With Tasting Australia upon us, we can once again consider that ongoing and highly contentious debate: does Australia have a national dish? In her history of Australia’s gastronomic heritage, Bold Palates, Barbara Santich makes a case for the barbecue, more specifically the humble sausage sizzle. Howzat for gourmet?
The sausage sizzle is a uniquely Australian variant of the barbecue and almost by definition a public event—no one would ever invite friends to a sausage sizzle at home, even if identical food were cooked and eaten. It can be set up anywhere, from the beach to the supermarket car park, to feed large numbers of people cheaply, free from the annoyance of smoke. The ingredients and equipment are absolutely basic: a large hotplate, typically gas heated, plus a vast supply of sausages, sliced onions, sliced white bread and unlimited tomato sauce. Offering mustard, barbecue sauce and other nods to gastronomic fashion is considered to lift the status, but only by a notch. Although this style of barbecue—sausages cooked on a hotplate, wrapped in bread and doused in sauce—was familiar in earlier years, the particular term seems to have come to prominence around 1980, and in the past three decades sausage sizzles have proliferated like rabbits.
Keith Barlow, Princess Alexandra at a barbecue. Australian Women’s Weekly , 30 September 1959
On any weekend, all around Australia, tens of thousands of sausages will be sizzling and spitting for hundreds of worthy causes, as well as celebrating community camaraderie. To choose a day at random . . . let’s say Sunday, 2 August 2009, which also happens to have been National Tree Day, an ideal occasion to reward volunteers all over the country, in cities and suburbs and small country towns, with a free lunch. At the same time church and school groups and a miscellany of sporting fraternities are raising money for their own needs. The sausage sizzle is the simple, egalitarian communion that all know and share.
The sausage sizzle might be seen as catering to mass tastes at the lowest common level, but this collective appeal is in fact its forte— casual passers-by finding the seductive scent of sausages and fried onions irresistible. And like any simple culinary classic, it lends itself to countless variations—even soy sausages fit the standard formula. At the 2010 Writers’ Week in Adelaide, the refreshment tent offered a sophisticated and more expensive version with kranskys plus the usual onions and selection of sauces on a slice of wholemeal bread and, though they didn’t displace Vietnamese cold rolls in the popularity stakes, the kranskys proved their worth over six days of readings, debates and tall tales.
Mark Thomas/CIA , Advertisement for Australia Day, January 2010
The barbecue similarly has universal appeal, its versatility for all occasions matched only by its adaptability to all cultures and cuisines. Grilled meats—or fish, or poultry—are a feature of most cuisines, often as street food: Malaysian satays and Indonesian satés, Japanese yakitori, Turkish and Afghani kebabs, Greek souvlaki, Italian grigliata mista, Lebanese meshwi. The barbecue spreads its arms and welcomes them all on its multicultural table. Perhaps this is the single most important reason for the Australian barbecue to be regarded as a national symbol.
But there is more to Australian cuisine than barbecues. Find out here.
The Easter Bunny may be cute and cuddly, but he’s a real pest in Australia (which is why we recommend the Haigh’s Easter Bilby instead – see below). A century ago Australia was home to 10 billion rabbits, thriving in their adopted home. Storyteller Bruce Munday finds the rabbit saga irresistible, and has collected it into his new book, Those Wild Rabbits. The book features this excerpt from the Age in 1925, including a recipe for baked rabbit with apple sauce.
Rabbit, the Cheapest White Meat
Visitors from England often express surprise that rabbits, which are a delicacy in Europe, are often despised here. They are the cheapest of the white meats with us, and if properly prepared, yield to none, in delicacy of flavor. White meats are both more digestible and freer from those deleterious substances which in beef and mutton contribute to the rise of blood pressure and all its attendant evils. During the winter months first-quality rabbits are difficult to obtain, but the young spring ones are just coming on to the market now, and lend themselves to varieties of tasty cooking. Part of the unpopularity of rabbit here is probably due to the fact that methods of preparation are stereotyped, but the following recipes will give dishes which are both economical and appetising.
Baked Rabbit with Apple Sauce
Before cooking always soak the rabbit in salt and water for 30 minutes.
Take a moderate sized rabbit and spread over it slices of carrot, onions, lemon and bacon. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, mixed spices and a few cloves, enclose in greased paper and cook in a hot oven. Make the sauce from six apples, the juice and grated rind of an orange, sugar and a little water. Pour the sauce over the rabbit and serve hot as possible. N.B. – If preferred, the rabbit can be stuffed before baking with any ordinary forcemeat.
(Age, 20 October 1925, p. 6)
Find out more about Those Wild Rabbits here.
Hopefully the Easter Bilby will be bringing you plenty of Haigh’s chocolates this weekend. Here is the story of the Haigh’s bilby, which has indeed been Enjoyed for Generations – if only they were still life-size!
Wrapping moulded chocolate and eggs ready for Easter. Circa 1965.
The idea came from Erwin Shulten, a ranger at Bundaleer Forest Reserve at Jamestown, who asked Haigh’s and a couple of other manufacturers to create a chocolate bilby to replace the traditional Easter rabbit in support of the goals of the Foundation for Rabbit- Free Australia (RFA). Not only would an Easter bilby draw attention to the endangered status of this shy, long-eared Australian native marsupial but it would also promote a more realistic image of rabbits as destroyers of the environment rather than cute and cuddly pets. Alister had no hesitation in supporting the project, and Haigh’s supplied chocolate bilbies for the Bundaleer Forest Easter Egg Hunt for several years.
The first bilbies in 1993, almost life-size, were an instant success; stores ran out of stocks, and people even followed Haigh’s delivery van in their desperate bilby quest. Two years later Haigh’s produced a series of smaller bilbies, using a simpler, stylised design that made the chocolates easier to unmould. With demand for the miniature bilbies even greater, the chocolate bunny was abandoned in 1995 and Haigh’s made the chocolate bilby a permanent feature of its Easter range. Since 1993 Haigh’s has donated part of the proceeds of bilby sales to promote awareness of the threat to the environment posed by rabbits and to help fund research into the development of biological controls, and continues to support RFA. Twenty years after the beginning of the partnership, in 2013, Haigh’s had produced more than half a million Easter Bilbies.
Some years ago, two weeks before Easter, I was putting the sale of seven bilbies through for a lady. She told me it was her second purchase of seven bilbies in the same week. They were for her grandchildren but she had eaten the first lot. Jokingly I said I hoped she would not be back for another seven. Lo and behold, a few days before Easter she was back again. ‘The final seven,’ she told me, both of us laughing. Beverley Tripodi, Haigh’s employee
Find out more about Enjoyed for Generations here.
Australia’s Muslim Cameleers is back in stock (and on its way to Canberra to be gifted by the Prime Minister to some special visiting guests). Between 1870 and 1920 as many as 2000 cameleers and 20,000 camels arrived in Australia from Afghanistan and northern India; each has their own fascinating story.
Dost Mahomed was the son of Mullah Mohamed Jullah of Gaznee. A Pashtun, he served as a ‘Sepoy’ in the British-Indian army before being recruited by George Landells. At 45 years he was the oldest cameleer in the Burke and Wills exploration party. Burke included Dost Mohamed in his advance from Menindee to the Cooper Creek but left him there with Brahe’s party while taking some camels on his desperate dash to the Gulf of Carpentaria. Dost helped supplement the waiting party’s diet with ducks and fish and accompanied Brahe’s party when it left for Menindee on the very morning of Burke’s longoverdue return to the Cooper depot. During Howitt’s Victorian Relief Expedition, which recovered the bodies of Burke and Wills, Dost Mohamed was bitten by a bull camel. It ‘lifted him off the ground and shook him with great ease, as a cat would shake a mouse’. He permanently lost the use of his right arm, and was later awarded 200 pounds by the Victorian Government. After the expedition he worked in William Ah Chung’s market garden in Menindee, where he died in the early 1880s. [William Strutt album, State Library of New South Wales]
Abdul Wahid or Wade, a major camel entrepreneur. Originally from Quetta, he arrived in Australia in 1879. In 1895 he established the Bourke Carrying Company, importing his own camels and cameleers. He helped fund the construction of the Adelaide mosque. Abdul Wade was known for his adoption of western clothes, and later built a large house on Sydney Harbour. Photographed at the Mount Garnet mine, Queensland, 1890s. [13127, State Library of Queensland]
Under the Commonwealth’s Immigration Restriction Act 1901, intending or returning immigrants faced a dictation test (set in any language), established as a means of keeping Australia’s population ‘white’. [Juma Khan, 53 years, Afghan (1924) was one of the many cameleers who] obtained exemptions from the dictation text, enabling them to visit their homelands and return to Australia.
Find out more about Australia’s Muslim Cameleers here.
Launching this week is Never a True Word, the debut political thriller from Michael McGuire. The book follows Jack, a journalist who thinks he’s met every shade of nutter, narcissist and bully, until he enters the bizarre world of politics as a spin doctor. Perhaps Jack might have benefitted from reading John Hill’s how-to, On Being a Minister – here John discusses his experiences with Adelaide’s ‘best informed, most intelligent and, at times, most offensive interviewers’, Matt and Dave.
My first Matt and Dave interview, as a minister, happened on my second day in the job. They asked me why I hadn’t fixed some problem or other in the environment area. I think my response was along the lines of ‘Give us a break; I haven’t been in the job 24 hours yet!’ I don’t think either they or their listeners ever care what the minister’s reason is – there’s a problem and it’s your job to fix it, no excuses! Fair enough.
In almost 11 years as a minister rarely a week went by that I wasn’t cross-examined, poked, accused, joked with or challenged on their morning program. Many weeks I was the minister du jour two or three times – depending on the issue. The environment and health portfolios always had something of interest happening. That means that I did in the order of 500 or so live interviews with two of the best informed, most intelligent and, at times, most offensive interviewers in the business.
Matt’s and Dave’s specialty is what I call the ‘twist and turn’. They like to take something you say and then use it against you (the twist) or jump from one issue to another (the turn). The fact there are two of them against one of you makes these interviews a challenging experience. I can’t say I ever looked forward to these interviews, but I usually felt OK once they were over. To be honest, I generally enjoyed the contest – a seasoned gladiator in the arena with two growling middle-aged lions.
Some would argue that there is often little point going on these kinds of shows – relatively few people listen and the audience is generally older with established political points of view. Why go on and potentially make the issue worse? There is obviously merit in this argument; from a strict media management point of view it makes sense. And maybe my point of view is old-fashioned, but I think that if you can’t stand up to tough media interviews you really shouldn’t be in the job. It’s like wanting to be a top cricketer without facing fast bowling. Ministers should front for a variety of reasons: it’s part of their job, it toughens them (or destroys them) and helps build their reputation for openness (the public hates politicians who hide behind media management).