I sometimes want to take Australia out for a drink and sit her down in a quiet corner. Listen, I imagine myself saying, you are a young, vibrant woman. You have your own unique qualities. Nobody else in the world is quite like you. It makes me sad to see you copying other people – that old bint Britain and the addled tart America – copying won’t make you happy and, really, you’re doing yourself a disservice. You can’t live their lives, just as they can’t live yours. Don’t think that either of them is a good model for you to copy –just be yourself!
But of course Australia is a country of white immigrants, historically close to Britain, in the 1960s the focus seemed to shift to emulating the States with, to my mind, somewhat disastrous consequences. One can see it in the size of the houses, the extent of the sprawl and many other things. Australia always seems to be looking outward, either to other Anglo-Saxon countries or back to whatever European homeland applies. It’s too soon, I think, to see what changes large-scale Asian immigration will bring (and yes, I realise that Asian immigration began with the gold rushes), except of course in the realm of fusion food.
Mostly, I would like to point out today, one can see the shifting tides of (European) immigration – one can literally taste the homesickness – in dairy products. We have Aussie versions of cheddar (Tasty – anything but), fetta (not quite right, it melts and lacks the salty bite of the real deal), brie (not bad, but not quite the same) and ‘Greek’ yoghurt that has cream added to bump up the fat content instead of being strained (oh, Fage, how I miss you). Finally, we have the abomination known as ‘thickened cream’, single cream that has been thickened with gelatine, which crowds out the natural cream ten to one on the supermarket shelves. I spend many hours puzzling about this. Was it a refrigeration issue that led them to start messing with cream in this god-awful way? Why can’t they make decent sharp cheddar? Is the terroir unsuitable for decent cheese or is it the processing techniques that lead to the taste/texture differences? Given that we’re working with non-indigenous foods to begin with, what would a ‘genuine’ Australian cheese taste like? I’d like to taste the Tassie equivalents (NOT ersatz copy) of Stinking Bishop or a nice slab of Yarg (a cheese wrapped in eucalypt leaves? Perhaps bush tomato leaves might be a better bet).
And as for Aussie versions of pork pies and custard tarts, well, I weep at what I’ve lost. Which rather explains why these versions exist, but not why they are such miserable failures.