So you can see the only thing we have to occupy our minds is the question of tucker

Private Roy Ranklin, Gallipoli, 12 October 1915
(Later killed in France)

Two-time American Academy Award winner Tom Hanks recently joked Australia's success in Hollywood has something to do with magical qualities in Vegemite.

Hollywood with an Aussie accent, Sydney Morning Herald, 19 March 2002

[NSW Premier] Mr Carr launched a Childhood Obesity Summit last year where he told participants that feeding children a diet of meat pies, sausage rolls and chiko rolls was akin to child cruelty.

Carr's attack on sausage rolls, Daily Telegraph, 26 Feb 2003

Good tucker (pie and sausage roll) on Rotto Island

Aussies love their tucker (Australian for food since 1852). Especially when accompanied by an icy cold beer.

"Men," said Bates, with something like a sob in his voice, "I didn't expect this. You are good fellows, for there ain't much tucker aboard, I know"

For the Term of His Natural Life, 1867

The traditional tucker of north Queensland - rum, beer and meat pies - will make way for fruit, vegies and teetotalling in a unique state government trial to promote healthy living in two towns.

Town Tucker bagged in Beattie diet trial, The Australian, April 17, 2000

If you didn't get the numbers, you didn't get paid. We had a lot of sleepless nights, a lot of sleeping in wet swags and very little tucker.

Graham Elmes, Mayor the Cook Shire (Far North Qld) and former cattleman, The Australian, June 10, 2000

Some might argue that our culinary tastes are not quite as sophisticated as the older European cultures, like  the French, for example, or the Italians. But to them we say, begone! and keep your culturally offensive insults to yourself and your bigoted friends. Just as Italians tend  to scoff down their spaghetti with big mumma at the head the table, and the French seem to find a use for every offensive body part known to man (so long as it is soaked in butter), so too Australians enjoy slurping down their own foods in their own way. And we love it.

Let others refrain from ridiculing our culture, of which the meat pie and a beer are traditional parts.

Alderman Calpis, Sydney City Council, 1974

A dinkum pie shop in Newtown, Sydney

A discussion about Aussie tucker could not start anywhere other than with the good 'ole meat pie.  For an Aussie bloke there are fewer things more satisfying that getting stuck into a couple of chunky meat pies for lunch complemented with a few pots of his favourite amber nectar.  Like vegemite, the meat pie is a sacred cow in Australia (except we eat them). Everyone loves them. Everyone misses them when they travel.  And just as every Australian home contains a jar of vegemite, so too you can always get a pie at the local servo or bakery or at the footie. And don't they make a bloody great feed.

One should not underestimate the importance of the meat pie in Australian culture

Bill Hornadge, The Australian Slanguage, 1980

The only time Ewen McKenzie looked genuinely upset during his four days in Canberra was last Thursday night when he discovered his favourite pie shop in Manuka was closed. That did knock the big fella out of kilter. Like many props, he is never happier than when his mitt is around a dog's eye. It's soul food.

Dining out on mischief and pie anxiety, Sydney Morning Herald, 18 April 2005

Australians eat more meat pies per head than any other nationality. It is the country's signature dish, a cultural identity with a squirt of tomato sauce.

One in the hand, Sydney Morning Herald, August 27, 2003

Pies waiting to be cooked and scoffed with a nice beer

Bill also reports that in 1976 the Federation of Australian Pie Connoisseurs was formed, and quickly adopted the following federation song (to be sung to Advance Australia Fair):

When Englishmen go out to dine
Roast beef their staple dish
The Russians all eat caviar
And Eskimos chew fish;

The French, they say, are fond of frogs;
The Yanks - Kentucky fries;
But dinkum Aussies, one and all;
Shout: 'Give us hot meat pies'
Yes dinkum Aussies, one and all
Shout: 'Give us hot meat pies'

A pie oven from the 1800s.... A modern pie oven

Recently there have been moves by Australia's food regulatory body to deregulate the pie industry.  Up until recently some fools had had the idea that Australians would actually be better off with meat in their pies, and hence there were rules dictating the minimum percentage of the stuff you had to wack in the pastry in order to call it a meat pie. Well, in line with good old free market principles (hey, it works for the States), it has been decided that the consumers will be the judge of whether or not that is actually the case.  That is, soon almost anything will be able to be called a meat pie.  And when you lob into that outback servo, desperate for a feed, you can thank your government for your freedom to choose as your scoff down your pie that is 60% fat swept from the butcher's floor with the remaining 40% being gravy.  If you don't like it, you don't have to eat it.

There were many men there drinking beers and eating pies. And they seemed to be enjoying both.  So I asked for two large beers and two pies. And I said to my friend, pretending to a knowledge which I did not possess, 'There you are. Typical Australian food and drinks'.

It's your shout mate!, John O'Grady, 1972

Ockerina of the week was surely the woman on the Eastern Suburbs bus, studying a race guide while slurping down a meat pie

Sydney Sunday Telegraph, 1976

In contrast to other past ALP leaders, Kim Beazley among them, [NSW Premier] Mr Carr would never be caught eating a meat pie in front of the cameras.

Carr's attack on sausage rolls, Daily Telegraph, 26 Feb 2003

AN 18-YEAR-OLD man was bashed outside a Darwin service station for a meat pie yesterday morning. Two teen thugs punched the man from behind after he had bought a pie and a bottle of water from the Caltex service station at Karama about 1.30am. The victim said he thought the attackers were of indigenous appearance, male and in their mid teens.

Beaten for a meat pie, NT News, 30 Jan 05

The final product!!

Our love of the meat pie has often made us the target for racist campaigns. Like the one that according Bill Hornage was orchestrated by Thai International in 1977, when they ran an advertisement in a Singapore newspaper with a Norm like character cooking up a storm over the following text:

Get into it. They came from Europe to begin a new life. The Dagos, the Balts and the Wops.  And they brought with them a love of fine food that would do little to change the Australian's love of the meat pie.  If you go to Sydney you'll see that they're still wallowing in the tide of tomato sauce.  If you love fine food - give yourself a fair go. Give Australia a miss and get into it on Thai international. And if your flight can't avoid a stop in Australia - stop on board. Thai International. Twice a week into Sydney: And out of it - fast.


Good tucker from the Brekky Creek, Brisbane

"We're happy little vegemites as bright as bright can be..."

jarsmall.gif (19920 bytes) Of course, every Australian alive is aware of the song from which that little line comes. Vegemite is as much as part of Australian culture as is beer (although a man would sooner give up his vegemite than his beer).  As with other aspects of cultural and linguistic awareness, an Australian just doesn't realise how important vegemite, or a vegemite substitute, is in his or her life till he or she loses it. As usual, boring tales of woe always stream in from the many many Australians who take the ritual jaunt overseas. "Bring us some vegemite", they cry.  "Losers", thinks the complacent sods back home, who take the lucky country for granted. But it's true. The AustralianBeers.com authors can attest to it: make sure you pack a big mother of a jar before you leave -- you never know what you've got till it's gone

Vegemite History

What is vegemite then? And why is it so deeply ingrained in the Australian psyche that 90% of Australian homes contain vegemite? Well, as usual to understand a people you have to look at their history.

First of all, it must be evident if you have gotten this far in the site that we are a beer drinking nation. Bloody oath we are.  Well, as outlined in our brewing section, one of the necessary ingredients in brewing the nectar of the gods is yeast.  And of course, being the marvellous stuff that it is, one of the by-products of the brewing process is yet more yeast. Since the breweries had enough yeast as it was, they had to do something with the excess. 

At one time, the breweries used to sell the yeast direct to the public from the front door.  Why? It is a little known fact that yeast has been considered since at least the nineteenth century to have incredible healing powers. Suffer from boils, typhoid , tuberculous, ulcers or bladder trouble amongst other things? No worries! Yeast would cure the lot.  It could also be used for cooking, and, more importantly, home brewing.  It was perhaps more due to the breweries reluctance to help the home brewers rather than any declining belief in the healing power of yeast that led to the cessation of this practice of selling to the public. 

Carlton & United Breweries were the first off the mark with an alternative use in 1918 with Cubex, a vegemite like health spread that was a by-product of yeast. Although evidently CUB was excited about the whole thing, it must have been a bit of a flop as it was abandoned by 1933 and no contemporary Aussie has ever heard of it.  By contrast, an employee of the Fred Walker Cheese Company developed a thick black spread with a strange smell and the decision was made to market it. Possibly because he could not in good conscience think up a pleasant name himself, a naming competition was held resulting in the birth of Vegemite.

It was launched in 1923 and was described as "delicious on sandwiches and toast" while also adding to "the flavour of soups, stews and gravies".  The black substance didn't catch on as quickly as Walker would have liked, however, and in 1928 he decided a name change was in order. Back in the dark old days a similar English product, Ma-mite, was actually quite popular among Australians. Obviously Walker was a bit of a wit, because he renamed Vegemite to "Pawill". Ma might, but pa will. Get it? Neither did the public, and the name was quickly changed back.

Unfortunately Walker died in '35 and Vegemite was sold out, like so many  Australian icons, to an American company (Kraft). But we are a forgiving bunch and continued to gobble it down by the thin spreadfull. During World War II the diggers on the front had priority and there was a terrible shortage back home.   Vegemite saw us through the war in grand style, and in '54 the song referred to above was first released. In 1984 Vegemite was still going strong, and was the first product ever electronically scanned in a supermarket in Australia (Chullora, NSW, 66 cents).   In 1996 Kraft, possibly recognising the dire straights Aussie travellers find themselves in sans Vegemite, released their product in a backpacker friendly tube! If anyone has actually seen this beast, or has any vegemite stories, then please let us know!

And so Vegemite continues to be an Australian success story. Incidentally, the phrase "He's not a happy little vegemite" is strine for "He's not pleased" or "He's depressed" depending on the context.

How to Spread Vegemite

Most English speaking foreigners have heard of Vegemite. Sadly, however, we would estimate that 100% of Vegemite overseas goes to the homesick expats who are desperate for some dinkum tucker, including their beloved Vege (as it is fondly known).  We at AustralianBeers.com firmly believe that this is simply due to a lack of education. There are two preconditions to enjoying Vegemite:

  1. You must eat it as a child (so expats with American kids, listen carefully, act quickly, and perhaps not all will be lost); and
  2. You must spread it thinly onto your toast. You heard me. Thinnnllly. That doesn't mean a big American helping. That means a thin scrape. That's right.  We don't waste our words here in Oz, and we don't waste our Vege either.

And that's about all you need to know about Vege except perhaps this final word of warning: when in Canada the author purchased a good ten or so jars in Vancouver for his new Canadian mates (and good mates they were, and are). Generally speaking they were quick learners. Within a month of contact they were speaking pretty good strine, and certainly over the course of six months their comprehension leapt to almost 100%.  They started sinking more piss, and even learned how to shout.  But alas, they failed the crucial vege test and the author even suffered the indignity of having a jar returned to him with the smallest scape taken out of it. 

This puzzled him for weeks.

That was until he removed the French/English label that was crudely pasted on the jar to appease the masses and masses of French Canadians who would no doubt want to buy the stuff (but let's not go there). Under the label was the expiry date, and the bloody thing was years out of date!!! Mystery solved, but let that be a warning to all international purchasers of vege.  Kraft didn't bother to reply to his complaints. 

The official Vegemite site can be found at www.vegemite.com.au.

The damper is a foundation of bush eating in more ways than one.

Sidney Baker, The Australian Language, 1945.

A traditional food that deserves a quick mention is damper, which is essentially bread baked in ashes.  A favourite of bushies in the days of old, it has been largely replaced, at least by city dwelling Australians, with american take away chains.  Alas!  Nowadays it is cooked by rolling the flour with a bit of baking powder, wrapping it in alfoil, and then wacking it in the coals while you pass the time downing a few quiet ales.  Mainly seen on school camps.

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