrokers lay in respect to drink, and this had as much to do with pleasure as money. When petitioned to lend his support to the temperance cause the Anglican Archbishop refused saying that wine was a gift that god intended his flock to enjoy. Lacking the support of any significant civic, commercial or spiritual leader the temperance movement made few gains towards its goal and its voice was pretty much drowned out by the din of the gold rush.

Within a year of gold being discovered in Victoria in 1851 Melbourne’s population more than doubled with 10,000 people a week arriving in the town at the height of the rush. To provide for all these people there was a rapid growth of commercial enterprises particularly hotels. There was, without exaggeration, a licenced house on every street corner and several more on the block in between and all well patronized. Having observed the profits to be made serving drinks in Melbourne while passing through on route to the goldfields Frenchman Antoine Fauchery later returned and opened a small café in Little Bourke Street serving coffee and alcoholic beverages. He traded without a licence but the police turned a blind eye to this as his clientele —foreigners and bohemian types — were quiet and didn’t cause any trouble unlike many of the patrons of the legitimate licenced premises.

Gold money grew Melbourne from a dusty frontier town to one of the largest cities in the British Empire by the 1880s. Once dusty city streets were recast as elegant tree lined boulevards and grand buildings cut a majestic skyline but it remained a city with a drinking problem. George Meudell described Melbourne at this time as a ‘roughish sort of town, wide open and frankly immoral’: a place where French champagne flowed in bars that traded long beyond opening hours because there were not enough police to stop them. In the less salubrious allies and laneways around Little Lonsdale street booze was imbibed as generously though its provenance was likely a local brewery or sly grog still.

Man-about -town Muedell could hold his drink but many others couldn’t resulting in violence on the streets and in the privacy of homes. Community opposition to the selling of alcohol in Melbourne – and Victoria —was growing louder. This time the temperance leagues had might on their side: several of the city’s most pious teetotalers were also rich and influential men, most notably the ‘dour Scot’ James Munro (who at the pinnacle of his power became Premier and Treasurer of Victoria in 1890). In consortium with other like-minded men Munro developed several grand ‘coffee palaces’ around the city. From all reports these were most amenable places where patrons could avail themselves of all manner of food and drink —except alcohol — yet most failed to show a decent return. Like Fawkner, Munro was not one to let his principles get in the way of financial gain (in more ways than one). After ceremoniously burning the licence for the Grand Hotel (now the Windsor) he later reapplied for it after the hotel failed to make a profit as a coffee palace. Munro and his ilk did not manage to eradicate alcohol from the city but Melbournians were rudely forced to sober up in 1893 when Victoria’s economy collapsed: thanks in no small part to Munro who was caught with his hands in the till. With one of their most prominent advocates deeply implicated in the dodgy dealings that had resulted in truly widespread community misery the temperance leaguers went quite for a while. They were vociferously campaigning again by the turn of the century though.

In 1912 a collective of temperance groups and professional caterers joined together to demand the abolishment of the free counter lunches then available in many Melbourne pubs. The group claimed that the provision of these meals was an unfair and morally reprehensible business practice as they were offered as an inducement to purchase alcoholic drinks (which indeed they were). The free lunches were abolished in 1914 but this was due to austerity measures imposed with the advent of the First World War. A year later 6pm closing for hotels was instituted—and remained in place until1966. Ultimately this law did little to curb drinking: men just spent the hour between knocking off work at five and hotel closing time frenetically downing glasses of beer. At six o’clock they were disgorged on mass from hotels across the city many vomiting on footpaths and others looking for, and often finding, a fight.

It was the inter-war years that saw the anti-liquor crusaders reach the apogee of their influence. Inspired by America’s prohibition laws Victorians went to a ‘no-licence’ poll in 1920 at which the citizens of Boroondara and Nunawading voted for the sale of alcohol to be banned in these areas. In 1926 the Women’s Christian Temperance Union succeeded in having the half-cup of brandy specified in a fruitcake recipe contained in a cookbook used in Victorian schools removed from the ingredients list. Another poll was held in 1930 and again in 1938. The issue at stake was the same at both: the abolishment of liquor licences and closure of all bars and premises that sold alcohol in Victoria. Campaigning on this issue was fierce, and prescient of the aforementioned billboards, the effect of drinking on children was writ large. Pamphlets distributed by various prohibitionist groups bore pictures of angelic children and captions reading: ‘My daddy sold me to a brewery’ and ‘Daddy if you vote for Liquor, will you blame me if I drink?’. Both the polls were defeated but a strong repugnance against the ‘demon drink’ lingered and the liquor licensing laws deliberately implemented to curb social drinking during World War One largely remained in place for the next two decades.

Melbourne in the 1950s had a reputation as drab city of ‘wowsers’ — due in no small part to the ‘antiquated’ liquor licensing laws that its citizens seemed to prefer. There were those though who wanted to enjoy a glass of wine with their meal when they dined out or to facilitate this experience. For years Victorian restaurateurs, wine retailers, wine makers and their patrons had been ardently rallying against the licensing laws. In 1956 – the year Melbourne hosted the Olympic Games— they won the first increment of reform when hotels gained licence to serve liquor with meals until 10pm in their dining rooms. In 1960 restaurants not attached to hotels won the right to serve liquor with meals until 10pm; in 1966 six o’clock closing was repealed and bars were allowed to serve alcohol until 10pm and in 1968 patrons were permitted to bring their own wine (BYO) to a restaurant. This contributed to a boom in BYO establishments. There was no such comparative growth in the licensed restaurant sector – a circumstance that restaurateur Richard Frank blamed on Victoria’s ‘loony’ liquor laws. These laws made it relatively simple and inexpensive to apply for a BYO permit, but required applicants for a restaurant licence to undergo a lengthy and expensive process, including a scrutiny of their morals, to obtain a permit to operate a licensed restaurant.

In 1987 Victorian licensing laws were radically overhauled after a report commissioned by the government (the ‘Nieuwenhuysen Report’) recommended a more liberal and civilised attitude towards liquor licensing be adopted in Victoria. The Liquor Control Act 1987 allowed for extended trading hours for licenced premises; permitted licenced restaurants to sell liquor without meals and allowed for different types of businesses to sell alcohol. A survey conducted by Nieuwenhuysen found that the general populace was reluctant to support such wholesale changes to the way alcohol was sold in Victoria. Yet when these changes were implemented they catalysed a revolution in the way Melburnians ate, drank and socialized: the rest as they say is history — or history repeating itself.

Since licensing deregulation was implemented in Victoria in1988 bars in particular have proliferated in the CBD and inner city at a rate not seen since Melbourne’s earliest decades. Community opinion has landed the blame for our current alcohol related social problems such as street violence and binge drinking on the ease of availability of alcohol. The government’s response has been to introduce restrictions on liquor licensing: a strategy that history shows does not work. While more considered argument suggests that we need to look at the prevailing —and again, historical — cultural attitude that views excessive consumption of alcohol as a normal social behaviour; that violence is happening outside of and not on licensed premises and not allow the anti-social behaviour of a few to restrict the amenity of the majority.

To my mind there is another issue here and its roots go back to John Fawkner. In recommending licensing changes Nieuwenhysen argued that these would bring significant economic and cultural benefits to Victoria, which indeed they have. This has also led to what some in the hospitality industry describe as an ‘oversupply’ of places to eat and drink. So here’s the link with Fawkner: profit. Does the hospitality industry actually need people to consume more alcohol for it to remain viable?

Restaurants earn a better return on serving alcohol than food and for bars it is their stock in trade. Those who lament the oversupply of food and wine businesses also suggest that local planning is to blame for this. Perhaps then planning controls could be implemented as an adjunct to easing our current alcohol related social problems. The safe rate of alcohol consumption could be divided by the adult population of a local government area to arrive at an amount of liquor permitted to be sold there each day. Calculations could then be made as to the number of profitable businesses this could reasonably allow for and permits only issued for that number. Yes I know it’s an silly idea for all sorts of reasons but at least it’s a novel one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eating native, eating rosella….

Not the bird.

Dr Dyno Keating, Director General of the World Vegetable Center ,was talking on Radio National this morning about the health benefits of eating indigenous plants during which he made reference to roselle, or rosella as it in known in Australia. The felt I had to qualify that I was not referring to the bird because I expect most Australians would take the term to mean a small agile multi-coloured parrot species (that features on an iconic food label). Yet rosella , the plant , was used by our colonial cooks to make jelly and jams (they did eat the bird as well: according to Nat Gould in Town and Bush: Australian native parrots made “excellent eating, and when young, make as good a pie as pigeons”*). There are several recipes that utilize rosella in Mrs Maclurcan’s Cookbook: A Collection of Practical Recipes Specially Suitable for Australia.

It is the so-called ‘fruit of the rosella used by colonial cooks such as Maclurcan is actually a calyx, or accessory fruit of Hibiscus sabdariffa) that looks more like a fleshy flower. While rosella is often described an Australian ‘native’ it is indigenous to Africa. It requires a tropical or semi-tropical climate to grow, which is why the Townsville based Maclurcan was familiar with it.

I become familiar with roselle in India where the plants leaves are commonly cooked and  eaten (see Eating India for more in this context) and my friend Joan Majthia makes a cordial from the calayx.

*Gould, Nat ( 1974). Town and Bush. Penguin Books: Ringwood, p.65 (originally published by George Routledge & Sons 1896)

Mr Abbott: early adapter of technology

No it’s not that ‘Mr Abbott’, although the man I want to bring to your attention, Edward Abbott, was also politician. He was born in Sydney in 1801 and in 1864 he was the first Australian to produce a cookbook, The English and Australian Cookery Book. Cookery for the Many, as Well as for the “Upper Ten Thousand” (2014 marks the sesquicentenary of its publication). To the modern cook accustomed to culinary manuals with detailed and consistently formatted lists of ingredients, step-by-step instructions, additional information on procurement and substitution illustrated with glossy photographs all laid out in easy reading format Abbott’s ‘cookery book’ might be unrecognizable as such. He familiarly categorises his recipes under headings such as soups, roasting, made dishes, condiments, puddings and pies, bread and breakfast cakes and salads but there is no standard format to these; many are no more than a list of ingredients, method is often non-existent and measurements absent. This lack of detail was quite standard in nineteenth century cookery manuals; a practice considered to indicate a presumption on behalf of the writer that the cook employing the book had some understanding of the dish and the processes required to produce it.

In addition to the recipe chapters Abbott has included sections on an extraordinary range of topics related to cookery and dining, for example, “Dinner According the Count D’Orsay’ (a notoriously profligate English aristocrat), ‘Dinner Party Precedence’, ‘Magical Drinks’, ‘Ice’, ‘Soy’ (yes in 1864), “Why Animals To Be Eaten Must Be Killed’, ‘Orange Flower Water’, Convivial Maxims’, ‘Chocolate’, Mosses (not just a recent ‘super food’ discovery), ‘Smoking’, Al Fresco Parties’, Copper Saucepans and the type of fish to be found in various of the colonies. Indeed the contemporary cook or gastronome might be surprised at the breadth of interest in food and cookery demonstrated by Abbott given the persistent stereotype of colonial Australians as a people who ‘grubbed’ on little more than ‘mutton and damper’ and did not care about food. Interwoven with the recipes are advice, principles, a stanza of poetry, dramatic lines and maxims drawn from popular and highbrow newspapers, books and journals, authors, poets, commentators including Shakespeare, Byron, Edmund Burke, Descartes, Thackeray and Tennyson (see example below). Sometimes these snippets relate to the dish or food types under discussion but the inclusion of others seems random though I believe that Abbott would have had a rationale as to where he placed these ‘appropriate quotations and racy extracts’. You can see an example of a typical page below:

nla.aus-vn4511474-4-s63-e

The eclectic nature of the material in Abbott’s book has led it to be described as a ‘gastronomic miscellany’[1] and its scrapbook style is what I wanted to draw attention to for it represents a ‘technology’ of his time and the process through which stories went ‘viral’ before the internet[2]. Prior to his entering the Tasmanian parliament as the member for Clarence, Abbott founded a newspaper, the Hobart Town Advertiser, and acted as editor and publisher. It was common practice for newspaper editors to cut out interesting items from other publications and place them in their own or file these away for inclusion when they needed to fill space. Abbott would have applied this practice during the time he produced the Advertiser and seems to have applied it to compiling his book (given the dates on some of the items he uses it seems likely he had been collecting material for quite some time). In was in this way that items would go ‘viral’, as they were cut from one paper and appeared in others. It was a slow process and an item might appear over several years in different papers as it made its way into print across the globe. This process is exampled on the title page of Abbott’s book where he ascribed authorship of it psudenomously to an ‘Australian Aristologist’ (it does not appear to have been a secret as to who the author was though), a term he took from an article on gastronomy by Thomas Walker that appeared in a London magazine in 1835 and was re-cast in publications so often that it still had currency thirty years later when Abbott referenced it.

Reconsidered in this light Abbott’s work can be seen to be not unlike the ‘scrapbooks’ of ideas, re-tweets, likes, links and photographs that we so avidly post on various internet sites. If he were alive today I reckon Edward Abbott would be posting on every available medium.

If you are not familiar with Abbott’s book you can take a look at a digital copy here.

[1] See entry on Abbott in the Australian Dictionary of Biography: http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/abbott-edward-12762

[2] Visit the Infectious Texts project for more on ‘going viral’ in the 19th century.

 

It was all that fat…

Since the inception of the “Fat for Britain” Appeal, a total of over 300,000 Ibs. of fat has been shipped to our kinsfolk in Great Britain, and has proved of inestimable value as is evidenced by the thousands of letters we are continually receiving from grateful recipients’.  REV. H. Hunt to the editor of the Benalla Ensign 5th January 1950.

Three years after World War II ended Australian housewives began scraping the fat extruded from Sunday roasts and lamb chop dinners off baking dishes and grill plates into cans. They deposited these lard filled cans at nominated ‘fat depots’ —usually a suburban home—to be collected, consolidated and shipped off to London for distribution across the British Isles, where the contents were reportedly used by ‘grateful’ Britons to make pastry, mince pies and fry fish. Donors of fat were exhorted not to ‘mix good fat with bad’ but in the absence of any definition of what might constitute one or the other type it was up to individuals to make that discrimination: a process that would have resulted in drippings of variable quality being amassed, and some of it would have turned rancid by the time it arrived into British kitchens.

I often muse as to whether these 300,000 pounds of recycled fat might not have contributed towards Anglo-Australians largely disowning their British food heritage in the decades after the war. They must have felt some revulsion at the knowledge that their ‘kinsfolk’ were eating food prepared with stale, possibly decomposed, grease—even though this has been forced upon them by post-war food shortages in Britain —and therefore thought it prudent to cease to regard them as culinary role models. If this fat did have an affect on white Australians forsaking their ancestral food roots, it would have been trifling, but like the slight eccentricity of a lover that has begun to disproportionately irritate, it was a sign that the relationship was struggling: and an alluring new lover named ‘global ethnic international cuisine’ was beckoning.

Field studies would show that the daily meals of many modern Anglo-Australians still bear vestiges of British influence, but few would own that to camera. When I tell a compatriot that I have a scholarly and practical interest in our Anglo-Celtic culinary legacy they inevitably screw up their face and look at me as if l have confessed some heinous food crime. Australians have become very fond of crowing about ‘our wonderful’ food culture: probe this pride and the probed will unfailing say that it is our ‘multi-cultural’ cuisine that they are so proud of. Our Anglo-Celtic food heritage is rarely mentioned amongst the multitude of cuisines they unfailingly describe as constituting ‘Australian food’, but it is in part our British ancestors that we have to thank for our modern food culture.

The natural climate of the British Isles is not conducive to growing food all year round, and 1000 years ago the species of plant foods that could be cultivated were seasonally curtailed. Britons were forced to spend the cold months of the year eating the limited range of foods that could be stored, and the winter diet of most people would been pretty monotonous. In 1096 English knights and peasants joined the religious wars, the Crusades, being fought in places such as Anatolia and Jerusalem. Along with their tales of heroic holy daring-do the Crusaders brought many new foods such as cinnamon, ginger, mace, dates, raisins, sugar and citrus fruit home with them. These exotic foods were a panacea to taste monotony and were enthusiastically absorbed into British cookery resulting in the creation of dishes such as plum pudding. Many Australians eat this pudding, made with spices, raisins (plums) and candied lemon and orange peel, each year at Christmas. It’s often endured from a begrudging sense of tradition, a reminder of a culinary past we want to forget, but it if was described as a ‘global marriage of British classicism with Middle Eastern flavours’ I wonder it we might not demonstrate more enthusiasm for it.

In 1612 the British began sailing to India to gain direct access to the spices they had developed a particular passion for. By 1858 they had complete control of the Indian spice trade, and of the subcontinent itself, and had developed a ‘fusion cuisine’ of British and Indian cookery that resulted in dishes such as curry (that’s right, it is not an Indian dish), mulligatawny and kedgeree. By the end of the nineteenth century the use of spices —and other former exotics such as dried fruit, sugar and citrus —in British cuisine, and by association the type of food eaten in Australia, had been so well assimilated that these had become commonplace.

While it is in inarguable that the food modern Australians eat is an amalgamation of food styles and flavours from across the globe, this short essay demonstrates that it was from our British ancestors that we inherited the sense of culinary adventurism and the ardent palates that have made us so receptive to, and accepting of new foods. This understanding might serve to help us shake off the culinary amnesia that prevents us from celebrating them for it.

Modern Goldrush

Regular patrons of Melbourne food and beverage dispensaries would have noticed a distinct increase in young people with Irish, English, French, Scandinavian, Spanish, or other exotic accents, serving them of recent time. Many of these fresh faced foreigners have come to escape the economic doldrums of Europe for a time, drawn by glowing international reports of our prosperity. It is a contemporary situation that has a little explored nineteenth century precedence, yet both share the same impetus: natural resources. In 1851 rich seams of gold were discovered in Victoria. When the news of this hit international headlines, people from all around the world set sail for the antipodes to try their luck at gold mining. The great majority of them disembarked in Melbourne to begin their journey to the goldfields in central Victoria, but some divined that more assured profit could be made in this burgeoning colonial metropolis rather than leaving it to providence on the diggings. With so many people passing through Melbourne, and successful miners returning there looking to show off newly acquired wealth, the provision of food and drink to them offered many ‘golden’ opportunities.

The stuff of our current resources boom is of different colour and located much further away—although it is now quicker to fly to Kununurra than it was to walk to the goldfields from Melbourne in the 1850s—but the multiplier effect of this boom contributes to many of us having a good enough disposable income to spend regularly enjoying ourselves in bars and restaurants. It is this modern ‘gold rush’ that has again attracted people to Melbourne—perhaps just to earn a modest living rather than make their fortune—to work in a vibrant hospitality industry begun more than a hundred and fifty years ago by other young (and youngish) people from the other side of the world. So let’s meet some of Melbourne’s hospitality pioneers (and pat yourself on the back for picking up on other contemporary parallels in this story).

By 1853 the ‘Yankee’ Samuel Ross had opened the up-market Criterion Hotel at 38 – 40 Collins Street West, which reportedly served ‘excellent cuisine’ in the Anglo-French style of the nineteenth century London based French celebrity chef, Alexis Soyer. Ross’ nasally twang would not have been a lone one in the first floor dining room of his hotel as he employed American barmen who performed skilful tricks with glasses and bottles when mixing cocktails for patrons, and other of his entrepreneurial countrymen had come out to see what they could make of the gold boom. It was Americans who introduced ice, cable cars (aka trams) and elevators to Melbourne. The ice was cut from the frozen lakes of Massachusetts, packed in sawdust, and sent south on fast clipper ships, conveniently refrigerating companion shipments of crayfish and champagne to satisfy the demand for luxury products in the cashed up colony. The Criterion bar was the repository of the first shipment of Massachusetts ice to arrive in Melbourne. When a sign —ICE-ICE-ICE—was hung out over the portal of the hotel to announce its arrival the bar was besieged with patrons eager to enjoy the novelty of a truly cold beverage.

In 1852, 25-year-old Frenchman Antoine Fauchery arrived in Melbourne en-route for the goldfields. He considered stopping in the town to take up a job as a hotel cook as the wages on offer were lucrative due to a shortage of staff to work in the numerous eating establishments that had opened . In the end it was his lack of English rather than his lack of culinary skill that decided him against this option. He returned to the city two years later from the diggings with sixty hard-won pounds in his pocket. He expended this setting up the Café-Estaminet Français in a small house at 76 Little Bourke Street where he served lunches, cold suppers, wine, brandy and beer. The place, furnished with sofas and a billiard table, quickly became the rendezvous for Swiss, Italians, Canadians, Mauritians and ‘other such nationalities ending in –ian’ in Melbourne. Fauchery did not hold a licence to sell liquor but the police reportedly turned a blind eye to this as his patrons were quite and never unruly: unlike the rowdy revellers that packed the larger hotels.

I think we do fail to recognize how young many of the people were —and it was mainly men— who came to Melbourne during the gold rush years, as the pictures we see of them formally posed in their well-buttoned up clothing and bushy beards make them appear much older to our eyes. A case in point is the portrait of Felix Spiers and Christopher Pond below (source).

 

 

Spiers was 23 when he arrived in Melbourne in 1856, where he teamed up with, the somewhat more mature, 29 year old Christopher Pond and opened the Café de Paris at 71-75 Bourke Street. Their English accents were not ‘foreign’ but Pond was from Essex, and Spiers had grown up between London and France so each would have had a different vocal intonation. Because our modern experience of ‘diversity’ has been shaped by living in a city that is home to people of many varied ethnic backgrounds we seem to have limited our understanding of it to just that, and accept the premise that colonial Australia was ‘mono-cultural’ and therefore lacking in diversity: this is far from the truth. Colonial Melbournians did not see themselves as all the ‘same’, they indentified as English, Irish, Welsh and Scottish; Catholic, Protestant, Quaker and Jew; teetotal and drinkers, and might have considered themselves as different to each other as a German would from a Spaniard. The accented voices of men —for women were not allowed—of all these backgrounds, joined by those of the French waiters who recited the menu to customers, would have filled the air of the grand dining room of the Café de Paris with a multi-tenored hum.

‘Important to mercantile men, professional men, men of leisure, men of toil, important to all’’

Thus ran the opening advertisement for the Café de Paris in June 1858. This pitch for patrons was to men of all classes—the trader, the lawyer, the gentleman, the labourer —because strong class divisions were another form of endogenous diversity amongst colonial Melburnians. A fancy restaurant such as the Strand in London — on which Spiers and Pond modeled their Melbourne establishment —would never have so blatantly encouraged the patronage of shopkeepers and bank clerks. It was unlikely that these men could have afforded to sit at its tables anyway as there was a distinct correlation between money and class in Britain. Despite the best efforts of the socially advantaged in Melbourne to maintain such distinctions the Victorian gold rush had leveled the economic playing field. If a man had the money, no matter how he had come by it, Spiers and Pond were not shy of publically welcoming his business. The Criterion was also ‘caste’ free: Cuthbert Featherstonhaugh, newly arrived in Melbourne from England, was quite taken aback to see the man who had carted his luggage from the dock to his lodgings taking his dinner in the up-market surrounds of the Criterion.

While money could buy a nouveaux riche man a bowl of real turtle soup, a ‘choice’ steak or chop, broiled before him on the ‘colossal’ coal-fired grill that was a feature of the Café de Paris dining room, by a chef with a ‘continental’ accent; several glasses of good Bordeaux, perhaps recommended by Spiers himself who was also a wine merchant; and a cup of café au lait —equal to that found in the ‘city on the banks of the Seine’—at the Café de Paris, it could not buy him ‘breeding’. And what Melbourne’s self made men wanted most was to be considered respectable and civilised, or well-bred, but they could not learn the subtleties of etiquette and table manners directly from their social superior,s because they would not have them at their domestic dining tables. They could though, because they had money, dine at the Café de Paris and there start to learn how to progress, as one enamoured patron commented, in the ‘art of surrounding [yourself] with the elegances and comforts of life’.  In the dining room of the Café the self-made man could, by observing the dining practices and etiquette of the upper- class gentlemen at the next table, gain an education in how to behave and eat and drink in the most ‘civilised’ way. By opening their doors to ‘all ‘Spiers and Pond, and Ross, contributed to the leveling of social distinctions and to the development of the egalitarian ethos of Australian society.

Ross, Fauchery and Spiers and Pond had all returned to their respective native lands by the early1860s but they left behind the foundations of a hospitality industry that was enlarged upon by other young men of foreign birth as Melbourne continued on its gold money fuelled trajectory towards the booming metropolis it was to be in the 1880s. It will be interesting to see how our current cohort of young European émigrés might influence our modern eating and drinking habits.