The History of Australian Food

Information about the history and traditions of Australian food...

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 Australian landscape. This "bush tucker" diet often included emu, kangaroo, moths, lizards and snakes as well as berries, roots and honey. Seafood, which was caught with spears or hooks, was a staple of the Aboriginal diet. The diet and cooking techniques of a particular tribe varied with their location. Despite the hardships of this lifestyle many Aborigines thrived and were healthy and well fed.

The British settlers who arrived following Captain James Cook in 1770 did not adjust easily to the staples of the indigenous diet, much of which they didn't recognise. The scarcity of water was also a shock after its abundance in the United Kingdom. They did find some foods that were familiar: fish, geese, swans and pigeons. The settlers put much effort into developing agriculture to provide a more familiar European diet. Sheep and cattle were introduced throughout the continent 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.

Familiar game animals such as rabbit and deer were introduced for hunting. The success of some of these introduced species led them to become pests in the eyes of farmers and environmentalists. Rabbit was to become an important food during the Great Depression of the 1930s as it was the only affordable meat for poorer families. In the last twenty years rabbit has lost its reputation as a poor person's food and has gained popularity as a gourmet choice in Australian restaurants.

Modern Australian cuisine has been strongly influenced by the palettes of migrants to the country. The influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle East has brought a vast range of new flavours. Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Lebanese, French, African and Greek cuisine have become strong influences on Australian tastes and the major cities have a wide choice of restaurants. Australian chefs are renowned worldwide for their fusion cuisine, combining traditional European cooking with Asian flavours.

In recent years vegetarianism and veganism have gained a wider acceptance in Australian culture, in part because of the importance of vegetables in Asian and Indian cuisine. There has also been a growth in awareness of Kosher and Halal eating practices. In modern Australia traditional bush tucker foods and game meats are novelty or speciality food items. Meat pie, normally filled with steak, is considered a national dish.