Brian Murton. Cambridge World History of Food. Editor: Kenneth F Kiple & Kriemhild Conee Ornelas. Volume 2. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
Australia and New Zealand are Pacific Rim countries situated on the southwestern edge of that vast ocean. But although Australia has been peopled for at least 50,000 years (some now say 70,000), and New Zealand for just over 1,000, the dominant foodways of both have been shaped over just the last 200 years—since the beginning of British settlement in Australia in 1788.The indigenous people, the Aborigine in Australia and the Maori in New Zealand, are now minorities in their own lands (Aborigines comprise less than 2 percent of Australia’s population and Maori about 15 percent of New Zealand’s), and the foods and beverages they consume have been markedly influenced by food and drink of British origin. Indeed, from a contemporary perspective, food and drink in Australia and New Zealand—the lands “down under”—predominantly derive from the strong British heritage.
In this chapter, the environments of Australia and New Zealand are briefly described, not only because they are notably unique but also because they were so amenable to “ecological imperialism” (Crosby 1978). The food systems of the indigenous peoples, although now vastly altered, are also outlined, but the bulk of the chapter is devoted to the processes that produced contemporary patterns of food and drink consumption among both the immigrants and the indigenous peoples.
Because of its transitional position between the low and middle latitudes, about 40 percent of Australia is located within the tropics. However, the southwestern and southeastern littoral zones lie within the mid-latitudes and have temperature and rainfall regimes somewhat similar to those of western and Mediterranean Europe and, consequently, have proven conducive to the naturalization of European flora and fauna. The continent is an ancient and stable one. Large parts of it have an aspect of sameness, with almost monotonous expanses of flat land and sweeping vistas (McKnight 1995), and only in the Eastern Highlands is there great topographical variety.
Climatically, two features stand out: aridity and tropicality. Central and western Australia are arid, and well over half of the continent receives less than 15 inches of rainfall a year. By contrast, northern Australia (away from the east coast) has a monsoonlike climate, which brings abundant moisture between November and March, followed by a seven- or eight-month dry season. The northeastern coast is humid and hot, but the southeast has true midlatitude conditions with adequate precipitation, although the summers are hotter than in comparable latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere. The southwest enjoys a subtropical drysummer/wet-winter situation—a “Mediterranean-type” climate.
The flora and fauna that developed in Australia and provided the subsistence for its indigenous people are unique, primarily because of nearly 100 million years of isolation, during which the present biota evolved and diversified without interference from immigrant species. About 80 percent of Australia’s 25,000 species of plants are endemic, with two genera, the eucalypts or “gums” (Eucalypt spp.) and the acacias or “wattles” (Acacia spp.) overwhelmingly dominant. Furthermore, much Australian flora exhibits pronounced xerophytic (drought-resistant) characteristics. Only over the last few million years has there been a limited exchange of biota between Australia and (the biotically rich) Southeast Asia. In the past 200 years, the introduction of new species, mostly of European origin, has dramatically impacted the landscapes, especially of temperate Australia.
Australia’s assemblage of terrestrial animal life is also unique. The more familiar placental animal groups are absent, their place being taken by marsupials, the majority of which are herbivores, including the macropods (kangaroos and wallabies, rat kangaroos, wombats, phalangers,”possums,” and koala).There are also a number of carnivorous marsupials (“mice,” “moles,””cats,” and “devils”) and a group of numbats (anteaters), as well as omnivorous marsupials called bandicoots. Additionally, Australia has two monotremes (egg-laying mammals), the duck-billed platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) and the spiny anteater (Tachyglossus aculeatus). Placental mammals are recent arrivals, which until the introduction of European species after 1788 were mostly rats, mice, and bats from Southeast Asia. Australia also has a wide variety of reptilian fauna, an exceedingly varied and singular avifauna, and abundant insects and arthropods but limited amphibian and freshwater fish life.
In contrast to Australia, New Zealand is characterized by sloping land, true midlatitude climates, and dense vegetation. It is located along the “Pacific Rim of Fire,” and vulcanism is evident in the North Island; alpine mountains dominate parts of the South Island. Everywhere else, hill country and small valley plains dominate, except in the eastern part of the South Island where the Canterbury Plain, New Zealand’s largest lowland, is located.
Overall, the climate can be characterized as “marine west coast,” dominated by air from the oceans, especially from the west. Some parts of the east (leeward) side of major mountains are relatively dry, but in most of the country, the precipitation averages between 30 and 60 inches annually, with mountain regions receiving more. Temperatures are moderate (50° F to 80° F in summer and 30° F to 70° F in winter), again except for the mountains.
Prior to human occupation, the islands were heavily forested, with more than 75 percent of the total area covered with what the early British settlers called “bush.” Much of this was actually a sort of temperate rain forest, which had evolved in relative isolation under unstable (volcanic and glacial) environmental conditions. The fauna inhabiting this environment was conspicuous by the lack of land mammals (other than a species of bat) and was dominated by bird life, a distinctive feature of which was the relatively high degree of flightlessness. The kiwi, New Zealand’s national emblem, shares this characteristic, along with a variety of rails, woodhens, and other species.
The most notable nonflying birds were the two dozen species of moa—ostrichlike birds, now extinct, some of which were very large. Various types of waterfowl, parrots, and innumerable “bush birds,” large and small, were also present in abundance, along with some species of lizards, but there were no amphibians save for a few species of frogs. A rich marine-mammal population included fur seals, sea lions, leopard seals, elephant seals, dolphins, and many species of whales, as well as an abundance of fish and mollusks.
Indigenous Food Systems
The unique and remote Australian environment provided a home for the Australian Aborigines, who comprised a distinctive society of hunters, gatherers, and fishers. Arriving from what is now Southeast Asia possibly as many as 70,000 years ago, over the subsequent millennia they spread across and occupied all parts of the continent at varying densities, depending on local environmental conditions. Mostly they led a seminomadic existence, but their movements were not helter-skelter (Davis and Prescott 1992). It is thought that there may have been from 500 to 600 tribes or tribelets, with each recognizing the territoriality of others.
Within each tribe there were usually several clans of a few dozen people each. Although there is no evidence of formal agriculture, the gathering and distribution of seed, the management of natural vegetation by fire, and the rudimentary cultivation of yams (Dioscorea spp.) in certain areas indicate some degree of plant husbandry. There were no domesticated animals except the dog. The total population of Aborigines at the time of European contact is not known. The most widely accepted estimate is about 300,000, although some authorities place the number as high as 1.5 million (McKnight 1995). Geographic distribution, density, and mobility were closely related to the availability of food, water, and other resources (Berndt and Berndt 1988).
Most Aboriginal languages had special terms for vegetable foods, as distinct from terms for the flesh of animals, birds, reptiles, fish, mollusks, and insects. Generally, foods from vegetable sources fell into three main categories: roots and tubers, fruits, and seeds (although some plants produced more than one type of food item, and, in a few instances, it was the pith of the plant that was consumed). There were considerable differences in the importance of various types of plant foods between ecological zones. In the vast desert and semiarid areas, Aborigines utilized between 60 and 100 edible species of plants (Latz and Griffin 1978; Peterson 1978). However, this extensive list could be reduced to about a dozen staples. (A staple is a plant species that singly or in combination with another accounts for at least 50 percent of the diet during the period it is consumed.)
Principal staples were the roots of various species of Ipomoea (convolvulus), Vigna lancelota, and Portulaca oleracea (“pigweed”); the fruits of Solanum (for example, the “bush tomato”), Ficus, and Santalum (the “quandong”) species; and Leichardtia australis (the “bush banana”). Other principal staples were the seeds of various Acacia species (“wattles”); grasses, such as those of the genus Panicum; and herbs, such as Rhyncharrhena linearis (the “bush bean”) (Peterson 1978; Palmer and Brady 1991). It is estimated that plants provided some 70 to 80 percent of the diet (in terms of bulk) consumed by desert Aborigines (Gould 1969).
In the more humid southeast, about 140 species of plants were eaten (Flood 1980). These included the roots and tubers of various lilies (such as Aguillaria minus, the “vanilla lily”); at least 20 species of terrestrial orchids (for example,Gastrodia sesamoides, the “potato orchid”); bulrushes (Typha orientalis and Typha domingensis); and the bracken fern (Pteridium esculentum). Also consumed were the roots and tubers of various dandelionlike plants, including the “yam daisy” (Micoseris scapigera), the “native carrot” (Geranium solanderi), and the “Australian carrot” (Daucus glochidiatus). Seasonal fruits, such as the “native cherry” (Exocarpus cuppressiformis), “native raspberries” (Rubus triphyllus), currants (Coprosma quadrifida), and the “kangaroo apple” (Solanum linearifolium), entered the diet. The pith of tree ferns (Dicksonia antarctica and Cyathea spp.) was also consumed. More plant foods were eaten in the coastal regions of the southeast than in the highlands, but on the plains of the eastern interior, grass seed, especially the native millet (Panicum decompositum), was the staple plant food.
In the tropical north, there were also a large number of plant foods. One study has identified 47 species of root crops and 49 of fruit or seed used by Aborigines (Crawford 1982), although the staples varied between coastal regions and river valleys and the interior (Turner 1974; Levitt 1981). Among the roots and tubers eaten, various yam species (for example, Dioscorea transversa, the “long yam,” and Dioscorea bulbifera, the “round yam”) were the most important, but the tubers of various convolvulus species (Ipomoea spp.), lilies (for example, the “blue water lily,” Nymphaea gigantica), the “swamp fern” (Blechnum indicum), and the “wild kapok” (Cochlospermum gregorii) were also consumed.
Seeds from numerous trees, including various Acacia species (Levitt 1981), as well as seeds from some species of Sorghum were consumed in the north, along with a large number of nuts—from the Zamia palm (Cycas angulata), the Pandanus (Pandanus spiralis), and the “nut tree” (Terminalia grandiflora). Fruits included several species of Ficus,the “jungle plum” (Buchaninia arborescens), the “native goose-berry” (Physalis minima), the “big green plum”(Planchonella pohlmaniana), the red “wild apple” (Syzygium suborbiculare), and the “wild prune” (Pouteria sericea)(Davis and Prescott 1992).
Considerable variation also existed in the types of flesh eaten. Snakes and lizards, especially two species of “monitor” lizard or goanna (Varunus varius and Varunus giganteus), were commonly consumed, as were a number of small marsupials and rodents (Peterson 1978; Flood 1980). In wetter areas, “pos-sums” (phalangers) were frequently a part of the diet (either the “brushtail possum,” Trichosurus vulpecula, or the “mountain possum,” Trichosurus canicus), along with various gliders (for example, the “squirrel glider,” Petaurus norfolcensis, and the “greater glider,” Schoinobates volans), the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus), and various types of “flying foxes” (Pteropus spp.).
Bandicoots (Perameles spp.) and other marsupial “rats” and “mice” (for example, Antechinus spp. and Sminthopsisspp.) served as food, as did rodents of various types (for example, the “broad-toothed rat,” Mastocomys fuscus, and the “bush rat,” Rattus fuscipes). In addition, larger marsupials contributed to the human diet, although in arid and semiarid areas they were relatively limited, and even in wetter areas were problematic to hunt, requiring cooperative ventures that involved considerable numbers of hunters. The latter generally used fire (Peterson 1978), but in the New England tablelands, large permanent nets were employed (Flood 1980). The red kangaroo (Macropus rufus), the “Euro”(Macropus robustus), and the gray kangaroo (Macropus fuliginosus), as well as numerous wallaby species (for example, the “red-necked wallaby,” Macropus rufogriseus) were all hunted. In the wetter areas, wombats (Vombatus ursinus) became important dietary items.
It has been estimated that in coastal and riverine regions, fish, shellfish, and crustaceans made up perhaps as much as 40 percent of the diet (Flood 1980). In the southeast, fish—caught by line, net, trap, or spear—included mullet (mainly Mugil cephalus), snapper (Chrysophrys auratus and Trachichthodes affinus), and various types of wrasses (for example, parrot fish and red cod, Pseudolabrus spp.). Such shellfish as the pipi (Paphies australis), cockles (Chione stutchburyi), mussels (Perna canaliculus and Mytilus edulis), the catseye (Lunella smaragda), and the mudsnail (Amphibda crenata) were very important food items, as were crayfish (Jassus spp.), gathered along rocky shorelines.
In the coastal areas of the tropical north, a diversity of marine resources was enjoyed. Green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) were hunted and their eggs gathered. The dugong (Dugong dugon), a herbivorous marine mammal, was another valuable source of animal protein, especially in the Torres Strait region and off the coasts of Arnhem Land (Turner 1974). There is no question, however, that in the coastal regions of the north, where they were obtainable throughout the year, fish were the staple food.
Other marine resources that made important contributions to the diet in some areas included freshwater fish, shellfish, and crustaceans. In the watershed of the Murray-Murrumbidgee system (Flood 1980), the Murray cod (Maccullochella macquariensis), the “trout cod” (Maccullochella mitchelli), the silver perch (Bidyanus bidyanus), crayfish, mussels, and the platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) were captured and consumed. In the far north during the monsoon, the barramundi (Lates calcarifer), a large, tasty fish, was hunted with spears across the inundated floodplains (Davis and Prescott 1992). Rivers flowing to the Tasman Sea throughout the southeast of the continent contained eels (Anguillaspp.).
Birds constituted an important source of food, although in very dry areas they were probably only substantial food items following the infrequent heavy rains (Frith 1978). On the more humid plains of the north, east, and southwest, emu(Dromiceius novaehollandie) were plentiful and available throughout the year, but they were difficult to catch (Flood 1980). Ducks, such as the “mountain duck”—Tadorna tadornoides—of the southeast, were abundant in swamps and lagoons and along the rivers, as were black swans (Cygnis atratus) and a variety of other waterfowl. Wild turkeys (the Australian bustard, Eupodotis australis) were another excellent source of food on the open plains, and smaller birds were probably an important source of protein because they could be hit with stones relatively easily (Flood 1980). Eggs also provided food and, in some places, were seasonally very important. For example, in the Daly River country, just south of Darwin, the goose-egg season could be counted on for an abundant harvest (Berndt and Berndt 1988).
Valuable contributions to the diet were made by various types of insects, with perhaps the most widely utilized the larvae of various moths, collectively called “witchetty grubs” (Peterson 1978).Among these, probably the most important were the larvae of the Cossidae family, especially Xyleutes lencomochla, which feed on the roots of certain acacias. In the southeast, especially in the granite peaks of the highlands, another moth, the bogong (Agrotis infusa), was important. During the spring and early summer, these moths migrated to the mountains, where they occupied fissures, clefts, and caves in summit rocks and could be collected and eaten in vast numbers (Flood 1980).
The primary beverage of the Aborigines appears to have been water. It does not seem that there were any intoxicating beverages, although in some areas, plants (for example, wild honeysuckle and pandanus fruit), honey, and such insects as crushed green ants were mixed with water (Massola 1971). In the more tropical parts of the continent, the Aborigines chewed the leaves of three plants (Nicotiana gossei, Nicotiana excelsior, and Duboisia hopwoodi) (Berndt and Berndt 1988), and on the north coast, tobacco was introduced by Makassan traders sometime after the sixteenth century (Berndt and Berndt 1988).
The seasonal distribution of edible plants and the movements of fish and animals imposed seasonal patterns of diet, as well as patterns of movement over territories (Crawford 1982). Any single Aborigine territory encompassed a variety of ecological systems and, thus, was capable of producing a variety of food supplies throughout the year.
In general, during the dry season (the winter in the north and the summer in the southwest), the Aborigines lived in the river valleys, and those in the Kimberleys, for example, started exploiting the first of the roots reaching maturity when the rains ceased around April or May (Crawford 1982). By June and July, they were digging up root plants in the alluvium along the banks of creeks and rivers, and at this time, they began burning spinifex and cane-grass to stimulate the regrowth that attracted kangaroos. Water lily tubers were harvested in August and September when water levels were low, and as the weather became hotter, ephemeral pools were poisoned for fish.
When the rains came in December, the camps were moved onto higher ground, although fruits and seeds were still gathered in the valleys. In the rich coastal areas of the southeast, seasonal movement was less than that elsewhere, but it did involve getting food from the bush during the winter and from the rivers and coasts during the summer (McBryde 1974). People in the highlands and tablelands had a more nomadic existence, moving away from the higher land in the winter. Tribal territories were generally much smaller in the humid areas than in semiarid and desert areas.
Apart from knowing the right season, the right times for certain foods, and the right places to find them, obtaining them involved the use of implements and tools (Berndt and Berndt 1988). For plant foods, gathered almost exclusively by women, the most important tool was the digging stick. Men knew how to interpret the spoors of various creatures and to decoy animals and birds, and they had to be adept at spear throwing. Fire was commonly used in both hunting and food gathering (Latz and Griffin 1978). People were conscious of the abundance of food plants after burning but attributed this phenomenon to associated ceremonies performed to increase rain and food. The effect of frequent burning was to produce a series of small patches—at different stages of recovery from fire—that sustained different plant and animal communities.
Culinary practices were fairly rudimentary. Some fruits and tubers required no preparation and were usually eaten when and where they were found. Most roots, however, were cooked for some minutes in hot ashes or sand. The more fibrous roots were pulverized, and bitter or poisonous tubers were sliced, soaked, and baked, often several times (Crawford 1982). Grass seed was crushed in a stone mortar and mixed with water, with the resultant “dough” baked in hot ashes (Massola 1971). Small animals were cooked in hot ashes, and larger ones in earth ovens. Sometimes foods were mixed to improve their flavors and to make them more palatable; additives included gums from acacia trees, water sweetened with honey, and crushed green ants (Crawford 1982).
The first humans to settle in New Zealand (who came to be called Maori in the early nineteenth century) were Polynesians who arrived between 1,000 and 2,000 years ago (Davidson 1984). The precise dates are unknown, but there is no hard evidence of settlement before A.D. 800, and recently, dates of A.D. 1000 to 1200 have been suggested (Anderson 1989). Like the eastern Polynesian societies from whence they came, Maori obtained their food by gardening, raising domestic animals, hunting (particularly fowling), fishing and shellfish gathering, and gathering uncultivated and semicultivated plants (see Nancy Davis Lewis, chapter V.E.3.). However, in this temperate, midlatitude land, gardening (as practiced elsewhere in Polynesia) was at best marginal and at worst impossible. Indeed, there is now considerable evidence to suggest that even in regions most amenable to horticulture, gardens may have contributed only about 50 percent of the means of subsistence (Jones 1995). Thus, the food quest in some communities can truly be described as “hunting-and-gathering.”
Two aspects of Maori foraging and farming have dominated discussions of prehistoric subsistence (Davidson 1984). Hunting for moa has captured both popular and scientific interest for more than a century. But more recently, scholars have been equally impressed by the Maori achievement of adapting the sweet potato or kumara (Ipomoea batatas) to an annual cycle in a temperate climate. Moreover, it has been recognized that Maori moa hunting was merely one aspect of more general hunting activities, and that the use of other plants, particularly the bracken-fern root, or aruhe, also constituted very important adaptations in some areas (Young 1992).
Of the range of tropical crops that the Polynesian settlers must have tried to introduce, only six species survived until early European times: the sweet potato, taro (Colocasia esculenta), yam or uhi (Dioscorea alata and Dioscorea esculenta), the “bottle gourd” or hue (Lagenaria siceraria), the “paper mulberry” or aute (Broussonetia papyrifera),and a species of “cabbage tree” or ti (Cordyline terminalis). In 1769, Captain James Cook and his companions identified all six, but soon thereafter the yam and the paper mulberry seem to have died out (Davidson 1984).
The three main cultivated food plants were sweet potatoes, taro, and the bottle gourd, of which sweet potatoes were by far the most important. Indeed, the whole question of the introduction of horticulture in New Zealand has been bedeviled by controversy, which has centered on the sweet potato, because to grow it in New Zealand required both its adaptation to new climatic conditions and the protection of the plant and its fruits from extremes of temperature and heavy winter rains. The Maori developed an array of pits in which to store tubers—a departure from methods used elsewhere in Polynesia, where the plants grew perennially and were planted from shoots, and the tubers remained in the ground until required. Exactly how the sweet potato—an American plant—reached New Zealand (and the rest of Oceania, for that matter), let alone how its cultivation and storage came to be, remains a subject of speculation. We do know that by the twelfth century, sweet potato cultivation seems to have expanded from the northern part of the North Island into the southern part and, soon thereafter, into the northern South Island.
The species of cabbage tree, Cordyline terminalis, was brought to New Zealand from the tropics, but other cabbage trees (Cordyline pumilio, Cordyline australis, and Cordyline indivisa) are natives and were also exploited for food. The white inner trunk of young trees and the fleshy taproot were both used. Roots, often a meter in length, were split in two and cooked in an earth oven, and the trunks were prepared in the same manner (Young 1992).
Like cabbage trees, the karaka (Corynocarpus laevigatus) was also “semicultivated,” yielding bountiful crops of plum-size, oval berries that turned orange when ripe. The outer flesh of this fruit is tasty, but the bulk of the food value is in the kernel, which is highly poisonous if eaten raw. Ripe berries were gathered from the ground and trod upon with bare feet to work off the outer flesh (Burton 1982). Next, the kernels were steamed in an earth oven for 24 hours, steeped in running water for a lengthy period to extract the bitter alkaloid poison, then preserved by drying in the sun; subsequently, they were stored in baskets.
Between the gardens and the bush lay areas where the bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum var. esculentum) grew. The tips of the new fronds can be eaten raw or boiled, but the roots (aruhe in Maori) were the major parts of the plant that were consumed. This fern was usually dug up in the spring, at a time when the roots are about an inch thick and break crisply to reveal a white interior with a few black fibers. They were dried on shaded platforms by the wind, then roasted, scraped, the inner flesh pounded, and baked into small loaves.
Truly “wild” foods were secured from the forest. There are at least 190 edible native plants found in New Zealand (Crowe 1997), and Maori used most of them. A variety of roots were utilized, including those from two species of bindweed (Calystegia spp.); terrestrial orchid tubers (examples include those of the “potato orchid,” Gastrodia cunninghamii, the “onion orchid,” Microtes unifolia, and the “sun orchid,” Thelymitra longifolia); the roots of the bulrush or raupo (Typha orientalis); and the rock lily (Arthropodium cirratum).
Shoots and leaves from a wide range of other species were used as greens. Important among these were the young fronds of a number of ferns, such as the curling buds of the hen-and-chicken fern, Asplenium bulbiferum (which taste like asparagus) and especially the “sow thistle” or puha (Sonchus asper). An introduced species, Sonchus oleraceus, is still eaten today. Like the pith of the cabbage tree, that of the black tree fern of the forest (Cyathea medullus) was baked for several hours on hot embers, then peeled and eaten, or, alternately, steamed in an earth oven, sliced, and dried on sticks.
The berries of numerous trees were consumed, but those of the hinau (Elaeocarpus denatus), the tawa (Beilschmiedia tawa), and the tutu (Coriaria spp.) underwent elaborate processing. Hinau berries, for example, were pounded and sifted to remove the hard kernels, and the meal was then kneaded into a paste and formed into dark brown, oily cakes that were cooked and could be stored. A somewhat simpler procedure subjected the kernels of tawa berries to roasting in hot ashes or steaming in an earth oven. Perhaps tutu berries underwent the most complex processing. The only part of these that was not deadly poisonous was the purple juice of the sepals enclosing the fruits. That juice was first sieved, with any vestiges of seeds, stalks, or leaves discarded, after which it was permitted to set until it became a relish, or it was boiled with the pith of tree fern or with pieces of bull kelp (Durvillea antarctica) to form jellies.
A large number of other trees supplied insignificant amounts of small berries, but these were not staple foods. They were often called “children’s food,” although many were regarded as delicacies. Sweeteners also were obtained from the bush, mainly from the nectar of flowers and from certain vines, such as the rata (Metrosideros fulgens). A very important food item in some areas was the pollen of the raupo (Typha orientalis), which was dried, stripped from the stems, sifted, mixed with water, then made into loaves and steamed.
Of the Polynesian domestic animals (the pig, Sus scrofa, the chicken, Gallus gallus, and the dog, Canis canis) described by Nancy David Lewis (chapter V.E.3.), only the dog seems to have survived the journey to New Zealand. Dogs were kept as food animals as well as for hunting birds, and their dietary importance varied from place to place. They were probably seldom a major source of protein but always a steady and reliable one (Davidson 1984). In addition, the small Polynesian rat (Rattus exulans) accompanied humans to New Zealand, and although it can hardly be viewed as a domesticated animal, it was a scavenger around settlements and a fruit-eating forest dweller that was esteemed as a delicacy. “Rat runs,” where snares were laid, were so valuable that they were virtually “owned” by families, or by individuals.
There were also numerous hunted animals, particularly the fur seal (Arctocephalus forsteri), and a wide variety of birds to capture, including the large flightless moa, already mentioned. The importance of the fur seal in the pre-European diet has only recently been appreciated. When Polynesians first arrived, the fur seals bred prodigiously, and as one seal represents an enormous amount of meat, they were probably as important in the diet as moa. They were gradually reduced in number and driven from their northern breeding grounds before the arrival of the Europeans, but they remained important in the south. Other marine mammals, such as sea lions, leopard and elephant seals, dolphins, and whales, were eaten when they were occasionally captured or, in the case of whales, washed up on beaches.
Although moa may not have dominated the early human diet in New Zealand as once thought, they were an important food item everywhere. While the dates of the final disappearance of moa from different parts of the country are not established, the birds seem to have survived in some localities until about the fifteenth century. Apart from moa, the most important birds eaten were shags, penguins (especially the Little Blue), ducks (particularly the Grey, Anas gibberifrons, and the Paradise, Tadorna variegata), the sooty shearwater (the “mutton bird” of later times), and various rails.
A variety of “bush” birds were eaten as well. These included the kaka (Nestor meridonalis), the pigeon (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae), the tui (Prosthermadera novaeseelandiae), the kiwi (Apteryx spp.), the kakapo (Strigops habroptilus), parakeets (Cyanoramphus spp.), wattled birds, albatrosses, mollyhawks, and various gulls.
Birds were captured or killed with nets, spears, and snares, and by hand collection of the young. Bush birds were most commonly snared and speared in the autumn and early winter when berries were ripe or when nectar was in the flowers early in the summer. Bird carcasses were preserved in fat in airtight containers made from either gourds or bull kelp (Belich 1996).
Shellfish formed a very important item of Maori diet, especially by the eighteenth century and in the northern part of the country, where the most productive shellfish beds were located (Davidson 1984). Shellfish gathering was largely women’s work, as was the gathering of crabs, sea urchins, and kina. In contrast, the catching of fin fish was largely done by men (Young 1992). Hook-and-line fishing, as well as various types of nets and traps, were used to catch snapper, red cod, barracouta, trevally, yellow-eyed mullet, and various wrasses. Many other fish were also caught and consumed, but there was considerable regional variation in the most important species. In the north, snapper dominated, but in the south it was barracouta and red cod. A considerable quantity of the fish caught was baked and hung from poles and racks to dry for future use. Seaweed, especially a type called karenga (Porphyra columbina), was also consumed, as was bull kelp (Durvillaea antarctica, which served additionally to make storage containers for other foods) and sea lettuce (Ulva lactuca).
Inland dwellers utilized small freshwater fish, such as the kokopu (a native trout), grayling, postlarval young trout returning upstream (known as inanga or whitebait), and a species of lamprey. Freshwater cray-fish and mussels were consumed, but the most important freshwater creatures were eels, taken in basket-work traps. In some locations, elaborate weirs were constructed to channel eels during their migrations.
Although methods of preserving and preparing food have been mentioned, the latter deserve further comment. The earth oven (a circular hole in the ground about 2 feet in diameter and about 1 foot deep), called either a hangi or an umu, was the principal method of cooking (Crowe 1997). A fire was made in the hole, and a layer of stones laid upon it; these, when heated, were removed, and the embers cleaned out. The heated stones were returned to the hole, covered with green leaves, and sprinkled with water; then more leaves were added, and food baskets or leaf-wrapped food placed on this layer. The food was covered with still more leaves, wet flax mats, old baskets, and the like, and the whole sprinkled liberally with water and covered with earth so that the steam could not escape. A family’s food would normally cook in an hour or less, although larger amounts took longer. In addition, some food was doubtless roasted in hot ashes. Another technique, stone boiling, was also in common usage. Water and food were placed in a wooden trough, and red-hot stones added to bring the water to a boil.
Finally, a comment upon cannibalism is necessary. Human flesh did constitute part of the diet (at least of eighteenth-century males) (Davidson 1984), but the practice seems to have been a form of revenge (utu), desecrating the victims beyond the grave by turning them into cooked food (Belich 1996). Although it fascinated and revolted early European observers, the preponderant evidence indicates that those cannibalized were enemies captured or killed in war, and cannibalism was primarily an ultimate way of subjugating adversaries (Hanson and Hanson 1983).
By way of summary then, broadly speaking, New Zealand in the eighteenth century was divided into three areas in terms of the mix of foods consumed (Cumberland 1949; Lewthwaite 1949). In the northern area, horticulture was most successful, and the many harbors and estuaries contained rich fish and shellfish resources. Along the coasts of the southern North Island and northern South Island, and in the interior of the North Island, horticulture was more marginal, and hunting and gathering much more significant. Apart from the northern fringe, people in the South Island depended on hunting, fishing, and the gathering of wild plants.
The period between A.D. 1350 and 1600 was one of transition. The early settlers had exploited the premium game animals, such as moa and seals, to the point of exhaustion, and this led people to move into areas suitable for gardening, particularly in the north; it also resulted in an increased reliance on fishing and gathering throughout the islands. Large-scale marine fishing seems to have increased in importance after 1600, but the hunting of smaller birds and the trapping of eels were also significant. Gardening certainly dominated in the north, but elsewhere the “semicultivated” plants also grew in importance in the diet.
After European contact, the Maori were quick to adopt a variety of European plants, in part to vary the diet in those areas where traditional horticulture had been practiced, and in part to create a new dimension in economics where traditional horticulture had been impossible. More vigorous varieties of sweet potatoes and taro were introduced, as was the white potato (Solanum), which probably dates from the early 1770s. Because it was easier to grow than the sweet potato and provided a higher yield, it rapidly gained popularity everywhere (Burton 1982; Belich 1996). Less popular European vegetables introduced in the eighteenth century were carrots, pumpkins, cabbages, turnips, and parsnips (Burton 1982)—although fruit trees, especially peaches, were welcomed. Maize was the first cereal to gain acceptance; wheat was adopted only during the 1840s and 1850s.
Of the European animals, the pig—well established and running wild by the early nineteenth century—was the earliest and most successful introduction. No other animal in New Zealand yielded such a large quantity of meat, and pork became an important source of protein. In fact, pork and white potatoes joined native puha (sow thistle) and sweet potatoes, foods from the sea, and birds from the forest as the Maori diet in the early decades of the nineteenth century. At first, all of these new introductions may have contributed to an improvement in nutrition, but once Maori began selling land and losing access to the resources of the bush and water, the quality of the diet diminished (Pool 1991).
From Colonies to Nations
Although numerous Dutch, Portuguese, French, Spanish, and British explorers had touched the shores of Australia and New Zealand from the late sixteenth century onward, it was only in the late eighteenth century that European colonization of these lands commenced. The 1769 voyage of Captain Cook initiated this process, and the establishment by the British of a penal colony at Botany Bay in 1788 (soon moved to Sydney Harbour) marked the beginning of their (since then) permanent—and largely unchallenged—presence in these southern lands.
Several other penal colonies and one free-settler colony (South Australia) were established by 1840, but in the early years it was Sydney that dominated British affairs in the South Pacific. Among other things, Sydney was the base from which New Zealand’s resources—enumerated as flax, timber, whales, seals, sex, and souls by James Belich (1996)—were exploited, and it was not until after 1840 that the direct settlement of New Zealand proceeded. Even then, Australian influences remained strong, especially with regard to food and beverage habits.
The free settlers (both working- and middle-to-upper class) who went to Australia and New Zealand after 1840 were from very similar socioeconomic backgrounds, and not surprisingly, the economies of the two countries developed in very similar ways. Australia was a little more Irish (and Catholic) than New Zealand because in Australia’s formative years, more than one-third of the settlers (both convicts and assisted migrants) were from Ireland. In New Zealand, by contrast, approximately one-quarter of the settlers were Scots, and only 19 percent were Irish. Nonetheless, according to Michael Symons (1982), the Irish influence on antipodean food included a strong preference for potatoes, the method of cooking them (boiling in a cauldron), and a liking for strong drink consumed away from home at pubs.
English settlers comprised barely a half of those arriving in the colonies, and the overall mixed British—in contrast to purely English—character of the population also had considerable influence on eating and drinking in the region. Indeed, the food and beverage habits carried to Australia, and later to New Zealand, were basically those of Britain’s burgeoning urban underclass: potatoes, bread, and tea, with a little sugar, milk, and occasionally bacon (see Colin Spencer, chapter V.C.4.).
On the other hand, some of the assisted migrants, from the working and lower-to-middle classes, were from rural backgrounds and accustomed to a bit more diversity in their diets (potatoes, bread, cheese, butter, bacon, milk, tea, sugar, peas, turnips, and a little meat). Moreover, the officers and officials of the Australian penal colonies and, later, the wealthier settlers in both Australia and New Zealand brought with them the food habits of a middle class, sometimes with upper-class aspirations. Colin Spencer (chapter V.C.4.) describes a late-eighteenth-century middle-class meal in England as consisting of three boiled chickens, a haunch of venison, a ham, flour-and-suet pudding, and beans, followed by gooseberries and apricots. As a rule, large amounts of meat were consumed by those who could afford it, and such vegetables as cabbages, carrots, spinach, Brussels sprouts, and turnips were common. Beer and ale were the most popular drinks until distilled spirits, such as gin and crude rums, took over during the eighteenth century.
In both Australia and New Zealand, the early years of settlement were characterized by a failure to establish successful farms and achieve self-reliance in food production. The area around Sydney was poor farming country, and in the early nineteenth century, sheep farming for wool production became the lifeblood of Australia. Sheep reached New Zealand a bit later (1833), pastoralism expanded in the 1840s, and by the late 1850s, wool was also central to the New Zealand economy.
In Australia, a lasting dependence upon imported foodstuffs developed. New Zealand also depended on imports, but in addition, such settlements as Auckland, Wellington, New Plymouth, and Nelson came to rely on a flourishing Maori agriculture for their supplies of potatoes, maize, onions, cabbages, peaches, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, grapes, melons, apples, and quinces, as well as flour (milled in Maori mills), fish, chickens, geese, turkeys, and goats (Belich 1996). It was only in the late 1850s that settlers began to produce much of their own food and the role of the Maori as food providers began to decline.
The last half of the nineteenth century brought stunning transformations to Australia and New Zealand. The gold rushes that began in both countries during the 1850s precipitated rapid social and economic changes, including the growth of urban areas, so that by 1900, these areas encompassed about 50 percent of the population (Symons 1982). In addition, railway networks opened up areas for the production of food of all types, not only for local consumption but also for export. After the 1870s, and especially after the inauguration of refrigerated shipping in 1882, both Australia and New Zealand became producers of meat (mutton, lamb, and beef), dairy products, and later fruit, for the British market. By the late nineteenth century, livestock ranching and the growing of both temperate and tropical cereals, fruits, and vegetables were all well established in areas suited to them, and in Australia, irrigated farming was developing along the Murray-Murrumbidgee river system. In well-watered, temperate New Zealand, the native vegetation was largely replaced by exotic pasture grasses to feed the introduced animals (Crosby 1978), and in southeastern Australia and along the northeastern coast (where the growing of sugar and tropical fruits came to dominate), the landscapes were transformed as well.
One outcome of the success of pastoralism was that Australia and New Zealand became nations of meat eaters. Up through the 1870s, there was no overseas market for meat, which, as a consequence, was inexpensive relative to people’s incomes (Burton 1982). Meat in large amounts was eaten at every meal: beefsteaks or mutton chops at breakfast, cold beef at luncheon, and roast or boiled beef or mutton at dinner (Symons 1982; Walker and Roberts 1988).
“Rations” and “Crew Culture”
Convicts (under sentence of “transportation” to Australia) along with their guards, working-class settlers bound for New Zealand, and assisted migrants to both countries (not to mention the crews of the ships carrying them all) were all provided with “rations.” The voyage from the British Isles was a long one, with three to six months the norm (the “First Fleet” to Australia in 1787 and 1788 took eight-and-a-half months), and although officers and cabin passengers enjoyed a satisfactory diet, the rations for the rest—which were not satisfactory—remained remarkably the same for more than 70 years.
By way of illustration, the weekly rations for each of the Royal Marines aboard during the First Fleet’s voyage to Botany Bay were 7 pounds of bread, 2 pounds of salt pork, 4 pounds of salt beef, 2 pounds of peas, 3 pounds of oatmeal, 6 ounces of butter, three-quarters of a pound of cheese, and a half-pint of vinegar, along with 3 quarts of water a day (Symons 1982); the convicts’ rations were two-thirds those of the marines. More than a half-century later, during the 1840s, New Zealand Company settlers were provided with 3.5 pounds of salt meat and 5.25 pounds of biscuit weekly, supplemented with rice, flour, oatmeal, dried peas, dried potatoes, raisins, butter, sugar, coffee, and tea.
Nor did the issuance of rations necessarily end when one stepped ashore. In Australia, the convicts and guards from the First Fleet had to subsist on rations for nearly three years, because agriculture had not yet developed (Walker and Roberts 1988). In the early settlements in New Zealand, ordinary migrants lived on New Zealand Company rations so long as the Company’s money lasted (Belich 1996). But it was sheep farming that firmly entrenched the “ration mentality” in Australian and New Zealand food culture.
Sheep grazing required complements of shepherds as well as gangs to shear the sheep, usually made up of itinerant males, who were the founders of many working-class traditions in both countries. Shepherds were partially paid in rations; handed out on Saturday nights and supplemented with spirits and a paycheck, this food eventually earned the name “Ten, Ten, Two, and a Quarter” because it usually included 10 pounds of flour, 10 pounds of meat, 2 pounds of sugar, a quarter-pound of tea, and salt (Symons 1982).
“Ten, Ten, Two, and a Quarter” was the monotonous diet of the rural workforce until well into the twentieth century, and it was very characteristic of the diet of “crews” of coastal seamen, soldiers, sawyers, mill-workers, construction workers, road and railway builders, miners, gum diggers, and farmhands. The “crew culture” was a factor in quite a few industries, and despite the many different kinds of work, involved a number of common characteristics: The work was dangerous; the crews lived in rough conditions; they used similar slang; most members were single; most spent their money on binges; and most ate a ration-style diet.
Basically, then, for the first half century, the majority of Australians were reared on what might be called prison rations—a practice that was transferred to New Zealand. In both countries, crew culture was reinforced by the dominant means of cooking: an open fire, whether at a campsite or in a hut or cottage. With the necessary implements—hatchet, knife, quart-pot (the “billy can”), and frying pan—the standard rations made a “damper,” a fry of meats, and pots of tea. The “damper” was flour and water, cooked in the ashes of the fire; the meat was salt pork, corned beef, or freshly slaughtered mutton; the tea, although taken with plenty of sugar, usually lacked milk. Its abundance meant that meat was consumed at every meal.
More Genteel Food Habits
In contrast to the diets of the lower classes, the food-ways carried to these new lands by the more genteel folk reflected the social differences of the Great Britain they had just left. Cabin passengers breakfasted on rolls, toast, cold meat, and hot chops. At luncheon, the fare was ham, tongue, beef, pickles, bread, and cheese, and in the evening they dined on preserved salmon, soup, goose, saddle of mutton, fowls, curry, ham, plum puddings, apple tarts, fruit, and nuts, all of this washed down with stout, champagne, sherry, and port (Belich 1996).
Once ashore, these elite few endeavored to maintain their notions of genteel dietary regimes. Thus, as early as 1789, it is recorded that the governor of New South Wales, the senior officers of the regiment guarding the convicts, and the senior officials of the civil administration sat down to several courses of fish, meat, and game (Clements 1986). Or again, in New Zealand of the 1850s, the meal served at an elegant dinner party might have included local fish, beef, sweet potatoes, Irish pork, Lancashire ham, and Cheshire cheese (Burton 1982). Indeed, just a few years later, an upper-class “colonial banquet” in Australia consisted of asparagus, turtle soup, trumpeter (a local fish) with butter sauce, lamb à la poulette, roast kangaroo, Australian blue cheese, wines, and liqueurs with coffee (Symons 1982). Later in the century, a suggested menu for a dinner party included oysters, turtle soup, baked barramundi, “beef olives” and chicken cream, roast fillet of beef, roast turkey and bread sauce, asparagus on toast, “angel food” cake, cherries in jelly, fruit, olives, and deviled almonds (Symons 1982).
Generally speaking, middle-class meals were enormous. Breakfast consisted of porridge, bacon and eggs or lamb cutlets, and perhaps curry or fish (Burton 1982). Luncheon might feature soup, a roast joint, vegetables, and cooked pudding or fruit. Four- or five-course family dinners were not uncommon, beginning with an “appetizer” of soup or fish, continuing with a roast, vegetables, and a pudding, and topped off with fruit and cheese.
Diet and Modernization
Food habits were considerably influenced by late-nineteenth-century technological developments, such as urbanization, railroads that rapidly transported products, and breakthroughs in food processing and preservation (including refrigeration). Australia and New Zealand were becoming modern, mass-consumption societies.
Giant roller mills producing refined white flour began to appear in the 1860s, and from this time on, workers, like their counterparts in Britain, began to enjoy a cornucopia of biscuits, macaroni, jams, confectionery, cordials, pickles, condiments, and snacks. These products, with their brand names, were advertised extensively and commonly sold in the emerging grocery shops. Also in the 1860s, beer (now “bottom fermented” and thus capable of longer-term storage and long-distance transportation) was brewed, and by 1900, today’s major brewery corporations were already in existence.
Cooking technology also changed. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, cooking was mostly done over an open fire, where meats were roasted and stewpots suspended. One refinement at this time was the “Dutch oven” or “camp oven,” a round pot with legs and a handle so that it could either stand or hang. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the “Colonial oven,” a simple cast-iron box with a door in front that sat in the fireplace, had come into widespread use. Cast-iron ranges were imported beginning in the 1850s, and by the 1870s, locally manufactured stoves had entered the market (Burton 1982). This was at about the same time that the first gas stoves were introduced, permitting better control of the cooking process.
By the early twentieth century, a new array of processed and packaged foods—that supplemented the basic bread, mutton, beef, pork, milk, eggs, fruit, vegetables, and tea—were in common use. As Symons (1982) has noted, tea was the national beverage, and alcohol was not usually drunk with meals (other than by the upper classes), but rather was imbibed separately in hotel bars (Wood 1988). By the time of World War I, both Australia and New Zealand had seen the development of strong temperance movements, which proved powerful enough to persuade governments to hold referendums on the outright prohibition of alcoholic beverages, and some of the voting was very close. During the war, hotel bar hours were curtailed (Symons 1982), with closing time usually at 6:00 P.M., leading to the infamous “six o’clock swill.”
During the 1920s, numerous developments further standardized eating habits. Fresh fruits and nuts were heavily promoted, as were pasteurized milk and ice cream (Symons 1982). Bread—a staple in urban areas since the time of early settlement—was baked mostly in mechanized bakeries, and to see it wrapped for sale in grocery stores was becoming common in Australia. Iceboxes were now widespread, and by the 1920s, wealthier housewives were looking forward to owning their own refrigerators.
The 1920s also saw an increased American influence on food, as sundae shops and soda fountains arrived and such big American food companies as Heinz, Kellogg, and Kraft moved in. These, along with such others as Nestlé (Switzerland) and Cadbury (England), came to dominate Australian and New Zealand eating and drinking habits. They pushed early “convenience” foods, defined as those that needed no cooking outside of the factory, which simplified breakfast and provided after-school and bedtime snacks. One product epitomizes this era. “Vegemite,” made from brewery waste (spent yeast), became a runaway success after its alleged health attributes were extensively advertised during the 1930s and 1940s (Symons 1982). The post–World War II baby boom created a huge new market for “Vegemite, the family health food.”
At this time, too, food companies and women’s magazines promoted a more dainty cuisine aimed at the afternoon tea market: “Lamingtons” (chocolateand-coconut-coated cubes of cake), “Anzac biscuits” (made of coconut, rolled oats, and golden syrup), and especially the “Pavlova” (made of whipped egg whites, corn flour, vinegar, sugar, a few drops of vanilla essence, and a pinch of cream of tartar, baked and topped with whipped cream and fruit—especially passionfruit and, today, kiwifruit). Pavlova, named after the famous ballerina (“It is as light as Pavlova”), is alternatively said to have originated in both Australia and New Zealand (Symons 1982).
World War II had much influence upon food and beverage habits. Rationing was introduced, which curtailed the use of sugar, tea, flour, and meat. However, the demand for more fruit and vegetables created by the presence of U.S. military forces in Australia and New Zealand brought about an increase in the acreage planted with both. Vegetables were also increasingly canned and, later, dehydrated to provide the military with preserved food. The meat-processing industry was compelled to upgrade its standards and put out new canned meats, such as chile con carne, luncheon meats, “Spam,” and Vienna sausage (Symons 1982). Coca-Cola came with the American troops and stayed after they left.
Until the 1960s in both Australia and New Zealand, bread, milk, vegetables, groceries, and meat were all delivered. But with the advent of relatively inexpensive automobiles (first in Australia and quite a bit later in New Zealand) and universal ownership of refrigerators, supermarkets began to control food sales, all of which had the effect of furthering the trend toward nationally standardized and distributed food. Supermarket giants came to dominate food marketing with “prepackaging,” bright labels, and an emphasis on low prices rather than on quality. These chain-store companies did not like dealing with small producers and growers. Because they preferred products with long shelf life, they tended to offer canned, dried, and frozen rather than fresh foods, processed by industrial-size producers who could guarantee regular supply, consistent quality, and steady prices.
By identifying gaps on the supermarket shelves, such producers brought forth a new array of foodstuffs, many of a “convenience” nature, such as “Muesli,” reconstituted orange juice, teabags, pizza, frozen fruits and vegetables, and the like. Foods of this sort were marketed as “labor-saving,” were usually aimed at target groups after extensive market research, and were given scientific credence through the endorsement of “home economists” and “nutrition experts” (Symons 1982).This was especially characteristic of the frozen-food industry, which included such internationally known brand names as Birdseye (owned by Unilever in Australia and New Zealand), as well as local processors (for example, Watties in New Zealand) that began freezing peas, corn, berry fruits, Brussels sprouts, beans, and asparagus during the 1950s and later expanded into fish products, “TV dinners,” frozen chips, cakes, poultry, and meats.
As has been the case in developed countries elsewhere, recent decades have also witnessed the sacrifice of family farms to agribusiness, monoculture, the intensive use of fertilizers and pesticides, and the arrival of scientifically “engineered” fruits and vegetables, made possible by agricultural research and funded by both governments and private corporations (Symons 1982). Recently, however, new “alternative” farming ventures have also arisen that produce organic fruit and vegetables and market them directly to consumers through resurrected city markets. At the same time, the “back to the earth” movement has supplemented the limited information prevailing in industrial societies concerning the imitation of developing-world cuisine (Symons 1982). In Australia, the food items of the original inhabitants have begun to be noticed again, but as yet in New Zealand, there has not been the same level of interest in “Maori” food other than breads, seafoods (kai moana), and foods cooked in the traditional earth oven (Osborne 1989; Paul 1996).
Eating establishments have existed since the beginnings of settlement in Australia, and in fact, in 1800 the Freemason’s Arms in Sydney served excellent French-style food. More commonly, early eating houses and taverns dished out boiled mutton and broths, but both the Australian and New Zealand colonies had numerous eating houses with reputations for excellent “British cookery” (Symons 1982). The belle epoque for fine restaurants was between 1890 and World War I, when in all of the major cities, gourmet restaurants served a wide range of continental cuisines. Following the war, however, gourmets could lament that the two countries had only one diet: steaks, chops, beef, mutton, potatoes, and gravy, with suet pudding and slabs of cheese (Symons 1982).
For the less wealthy, “fourpenny” and “sixpenny” restaurants, serving basic meats and vegetables, had come into being at about the middle of the nineteenth century (Symons 1982). The fish-and-chip shop, a feature of Australian and New Zealand life that has remained, albeit modified, to the present day, arrived somewhat later. Another such feature is the ubiquitous meat pie brought by the British, which evolved over a long period to become the standardized dish common since the 1920s (Symons 1982). Men commonly ate meat pies at sporting events and as a counter lunch item in hotel bars. By World War II, the meat pie had become a “national dish” in both countries. The New Zealand Food and Drug Regulations of 1973 state that meat pies shall be encased in a pastry shell and contain not less than 25 percent cooked or manufactured meat (Burton 1982).
Until recently, “going out to dinner” for many Australians and New Zealanders meant the fish-and-chip shop or the “pie cart,” a mobile, trailerlike café parked at a convenient location, which served meat pies with various accompaniments (for example, mashed potatoes and peas, known all together as “pea, pie, and pud”), as well as various other types of portable food to its customers (Burton 1982). Even as late as the 1960s, the only alternatives to the fish shop and the pie cart were the dining rooms of hotels and exclusive private clubs, both of which served a very standard antipodean cuisine: steak and chips, roast meats and vegetables, bread and butter, tea, and ice cream with passion fruit (Symons 1982).
By the late 1960s, however, the pie carts and the fish-and-chip shops began receiving stiff competition from American-style fast-food outlets. Kentucky Fried Chicken was the first, in 1968, and McDonald’s and Pizza Hut were not far behind. A decade later, such fast-food franchises were everywhere, although their products did not completely replace fish-and-chips and meat pies, and many of the traditional fish-and-chip shops have recently expanded their “takeaway” (carry-out) menus to include Chinese food as well as a variety of European fast foods, such as gyros and kebabs. Fast-food outlets of this type, often operated by recent immigrants, have contributed significantly to the diversification of foodways in Australia and New Zealand.
Of even more importance, however, has been the recent explosive growth of all types of restaurants. Some of this growth can be attributed to the influence of immigrants from Europe soon after World War II and, more recently, from Asia and the Pacific region. But as affluence grew in both Australia and New Zealand, more people began to visit Europe and other places around the world, and as they did so, they discovered that there was more to the “good life” than steak-and-eggs and chips.
Contemporary Food and Beverage Ways
Migrants, overseas travel, the window to the world opened by television, affluence, and the continuing globalization of food have all contributed to the diversification of Australian and New Zealand diets. Another significant change has been in drinking habits. An accompaniment to the growth of diversified, quality eating places has been the proliferation of locally produced wines, some of fine quality, some not. Although Australians and New Zealanders were and are beer drinkers, they have also historically drunk sweet wines, characteristically “screw-topped Riesling” (Symons 1982).
Grapes have long been grown, since 1791 in Australia and 1819 in New Zealand (de Blij 1985). Wine making developed early in Australia: By the 1820s, it was successful around Sydney and had expanded to the Hunter Valley. In the 1830s and 1840s, viticulture and wine making began in Victoria and South Australia, and a solid market for sweet and fortified wines developed. During the 1960s and the years that followed, the industry was transformed, with new, high-quality cultivars planted; technological and wine-making improvements led to a vastly expanded and diversified array of wines to meet developing consumer tastes.
Large-scale wine making is much more recent in New Zealand, which had only 200 acres planted with wine grapes in 1945. But the industry expanded enormously after 1960, with white varietals initially dominating. Today, red varietals have also come into their own, and there are more than 140 vineyards marketing wine in New Zealand. Some are owned by large corporations; yet there are also many small producers making excellent wines.
“One Continuous Picnic”?
Symons (1982) has characterized eating and drinking in Australia since 1788 as “one continuous picnic,” and the contention here is that the same has been true in New Zealand. Both peoples were dispatched to the antipodes with packed provisions—”rations”—of salt pork and ship’s biscuits. Pastoralists were paid in rations of flour (for damper), “billy tea,” and slabs of meat, and the indigenous peoples learned their new foodways from the “crews” who were transforming their lands. The railways sent Australians and New Zealanders jaunting off with a litter of tins and bottles. More recently, semitrailer trucks have brought in Coca-Cola, frozen puff pastry, and “Big Macs.” The concept of a picnic highlights the most essential character of Australian and New Zealand food right from the beginning: portability. Even the penchant for outdoor barbecuing (the “put-another-shrimp-on-the-barbie” syndrome) can be interpreted in this light. Broiling meat and seafood over hot coals harks back—nostalgically?—to an earlier age, when men (and women, when they were present) cooked their rations over open fires with a minimum of equipment.