Flat White

How that roast leg of lamb celebrates the unsung heroes of the First Fleet

27 January 2019

1:06 PM

27 January 2019

1:06 PM

In Australia, the January 26 acknowledges the disembarkation of the First Fleet’s arrival, in 1788, at Port Jackson under the command of Governor Arthur Philip. From 11 ships came men and women mainly from Britain and Ireland to set-up domicile as either convicts or free men in Australia.

Also disembarking on this auspicious day were small breeding herds of sheep and cattle along with chickens, while stores of vegetables such as potatoes, onions and seeds ready to be planted were landed. What was for certain then and for now is that this was the first time sheep and cattle set foot in Australia making these arrivals very much the First Australians of their species – something that the men and women of the First Fleet couldn’t lay claim to as there was very obviously humans already here.

The great seafaring nations – the British, the Dutch, the Iberians, the French and the Chinese – travelled with their food as live animals, food stores or as future foods. Just like going on a long, arduous and often dangerous picnic the idea was both to provide ongoing sustenance and also to set-up food supplies along often travelled ocean routes for distressed sailors.

The French planted vegetables at Freycinet and the Dutch off-loaded goats on the Isla de Juan Fernandez (much to the benefit of one, Alexander Selkirk, aka Robinson Crusoe, who supplemented his gathered diet with goats meat and wore the hides for several years until a passing ship came to his rescue).

This was a two-way food trading chain as the Iberian sailors, in particular, took note of what was edible wherever they went and returned with new foods such as tomatoes, capsicum (bell peppers), sugar cane, coffee, chocolate to ultimately reinvent European food. Pizza Margarita could not have been on any Italian menu until the late 1500s because the horticulture of the tomato had to be learnt before its reduction could be applied to a pizza base.

So this brings up who, or what, have the historical rights to being the ‘first’ in Australia. If we talk about all of the animals then those grazers on board in 1788 were not there for the cruise but to set-up a new livestock and food industry in a country totally new to their species. They did this to the benefit of all Australians and so, whether or not you tug your forelock to the fact that more cultures eat sheep meat than beef, both species and their many products (meat being only one) were a first for Australia. They were, by definition, First Australians.

This is not to decry the excellence of macropod meat, hide, leather, sinews but the English are/were an unadventurous lot with foods. In contradiction, a Dictionary of Food written by Alexander Dumas fils noted that the excellence of the macropod meat, the bulk of meat being in the preferred hindquarter and the quality of the leather made them an excellent livestock choice. But the French just looked and moved on. The British claimed Australia and stayed – along with their pioneering ruminants.

So what better way to celebrate Australia Day by eating their descendants?

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