Australia and New Zealand

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AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND. Australasian neighbors, once part of the same vast land mass known as Gondwanaland, Australia and New Zealand share a similar recent history. Both were British colonies settled largely by emigrants from England, Scotland, and Ireland, and both experienced rapid agricultural expansion in the 1800s. The initial prosperity of both was built on primary production, a high proportion of whichwool, meat, wheat, dairy products, fresh fruits such as apples and pears, and dried fruits such as raisins, sultanas, and currantswas exported, principally to Britain (until the formation of the European Economic Community).

One significant difference between the two countries is in their indigenous populations; the original inhabitants of Australia, for over forty thousand years before white settlement, were nomadic hunter-gathering Aborigines, while in New Zealand the first people were relatively stable semiagrarian communities of Maoris who arrived from eastern Polynesia in the seventh or eighth century. Both groups exploited indigenous food resources, but the Maoris also brought with them plant foods such as yams, taro, and kumara (sweet potato), which they cultivated.

Early Colonial Food and Cooking

The convict colony of New South Wales, founded in 1788, was at first heavily reliant on imported rations. Gradually, however, emancipated convicts and free settlers, many with farming experience, settled the land, often establishing orchards and gardens around the homesteads and becoming largely self-sufficient. These initial farming experiences benefited later colonies, including New Zealand.

The success and profitability of sheep grazing, which saw sheep numbers in New South Wales increase almost fivefold between 1803 and 1813, meant that meat was abundant and very cheap in the colonies, and a pattern of "meat three times a day" was firmly established by the 1840s. The standard weekly ration for Australian farm laborers in the 1830s was ten pounds of meat, ten pounds of flour, two pounds of sugar, and four ounces of tea.

Mutton, tea, and damper formed the basis of a sustaining, if monotonous, diet for many rural workers. Damper was a yeastless substitute for bread, made of flour, salt, and water and cooked in the embers. In A Summer at Port Phillip (1843), Robert Dundas Murray wrote: "You have mutton and damper today,mutton and damper will appear tomorrow, and from that day till the end of the year, your dinner is mutton, boiled, roasted or stewed." Even in landowners' homesteads, mutton was ubiquitous. It was generally cooked as Robert Dundas Murray described, but in both Australia and New Zealand at least one new dish became popularColonial Goose, a roasted boned leg or shoulder of mutton with a sage-and-onion stuffing.

In both Australia and New Zealand, the early white settlers made only limited use of the indigenous food resources, preferring to choose those foods that resembled familiar fare. Seafood, including the oysters of Sydney harbor, and shellfish such as toheroa and paua (abalone) in New Zealand, were readily accepted and eaten, as were freshwater fish and crustaceans. In Australia kangaroo was rated equal to hare and venison, and kangaroo tail soup was often featured on menus; game birds such as quail, pigeon, duck, and wild turkey were also hunted and eaten. Of the vast range of plant foods consumed by the indigenous inhabitants, only a few, such as native fruits made into preserves or desserts, appeared on colonial tables.

Urban Lifestyles

The gold rushes of the mid-nineteenth century brought great prosperity, especially to the cities, which, by the 1870s, could boast sophisticated restaurants and a wide range of imported luxury foods, from caviar to Gorgonzola cheese. In domestic kitchens, however, plain, homely, English-style cooking prevailed, though with local adaptations. The roast (or baked) dinner serves as an example of how Australia and New Zealand developed their own variations of English traditions; the joint, beef or lamb, was baked in the oven with drippings, surrounded by a variety of vegetablesthe obligatory potatoes and pumpkin, plus onions, parsnips, orange-fleshed kumara in New Zealand, sometimes carrots, and white-fleshed sweet potatoand served with gravy and a green vegetable, usually peas or beans.

By the turn of the century food was no longer cooked in the hearth but on wood-burning ranges or, in the cities and large towns, gas stoves, which were introduced in the 1870s. Ice chests were also becoming common at this time, favoring the growing popularity of cold puddings such as jellies, flummeries, and molded custards which also took advantage of commercially manufactured gelatin.

Large quantities of meat were still being eaten, despite success with the first shipment of frozen meat from Australia to England in 1880 and subsequent development of a profitable export trade, and despite increasingly loud denunciations of overconsumption of meat by the medical profession. The Sydney physician Dr. Philip Muskett, in particular, railed against the eating habits of a nation of meat worshipers and tried to persuade Australians to adopt a diet more appropriate to the climate by eating more vegetables, particularly salads. At this time, according to the evidence of recipe books, vegetables were typically overcooked and salads rare; tomatoes did not become popular until the 1880s and even then tended to be cooked rather than eaten raw.

Most Australian and New Zealand households at the end of the nineteenth century began the day with a substantial breakfast: porridge, bacon and eggs, sausages or chops (particularly on farms that raised their own meat), toast or bread, tea or coffee. Dinner, the principal meal, was often served in the middle of the day and was centered on the main course of meat and vegetables, sometimes preceded by soup, and followed by dessert of some sorta hot or cold pudding, custard, tart, or pie. (See the menus sidebar.) The evening meal generally featured meat again, but was less substantial. In cities and towns dinner was often eaten in the evening, after the return from work of the (male) head of the household, and the midday meal, lunch, was reduced to sandwiches and fruit or to the quasi-national dish of both countries, the meat pie (accompanied by tomato sauce).

Scones, Sponges, and Afternoon Teas

In addition to the three daily meals was afternoon tea, which could be particularly lavish on Sundays. Until about the mid-twentieth century, afternoon tea was the accepted way of entertaining guests; it was a particularly feminine form of entertaining, and gave women the opportunity to display their flair and imagination.

Many of the dishes that Australians and New Zealanders claim as their own belong to the world of the afternoon tea. Adapting a British tradition, Australians developed pumpkin scones (with the addition of mashed pumpkin) and fried scones. Lamingtons, cubes of butter cake coated with a thin chocolate icing and rolled in desiccated coconut, were invented in the early 1900s. Anzac biscuits, made with rolled oats, flour, coconut, butter, sugar, and golden syrup, and named after the forces that served in World War I, are common to both countries, as are afghan biscuits, melting moments, and hokey pokey biscuits. Cooks in both Australia and New Zealand specialize in light, airy sponge cakes, often served as a four-inch-high sponge sandwich filled with jam and cream.

Another antipodean invention is the Pavlova, a crisp-shelled, soft meringue cake spread lavishly with whipped cream and decorated with fresh fruit, such as strawberries or passion fruit pulp. Its origins are still disputed, but it seems likely that the cake originated in New Zealand, even if today's standard recipe reflects a later Australian version.

Multicultural Influences

In both Australia and New Zealand, postwar food and eating reflects multicultural influences. Since the 1960s, increasing numbers of Australians and New Zealanders have traveled in Europe and Asia and experienced different cuisines, while at the same time an influx of immigration, particularly from Mediterranean countriesGreece, Italy, the former Yugoslavia, Turkey, and the Middle Easthas resulted in the availability of a vast diversity of foods and restaurants. Many Vietnamese settled in Australia at the end of the conflict in that country, further diversifying the range of Asian foods and ingredients available. The tropical city of Darwin, in particular, has a large population of Asian and Pacific Island peoples whose foods and cuisines can be sampled at the weekly (in the dry season) Mindil Beach Market. Among successful "new" foods are Cervena (farmed deer) in New Zealand and kangaroo in Australia, harvested in the wild under license. New Zealand has also effectively commercialized the kiwifruit, a fruit of Chinese origin (and formerly known as the Chinese gooseberry) imported into New Zealand in the early 1900s.

The changes in eating habits since around 1950 demonstrate a convergence of different trends. Super-markets have replaced individual specialists and convenience foodsprepared soups and sauces, instant cakes and puddings, frozen pastries and ice creamshave largely replaced the raw ingredients from which such dishes used to be made. Relaxation of licensing laws, together with greater appreciation of wine, led to a blossoming of restaurants, often run by immigrants; today's opportunities for dining out range from silver-service restaurants to casual cafés to fast-food franchises. Thanks to both the food manufacturing industry and restaurants, people are familiar with a wide range of cuisines, both European and Asian. Emphasis on the links between health and eating has made people increasingly aware of dietary advice. Finally, a greater recognition of vegetarianism is obvious, with most cafés and restaurants including vegetarian options in their menus.

Domestic menus, while becoming more simplified, also show the influences of many different cuisines and a willingness to accept nonmeat meals. (See the menus sidebar.) Meat consumption declined dramatically in the 1970s when the cholesterolheart disease connection was announced, though the cooked breakfast had already begun to wane in the presence of a proliferation of ready-to-eat breakfast cereals. In Australia the consumption of meat is less than two-thirds what it had been one hundred years earlier, and consumption of lamb and mutton has halved. In fact, there is more chicken, and almost as much pork, eaten as lamb and mutton (both chicken and pork are the products of intensive factory farming).

The last years of the twentieth century also saw greater awareness of indigenous food resources, such as the Australian flavorings of lemon myrtle and native pepper leaf, which are increasingly used in restaurants and by the food industry.

See also British Isles ; Pacific Ocean Societies .


Burton, David. Two Hundred Years of New Zealand Food & Cookery. Wellington: Reed, 1982.

Farrer, K. T. H. A Settlement Amply Supplied: Food Technology in Nineteenth Century Australia. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1980.

Pascoe, Elise, and Cherry Ripe. Australia the Beautiful Cookbook. Sydney: Cumulus, 1995.

Santich, Barbara. What the Doctors Ordered: 150 Years of Dietary Advice in Australia. Melbourne: Hyland House, 1995.

Symons, Michael. One Continuous Picnic: A History of Eating in Australia. Adelaide: Duck Press, 1982.

Barbara Santich

An Economical Dinner, 1891

Shoulder of mutton, onion sauce
Baked potatoes
Boiled cabbage
Oxfordshire pudding
Stewed fruit, cheese, biscuits

Source: Wicken, Harriet. The Australian Home, a Handbook of Domestic Economy. Sydney: Edwards Dunlop, 1891, p. 260

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Family Dinner Menu, 1940

Vermicelli & Parsnip Soup
Triangles of Toast
Baked Stuffed Shoulder of Mutton
Brown Gravy, Red Currant Jelly
Baked Potatoes, Boiled Celery
Stewed Peaches, Baked Custard

Source: Osborne, W. A., and E. Howell. What Shall We Have for Dinner ? Melbourne: Albright & Wilson, n.d., p. 11

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Four Economy Menus, 1965

Beef curry; Lemon-drop pancakes
Hamburgers; Lemon cream rice
Potato meatloaf; Caramel meringue pie
Brawn, potato salad; Apple snow

Source: Australian Women's Weekly, 2 February 1965

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Budget StretchersInexpensive Family Dishes, 1991

Tomato and spinach lasagne
Chickpea casserole with potato dumplings
Spicy baked eggplant
Glazed chicken wings
Beef and vegetable curry
Tuna and corn frittata
Ham and vegetable fried rice

Source: Australian Women's Weekly, August 1991

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Australia and New Zealand

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