Although this work fully deals with all the many-matters connected with the art of living in Australia, its principal object is the attempt to bring about some improvement in the extraordinary food-habits at present in vogue. For years past the fact that our people live in direct opposition to their semi-tropical environment has been constantly before me. As it will be found in the opening portion of the chapter on School Cookery, the consumption of butcher's meat and of tea is enormously in excess of any common sense requirements, and is paralleled nowhere else in the world. On the other hand, there has been no real attempt to develop our deep-sea fisheries; market gardening is deplorably neglected, only a few of the more ordinary varieties being cultivated; salads, which are easily within the daily reach of every home, are conspicuous by their absence; and Australian wine, which should be the national beverage of every-day life, is at table - almost a curiosity.
Nearly three years have been occupied in the preparation of this volume, as several of the subjects it treats of have hitherto remained practically unexplored. This statement is not intended to excuse any shortcomings, but simply to explain the impediments which had to be overcome. There has been some little difficulty, therefore, in obtaining information in many instances. At the same time, it must be cheerfully recorded that assistance was freely forthcoming on the part of those from whom it was sought. Quite a number have been interviewed on the topics with which they were familiar; and on several occasions this has necessitated journeys out of Sydney on the writer's part. With the object of making inquiries into the fish supply of Melbourne, also, a special visit was paid to that city. And further, in order to gain an insight into vineyard work and cellar management, an instructive time was passed at Dr. T. Fiaschi's magnificent Tizzana vineyard on the Hawkesbury River.
It may seem to savour somewhat of boldness, yet I hazard the opinion that the real development of Australia will never actually begin till this wilful violation of her people's food-life ceases. For let us suppose that the semi-tropical character of our Australian life was duly appreciated by one and all. If such were the case - and I would it were so - there would be a wonderful change from the present state of affairs. But as it is, the manners and customs of the Australians are a perpetual challenge to the range of temperature in which they live. Indeed, the form of food they indulge in proves incontestably that they have never yet realized their semi-tropical environment.
With a proper recognition of existing climatic surroundings there would be an overwhelming demand for more fish food; for something better than the present Liliputian supply; and for the creation of extensive deep-sea fisheries. Fish in Australia is nothing more than a high-priced luxury, although projects for the development of the deep-sea fisheries have been repeatedly suggested. Somehow or other we never get beyond this stage, and as a consequence the yield from our fisheries is simply pitiable. A widespread use of fish and an adequate fish supply would give employment to hundreds and to thousands. As I have pointed out in the chapter relating to this subject, the want of enterprise shown in starting our deep-sea fisheries is an inexplicable anomaly. If the Australian people had sprung from an inland race, this would not, perhaps, have been so difficult to understand. But coming, as we do, from a stock the most maritime the world has ever seen, such a defect is not to our credit as inheritors of the old traditions.
Nor can it be pretended that market gardening has ever been taken up seriously, if we apply the statement to Australia as a whole. It is true that Sydney and Melbourne, and possibly Adelaide and Brisbane, have made an attempt in this direction. But even with this admission there is not much reason for congratulation from an olitory point of view. Few - only very few - of the more commonly known varieties are grown. For if the potato and the cabbage were taken away, Australia would be almost bereft of vegetables. There are, however, many others, which are delicious and wholesome, which are easily grown, and which would make a pleasing addition to the present monotonously restricted choice. And there is something even more than all this. It is, that market gardening is a healthy and profitable calling; that it settles the people on the land; and that it creates a class of small landed proprietors - the very bone and sinew of any population.
In the chapter relating to Australian Food Habits it will be found that many of these desirable vegetables are enumerated. Their good qualities are highly appreciated on the Continent and elsewhere, and there is no earthly reason why they should not be grown here. The history of the introduction of the tomato into Australia is instructive in this connection. For years and years it struggled desperately, but unsuccessfully, for a place, and the attempt to bring it into use was on the point of being abandoned in consequence. But at last its undeniable merits were acknowledged, and to-day it is in universal request. Now, it is perfectly safe to assume that the same recognition would be awarded to many other vegetables at present practically unknown in Australia. For instance, sweet corn - which, however, must not be confused with Indian corn - is of exquisite flavour, almost melting in the mouth, while it possesses also eminently nourishing properties. It is a great favourite with Americans, and hundreds of acres are required annually for the New York markets alone.
But if there is one desirable form of food which we should expect to find in daily use by the whole community, it is surely the salad. More than this, it deserves to meet with favour as a national dish. It takes pre-eminent rank in Southern Europe, and is certainly entitled to occupy a similar high position in the Australian food list. Unfortunately there is just the same story to tell, and the strange neglect of salads can only be expressed by the term incomprehensible. It is a waste-saving dish; it is wholesome, in that it is purifying to the blood; it is full of infinite variety; and its low price brings it within easy every-day reach even of the humblest dwelling. But, as things are, even the salad plants themselves are represented by a meagre list, and are confined to only few varieties. And as far as salad herbs are concerned, they are literally unknown.