The Greedy Feed on the history of takeaway food in Australia

saucepanLouisa Peterson has written an article about the history of takeaway food in Australia on the blog The Greedy Feed.

Louisa contacted me for some of my memories and you can find them and the article here.

Read on to discover the answer to the question – what was the first takeaway food in Australia?

vegetarianism in western society – 19th century beginnings

Notwithstanding the long history of a vegetable only diet in ancient civilisations, here are two items that provide some insight into the introduction of the concept of vegetarianism into western society.

From the Vegetarian Society’s website comes the story of the Reverend William Cowherd.

The first long-term modern organisation to abandon meat eating was the Bible Christian Church, led by the Reverend William Cowherd in Salford, near Manchester.

Rev William CowherdBack in 1809, Cowherd famously advanced the principle of abstinence from the consumption of flesh to his congregation. His reforming spirit, which encouraged temperance and self-improvement through education, won favour with local people through the practical support he gave them in the form of warm food, medical help, and unusually for the time, free burial. The Rev Cowherd’s emphasis on vegetarianism was that it was good for health and that meat eating was unnatural and likely to engender aggression. Later he is reputed to have said “If God had meant us to eat meat then it would have come to us in edible form, as is the ripened fruit”.

This article from The Vegetarian Advocate appeared in the South Australian Register of 3 February 1851.

VegetarianismThe article continues.

4. Because the blood is the life of man, therefore the purer the blood the healthier the man.

5. Because every constituent of the body of man and animals is derived from plants, and not a single element is generated by the vital principle — man and animals therefore only appropriating the already formed organized productions of vegetable matter.

6. Because it follows from the former fact, that those who partake of the flesh of animals can obtain no additional element in such food ; capable of forming purer blood, on the contrary, they risk the introduction into their system of the elements of various diseases with which the animals might have been infected.

7. Because a vegetarian diet will sustain a man in perfect health at a much less cost than a mixed diet.

8. Because feeding animals for the purpose of killing them and eating their flesh, is a circuitous and extensive way of obtaining food.

9. Because partaking of the flesh of animals as food, gives an undue stimulus to the propensities, which frequently goad persons on to the commission of offences against the moral law.

10. Because the long experience of numerous persons, in most parts of the world, on vegetarian diet, has enabled some of them to endure more than ordinary physical and mental labour, in most uninterrupted good health.

11. Because it is an admitted fact that great physical energy, highly intellectual attainments, and moral purity, are incompatible with gross and diseased organism.

12. Because the chemical analysis of Liebig, Playfair and other modern chemists prove that peas, beans, lentiles, wheat, contain more per cent of the element of nutriment than any kind of flesh.

when apricots were aprecocks

From 1635, A Book of Fruits & Flowers Shewing the Nature and Use of them either for Meat or Medicine.

aprecocksNot only is this e-book via Project Gutenberg of interest for the recipes and concoctions therein, it also provides some insight into the way the English language was spoken and written nearly 400 years ago.

Here are a few ‘translations’ of words appearing on the pictured title page via Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (second revised Centenary edition, 1981 – Cassell Ltd) and a recipe from the book for creating craknels of ‘whatever forme you will’.

caudel / caudle

Any sloppy mess, especially that sweet mixture of gruel and wine or spirits once given by nurses to recently confined women and their “gossips” who called to see the baby in the first month. The word means “something warm” (Lat. calidus)


The old name for the confection of almonds, sugar, etc., that we call marzipan, this being the German form of the original Ital. marzapane, which was adopted in the 19th century in preference to our well-established word because this confection was largely imported from Germany.

serecloath / cerecloth (via

waxed waterproof cloth of a kind previously used as a shroud

To make Craknels.

Take five or six pints of the finest Wheat flower you can get, to which you must put in a spoonfull (and not above) of good Yest, then mingle it well with Butter, cream, Rose-water, and sugar, finely beaten, and working it well into paste, make it after what forme you will, and bake it.

A book of fruits and flowers

The Project Gutenberg EBook of A Book of Fruits and Flowers, by Anonymous

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever.  You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at

humour at the dining table – 1887

Australian Town and Country Journal – 22 October 1887

no 'show' cartoon 1887

growing up on Arnott’s Milk Arrowroot biscuits

The Arnott’s Biscuit company used actual children to advertise the goodness of its Milk Arrowroot biscuits.  In a campaign that ran for over 60 years, mothers sent photographs of their children to Arnott’s who selected babies for the promotional ads.  The history page of Arnott’s website includes details of the campaign in which those selected won a few shillings and a tin of Milk Arrowroot biscuits.
Milk Arrowroot biscuits - Rudolph John Percival Fletcher

The Albany Advertiser – 15 July 1911

David Webster’s Tea Rooms

David Websters Tea Rooms in Brisbane 1900

David Webster’s Tea Rooms in Brisbane, 1900, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

This image by an unidentified photographer was taken in 1900.  It illustrates the attention to detail and marketing skills of a man called David Webster, creator of Webster’s cakes and biscuits.  Originally a baker of bread, he introduced machinery to make his product and soon held a large share of the market in and around Brisbane.

Articles and advertising (it is sometimes hard to tell the difference) in Brisbane newspapers of the time showed Webster as the consummate networker. The company catered at many sporting and large social events including tea rooms at the races and community picnics.  Many organisations held their evening meetings in his tea rooms. In their early days, Webster and Company won government tenders to supply bread to public institutions.  David Webster had the odd skirmish or two in the industrial commission and the courts, and in 1898 was fined 2/6 an ounce for short-weighting his bread by 15 ounces after the original hearing was deferred when it was pointed out that he was a supplier of bread to the judge.  (Brisbane Courier – 4 October 1898).

bread case DW

The series of articles below gives an indication of the range of products and services the company provided.

The Brisbane Courier – 22 December 1900

DW - 1900 item part 1DW - 1900 item part 2

The Brisbane Courier – 6 December 1912

David Webster's Dainties - 1912

Cairns Post 28 October 1930

Webster's biscuits

The Courier Mail – 4 February 1936

The Webster family company also instigated the historic and much loved Shingle Inn recently resurrected in the newly renovated Brisbane City Hall.

Shingle Inn plans

On the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary, an article about Mr and Mrs David Webster appeared in the Courier Mail – 11 December 1936.  Six months later, David Webster died.

Mr and Mrs David Webster - golden anniversary

DW commenced business

on bees and honey

Bee-keeping Syd Gazette

Bees in the hive

One of the earliest references to bee-keeping in Australia comes from The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser of 5 May 1805 where reference is made to a gentleman removing bees from a tree hollow into a case and apparently being “not the least discouraged by their transposal”.

From the same newspaper of 1 November 1822 came this happy note about baby bees emerging from established beehives on a property in Homebush near Parramatta; and an acknowledgment of the ‘fragrant’ variety of plants in the colony pointing to high hopes of local honey and wax production. These bees were no doubt the result of the importation of Apis mellifera into the colony that year.

Indigenous Australians had long known that native bees were a stingless source of honey.  These days, native bees are growing in popularity among agriculturalists and gardeners as a great pollinators with the bonus of sting-safe hives to have around the home garden.

young bees produced from two hives

By 1846 many in the press were speculating about the cost and value of early attempts to export honey as a commodity.

Towards the end of the century, there was enough interest in the industry for the Barnes family to be setting up this bee-keeping supplies stand at the Royal Melbourne Show (ca 1890-1918).  Source: State Library of Victoria (out of copyright image).download

 These days, Australia is a modest player in the world’s production of honey, not rating at all in the top 20 countries.


The colour illustration inside the hive is by Edward J Detmold from the the 1919 book – The Children’s Life of the Bee via Project Gutenberg.

Project Gutenberg's The Children's Life of the Bee, by Maurice Maeterlinck

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever.  You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at

The Little Tea Book

The Little Tea Book

A short offering today with a link to this delightful book about tea.

The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Little Tea Book, by Arthur Gray. This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsover. You may copy it, give it away, or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at

ode to the meat tray

In 1943, as part of a fundraising campaign, the Battle Stations Appeal, hundreds of communities got together to raise funds in whatever ways they knew how (and some). This item in The Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton) – 16 September 1943, lists a few of the ways the Mt Morgan Branch of the Australian Comforts Fund went about it.  Dances, sports days, exhibitions, performances and RAFFLES.  None the least of these were meat raffles, a tradition which can still be seen at pubs and clubs around Australia.

The Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton) 16 September 1943

HT: Rose Hill Bowling Club for this image

The National Library holds an image of a promotional poster for Australia Day in 2010. (Mark Thomas – artist; GPY&R – advertising agency).  It urges Australians to “BBQ like you’ve never BBQ’d before”.  You  can view it and the affection with which meat trays are held here.

Here’s an outsider’s response to the fundraising tradition.  A great read of a visitor’s first impressions of a particular cultural difference from A Cajun Down Under.

Meat tray tickets – HT: A Cajun Down Under

the mixed grill

Mixed grills are not unique to Australia’s culinary history. Many cultures have a version in their cuisine.  Some of us may remember when the mixed grill was a staple menu item in cafes and pubs across the country.

The Mercury – 15 Feb 1909

The Examiner – 21 July 1932

Toni Risson writes about mixed grills in Greek cafes in the Queensland Historical Atlas.

Significantly, Greek cafés did not serve Greek food. They catered instead for the British-Australian predilection for steak, chops, poultry, pork fillet – accompanied by fried eggs, chips, salad or boiled vegetables, sliced white bread and butter – meat pies, mixed grills, toasted sandwiches and coffee. (The mixed grill, which consists of a steak, a chop, two sausages, two fried eggs and two rashers of bacon accompanied by a large grilled tomato and two slices of white toast with Worcestershire Sauce readily available, is the epitome of this diet).