Food


TC Midwood, 'The distribution of Jones' I.X.L jam On the 8 hours Anniversary Day', c 1983 (Tasmaniana Library, SLT)

At the time of the European settlement of Australia, food was largely the product of agriculture and the farmhouse. In pre-settlement Tasmania Bligh had planted fruit trees at Adventure Bay and d'Entrecasteaux's expedition had planted a vegetable garden at Recherche Bay. The British settlers led by Bowen and Collins in 180304 brought with them, and strove to reproduce (in the face of climatic and other difficulties), European agricultural food production.

The diet of the earliest settlers was monotonous and inadequate, with numerous crises of both local and imported supply. The stores issued at Sullivan's Cove were initially limited to beef or pork (later supplemented by locally caught fish, kangaroo, emu and seafood), flour or wheat and sugar. As free immigration developed (initially the transfer of settlers from Norfolk Island) and the ports of Hobart and Launceston were opened, the quality and range of foodstuffs improved and the colony began to export wheat and meat to other colonies. Howeler-Coy quotes from several documents which indicate the excellence and wide range of foodstuffs available to some by the 1820s, and the paucity of choice and quantity endured by others.

Food production technologies firstly grain-milling, followed by brewing, abattoirs and salt meat processing, dairy products and jam manufacture developed in the first fifty years of settlement. The highlights of food processing included the development of fruit canning and processing in Hobart by George Peacock and Henry Jones from the 1850s, the establishment of Cadbury's confectionery factory at Claremont in 1921 and in the later twentieth century the growth of cheese manufacture and vegetable processing on the north-west coast and King Island.

The first 'Australian' cook-book was The English and Australian cookery book by the Tasmanian Edward Abbott (London, 1864). Though largely a compilation of the work of others, Abbott drew attention to the range and excellence of Tasmanian raw materials, especially fish, flour, beer and wines. Other long-lived, influential and specifically Tasmanian works include the Methodist Central Mission's Hobart cookery book (first published 1908), AC Irvine's Central cookery book (sixteen editions published between 1930 and 1991) and the Esk Valley cookery book (first published 1950). More recent developments (and the level of interest in food itself) can be traced through publications such as Pat Sharp's Food (four issues 197778), and Sue Dyson and Roger McShane's A food lovers' guide to Tasmania (several editions 19882000).

No distinctively 'Tasmanian' cuisine has developed over the past 200 years (in 1972 a newspaper competition for the 'great Tasmanian dish' was won by 'Constitution Dock Squid'). Tasmania has reflected (often belatedly) food trends elsewhere in Australia. The state has remained proprietorial over some foodstuffs (pink-eye potatoes, leatherwood honey and muttonbirds) and seen others rise, fall and sometimes rise again in importance (apples, fruit preserves). But it has also established standards of excellence in its production of some foodstuffs (chocolate and confectionery, cheeses, fish and seafood) and pioneered the Australian cultivation and manufacture of products such as wasabi and truffles for both local consumption and export.

The range and excellence of Tasmanian food has been showcased at festivals such as the Taste of Tasmania (Hobart, 1989), the Taste of the Huon (1995) and the Launceston Festivale (1995).

Further reading: K Farrer, 'Historical perspectives of food in Tasmania', in Food technology in Australia 24/3, 1972; J Howeler-Coy, 'An account of food and drink in Tasmania 18001900', PPRST 100, 1966; P County & B Lloyd, Before we eat, Hobart, 2003.

Tony Marshall