Modern Australian food and drink reflects the country’s colonial past and the extensive migration to the country since the Second World War.
Prior to European colonisation in the 18th century, Aboriginal Australians survived for thousands of years on a hunter-gatherer diet.They were experts at finding food and water in the harsh Australian landscape. This ‘bush tucker’ diet often included emu, kangaroo, moths, lizards and snakes as well as berries, roots and honey. Seafood was also considered a staple of the Aboriginal diet.
When the First Fleet arrived in Sydney in 1788, it came with the basic supplies of flour, sugar, tea, butter, rice, pork and beef and the expectation that they would be able to grow and farm other food types to supplement their supplies. Instead they found that the soil around Sydney Harbour and immediate surrounds was so poor that they were forced to head west to establish farms in Parramatta. The scarcity of water was also a shock after its abundance in the United Kingdom.
As a result, these early settlers were forced to trade with the local Aboriginals for bush tucker – something the European palate found difficult to adjust and adapt to. They did, however, find some foods that were familiar – fish, geese, swans and pigeons and Australian cuisine began to evolve.
Never-the-less, these settlers put much effort into developing agriculture to provide a more familiar European diet. Sheep and cattle were introduced and familiar crops were planted. Flour was a staple of the settler’s diet and was used to make bread or damper – a dense thick bread. Tea was the beverage of choice in the colonial period, as was rum which soon started to be produced in the new colonies. In the early years of European settlement, rum was a major currency. Beer has also been popular since colonial times with beer being brewed since the late 18th century.
Familiar game animals such as rabbit and deer were introduced for hunting, with rabbit becoming an important food during the Great Depression of the 1930′s, as it was the only affordable meat for poorer families. Rabbit has only recently lost its reputation for being a poor person’s food and has gained popularity as a gourmet choice in Australian restaurants.
By the 1900′s the Australian economy and economic prosperity was largely driven by farm exports – a period that is often referred to as ‘riding on the sheep’s back’. Meat was considered the main part of the meal and dominated the Australian dinner plate.