You don’t have to look far to find Italianità in Mildura and the surrounding district, Sunraysia. Many of you may know of the famous restaurateur from Mildura, Stefano de Piero, not only noted for his fine cuisine at the Grand Hotel some years ago, but also through his series, ‘A Gondola on the Murray’ and various cookbooks. Not so many know about the thousands of Italo -Australiani who contribute to the farming community around the district. Although first generation Italians now make up less that 2% of the population, second and third generation Italo- Australiani make up a significant proportion of the population and have contributed much to the town, its culture, agriculture and the arts.
A quick tour around the Sunraysia Farmers’ Market, held every first and third Saturday of the month, will provide you with some irresistible provisions for touring the district. An important consideration, when buying fruit and vegetables, is to take into account any State border crossings. As Mildura sits in Victoria, close to South Australia and New South Wales, quarantine laws demand that one must forfeit most fruit and vegetables on entering another State.
This is enforced by officials upon entering South Australia and through signage and the voluntary depositing of goods on entering Victoria and New South Wales. The borders can be confusing upon entering/leaving the Sunraysia district which seems to have some extraordinary quarantine lines within Victoria itself. It’s all about protecting South Australia and the Sunraysia district from fruit-fly.
Some demographics from a past census will show that 353,000 Italian migrants arrived in Australia in the post war period, from 1948 through to 1970. Most of the Italian born are now aged over 60. They have kept alive many of the farming traditions learnt from pre-war times and this is particularly evident in preserving techniques and salame making.
The wine industry in the Sunraysia district makes up 80% of all Victorian wine grape production. The highways linking Mildura with Swan Hill are lined with farms selling wine, olive oil, citrus fruits, avocados and vegetables. If you haven’t had a chance to visit the farmers’ market, there are plenty of roadside stalls with honesty boxes selling all kinds of fresh produce, on both sides of the Murray river in each state.
In My Kitchen, I have assembled a few representatives of my Australiana collection, as I still call Australia home when not overcome by the need to leave or travel. Celia, at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, generously hosts this monthly kitchen event. Sit down, grab a coffee and take a look at other kitchens around the globe.
Things lurk in kitchen drawers, on benches or in the pantry and are ridiculously retro in style. Tins house biscuits or serve as decor, bowls provide colour, drawers are laden with linen.
My daughter entered the kitchen brandishing this rolling-pin in a proprietorial manner, teasing me about her wonderful op shop find. She fully intended to give it to me, but wanted to hear me beg. So mean. Revenge is sweet. I find things for her collections, claiming ownership for a time, then hand them over. Collectors need scouts in the field.
The teatowel collection is mighty large. All linen, retro and very colourful, they depict Australian birds, outback scenes, 70s beer labels, flora and fauna, and silly poetry. They are cheery and soft to use and are handy in bread making, or useful as gift wrapping, alla Australian-Japanese kind of wrapping. An unused retro teatowel is often the same price as a sparkly piece of paper. Which would you prefer? I must confess to an Italian teatowel collection too! Some of these Aussie Icons don’t get used; they are works of art!
North Queensland Kitsch.
In north Queensland, Chinese workers from the goldfields established banana plantations in the 1880s around Cooktown, Port Douglas, Cairns, Innisfail and Tully.
Italian migrant labour enabled the sugar industry to thrive, after indentured ‘kanaka’ slave labour ceased in 1901.*
Italian migrants to Tully also furthered the Australian banana industry in the 1920s.*
I make pizza and bread quite often and this Wallaby baker’s flour is just right. The flour is super fresh due to high turnover, it is GMO free, strong, and the wheat is grown in South Australia. The company is still owned by the Laucke family who have been milling flour since 1899.
I am making a shift to Australian grown and owned products. Although I love the taste of Italian tomatoes, I am concerned about the labour exploitation involved in its production. The SPC company in Shepparton, Victoria, has struggled to maintain its operation, due to the dumping of cheap foreign goods. The Australian anti- dumping commission found that
‘56% of tomatoes imported from Italy had been dumped on Australia and two of the major exporters, I.M.C.A and Lodato, had been selling them for about 26% below their value.’
The peanut butter shown is made wholly from Queensland’s peanuts and is produced by an Aussie owned company. Whilst not wishing to sound overly patriotic, I do believe in supporting local industries. It’s good for the environment as well as supporting employment opportunities in regional towns. The detailed information on the packaging is often initially confusing as to country of origin so now I need to take reading glasses shopping with me.
Next in line are these burnt matchstick bread boards featuring Kookaburras, gum leaves, and that bridge in Sydney. As they are collector items, they are rarely used.
I have previously mentioned my passion for Australian pottery basins and bowls on IMK. Here is the full collection. These were made by either Hoffman or Fowler, between the 1930s and 1960s. The Hoffman pottery, located in Brunswick, Victoria, may still be seen today. Although no longer functioning, its kiln and tower have been incorporated into a modern townhouse development.
But wait, there’s more. The Arnotts biscuit tin collection, once Australian owned, covered in a plethora of parrots, Aussie honey, Tasmanian smoked salmon in the fridge, Maffra cheese, Diana ware jugs, Vegemite ( the latter icon being Australian made but now foreign-owned, is disqualified) as is Uncle Tobys ( now a subsidiary of Nestle`).
This post was brought to you by Op Shops ( thrift shops/charity stores), home of the ‘well- spotted’, and recycling.