Food in Victoria

Find information about cooking, cookbooks, restaurants, nutrition, agriculture, provisioning and food studies


This section of the guide explores early Australian cookbooks, illustrating their use across the community. We look at the role of immigration, domestic science, food during war years, community and promotional cookbooks and recipes in newspapers and magazines. 

The Library also holds a wide range of international books and publications, for example, The Chinese cook book (1917), La cuisine classique (1856) and Mein kochbuch (1902).  Influential British writers such as Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson explored a wide range of national cuisines in their writings.

Suggested searches on the Library catalogue (follow the pattern for other cuisines):
Cooking Australian
Cooking Greek
Cooking Chinese
Cooking Italian

Australian cookbooks

Early Australian cookery books were shaped by and reflected  the British culinary traditions of the settlers, tempered by local availability of ingredients and accessibility of imported goods. Some writers identified their books as being particularly for Australians - such as Edward Abbot's English and Australian cookery book : cookery for the many, as well as for the upper ten thousand, (the first written by an Australian).

Many early books were also household manuals: Harriet Wicken wrote in Phillips Muskett's The art of living in Australia: "Order and neatness must reign in the kitchen as well as in the drawing-room". Chapters of housekeeping instructions, laundry skills, home remedies along with exhortations for cleanliness, orderliness and economy completed these volumes.

Whilhelmina Rawson included indigenous foodstuffs, and in her Australian enquiry book  provided inspiration and instruction especially for those in the bush, championing the virtues and skills of the culinary "making do".

Many books also included advertisements for cleaning products, remedies and helpful gadgets. Illustrations were rare - sometimes coloured plates inserted, or line drawings through the text, but chiefly they fulfilled the role of instruction manual.  Australian home cookery stated that "Extravagance is not compatible with home cookery."

The Library's Australian Manuscripts Collection includes many recipes from home cooks - a selection have been reproduced in Untried but true : recipes and household hints from the Australian manuscripts collection.

About Australian cookbooks

These books provide a history of food and eating in Australia, placing it within a wider social context:

And more - lists of items in the Library's collection: History of Australian cookery  and Food consumption Australia.

Journals, magazines and newspapers

Making Australian food history - article discussing histories of non-indigenous Australian food consumption, and exploring it as a component of popular culture and history.
Trade journals - list of early Victorian food and related industries trade journals.
The pure food gazette - "a monthly journal devoted to the interests of the housewife", includes recipes, hints, information on food and the household.
The epicurean - journal of the Wine and Food Society of Australia.

The Library's collections include many general women's magazines which can be a source of information for recipes, food styles, and advertising.


Culinary arts - covers all aspects of cookery and nutrition. Available from home with State Library membership

Effects of immigration

The cultures of growing and preparing food have been enriched as new migrant groups share their culinary traditions and changed what and how we ate. This is reflected through cookbooks such as the 'Gippsland' recipe book, a "rare collection of Oriental, Continental & Australian recipes and cocktails..." 

People from many countries arrived during the gold rush, particularly from China. They did not significantly influence eating habits until much later. Early Chinese restaurants, while owned and worked in by Chinese people, often had British/Australian menus. They did become the main market gardeners until Europeans became involved. The first cookery book written by a Chinese person, published in Australia was Cooking the Chinese way by Roy Geechoun. (Melbourne, 1948).

In 1959 Ethel Brice, food writer for Woman's Day, published her Chinese cookery book: tested recipes for soups, meat, fish, poultry, vegetable, egg, rice and noodle dishes. She wrote:

Eating should be an interesting experience. Australians in recent years have been discovering the truth of this. Increasingly, they have been breaking away from the tyranny of custom, the monotony of roast lamb and mint sauce and corned beef and cabbage, and discovering the excitement of foreign food.  The migration wave has brought with it traditional dishes of many of the countries of Europe. But of all the dishes from all over the wide world, the Chinese have seized the imagination of Australians more than any other kind.

European migration, particularly post World War 2, helped develop a culture of eating - and drinking - that ushered in our modern restaurant and cafe society as communities looked to reproduce their social worlds.

The self proclaimed First Australian continental cookery book, published in Melbourne in 1937, "printed in Australia, for Australians" stated an ambition "to flash a ray or two of light into the occasionally somewhat obscure recesses of traditional British many of its good points are unsuited or only half suitable to Australian conditions....Mediterranean cookery has much to offer..."  A later book, Continental cookery in Australia by Maria Kozslik Donovan, first published in 1955, included recipes "within the reach of the Australian housewife....a revolution has taken place in the kitchen."

The migration of Vietnamese, Cambodian and Indian people have added further layers of ingredients, methods and tastes. More recently, people from Ethiopia and Sudan have added their flavours and traditions into the mix.  Writers and cooks such as Charmaine Solomon, Tess Mallos and Elizabeth Chong have been instrumental in introducing Asian and Middle Eastern flavours into the repertoires of Australian cooks.

The circulation of new cookery books also contributed to this uptake. In 1952, an article in the Sydney morning herald spoke of how these books could be used to "cook your way around the world."

In The Argus, Grace Hutchinson exhorted her readers to "give foreign cooking a try.... It's good!"


Wogfood: an oral history with recipes - traces the process of change and acceptance through food and family.
Mietta's Italian family recipes - the story of Mietta O'Donnells family, as well as other Italian families and their contribution to the Victorian restaurant industry.
My  family  feast: a world of family recipes and traditions - through personal stories a recording of food and recipes brought to Australia.
Tania Cammarano, Ideas of Italy and the Nature of Ethnicity: A History of Italian Food in Australia with Case Studies.

Journals and magazines

“Practically indispensable”: the culinary uses of olive oil in (South) Australia in the nineteenth and early twentieth century - includes discussion of content and trends in recipe books available in Australia.
Journal of the Italian Historical Society (1989-) - articles on the Italian migrant experience.

Domestic arts

Cookery and the domestic arts has been taught in state schools from the 1870's. Cookery book writers provided exemplary manuals of instruction to support the development of the domestic arts as a discipline - a "science". They worked to give young women a skill and chance at employment and independence.

Margaret Jane Pearson's book Cookery recipes for the people was used in cookery classes at the Working man's College, beginning in 1887.  The College of Domestic Science opened in Lonsdale Street in 1906, later moving Russell Street as the Emily McPherson College of Domestic Economy. As the new college opened the souvenir program spoke of moving on from teaching the fundamentals of home life to equipping women to "enter the industrial world [and as] teachers place their specialised knowledge at the service of the whole community."

Flora Pell - worked for the Education Department at Collingwood Domestic Arts School, later becoming inspector for domestic arts centres across Victoria. Lily Fowler and Lucy Drake (Head of Cookery at Swinburne Technical College) also wrote their own cookery books.

Increasingly there was pressure to open a technical college for bakers, pastry cooks and chefs: "The food industry is one of the largest, most important and most frequently neglected where technical training was concerned." The late 1930's saw apprenticeships in food and related trades became available and the William Angliss College opened in 1940.

Domestic science - or home economics, now food technology, continues to be taught in secondary schools. A key text that many remember - Cookery the Australian way - had its 8th edition published in 2011. Through the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program and Cultivating Community Edible Classrooms project primary school children are learning about growing and cooking their food.

Miss Judith Cook of Murrumbeena with some of the 100 cakes baked by the Emily McPherson College for Britain

Miss Judith Cook of Murrumbeena with some of the 100 cakes baked by the Emily McPherson College for Britain, H99.201/307


Domestic science - includes books written by domestic science teachers and publications from the Emily McPherson College.
Domestic service in Australia - touches on the domestic arts schools, uncovers the variety and extent of paid domestic work.

Journals and magazines

Recipes for reading culinary heritage : Flora Pell and her cookery book 
Emily McPherson College of Domestic Economy - journals published by the College.


Home science educators in the Australian dictionary of biography.


"It is our housewifely business to keep people well, to prevent unnecessary wastage of health and strength. Each ailing child, each sick person means an inevitable loss of efficiency on the home front."

During World War 2 the federal government created boards for dairy, meat and dried fruit to control production and guarantee supply. Troops - American and Australian required feeding, and demand hastened the industrialisation of food production - in the field and the factory. 

Field bakeries for fresh bread, portable stoves, on site bottling of soft drinks and the Wiles steam cooker all contributed to supplying comfort and nourishment to troops.

Australians did experience rationing in World War 2, not to the extent of Europe, but the qualities of thrift and economy were promoted as a local contribution of the war effort. Women's magazines such as the Australian womens' weekly and newspapers regularly included recipes for wartime austerity - use of powdered milk, dripping instead of butter, eggless cakes, and advertisements for products such as Sergeants Dan's Creamota - "In just 5 minutes a day I keep my family from malnutrition...three times the nourishment of fresh eggs."

A soldier wrote to The school paper in June 1918: "the only food we had were seven Australian biscuits each and what turnips and carrots we could pull from the fields. It was nothing but the biscuits that gave us the strength to reach the frontier."

Later in World War 2, community groups worked together to package up hampers of comfort foods, tobacco and toothpaste to send to the troops.

The "Dig for victory" campaign encouraged home and community vegetable gardening to supplement local supplies and free up farm produce for the war effort. 

Army field kitchens in Australia, World War 2

Army field kitchens in Australia, World War 2, H2000.200/1104


Wartime cookery
Wartime recipes prepared in collaboration with the Emily McPherson College of Domestic Economy
Planning meat ration meals
The ministry of food - a British publication, but many of our wartime initiatives originated in England - Digging for victory, Women's Land Army. Includes recipes. The author compares the austerity measures required in the times of economic collapse to those of wartime. The Library holds many of the Ministry's publications.
From bully beef to icecream: the diet of the Australian Armed Forces in World War I and World War II.
Cooking for military personnel - list of publications and pictures in Library collection.
Australian Women's Land Army - list of publications and pictures in Library collection.

Journals and magazines

The Australian Womens' Weekly - search online for articles and recipes.
Food front news bulletin of the War Agriculture Committees of Australia - describes wartime agricultural production measures.
Anzac biscuits: a culinary memorial.


Newspapers are rich sources of information on wartime food and cooking and campaigns to encourage home front war effort. Digitised papers available through the National Library are a good place to start.


Australian War Memorial - site includes online exhibitions and their encyclopedia, including an entry for the Australian Women's Land Army.
Commonwealth food control  (Australian Bureau of Statistics).
Our daily bread - the field bakery and the Anzac legend - Pamela Etcell's 2004 thesis provides detail of the operation of field bakeries in the context of an analysis of the roles of a range Army personnel in Anzac history.

Cooks in action on a stage


The Sun's Town Hall Better Cooking Demonstration at the Melbourne Town Hall,

The Sun's Town Hall Better Cooking Demonstration at the Melbourne Town Hall, H2004.101/93

Recipes in newspapers and magazines

The cookery sections of newspapers and magazines are a significant source of recipes. The Australian Women's Weekly collection of cookery books demonstrates the power of a trusted brand. Many writers developed loyal followings and writers such as "Vesta" from The Argus and Anne Marshall from New Idea had their recipes republished in book format. Established chefs continue to write newspaper columns - such as Karen Martini, Andrew McConnell and Luke Mangan.

Serial publications provided an entree for new ingredients and food ideas into homes on a more regular basis than might happen for cookery books - as these publications were often already purchased for the household. They could be more responsive to seasonal availability of produce and for special occasions - such as holidays, Cup Day, birthday baking and dinner party cooking.  

The Australian Womens' Weekly is available online, as are many newspapers through the Trove website. Cooking magazines are produced as companion to individual televison programs - Masterchef, or the SBS array of cooking programs are represented in Feast. The Library collects magazines such as Australian Gourmet Traveller and The Epicurean.

Cookbooks from newspapers and magazines -  some available online in fulltext.

Books by chefs and cooks

Many of Australia's early cook book writers were women who either taught or worked in the industry. Their books were also household manuals, reference works for the home. Cookery books today are a major part of the book publishing industry and regularly feature in the top non-fiction sellers list.


We hold many books written by chefs and cooks. Some early Australian cookbook authors include:

Contemporary cooks and chefs - some examples:

Journals, magazines and newspapers

Beyond the recipe: food writers as activists - Griffith Review, no. 27, 2010. Discusses the role of food writers, includes data on cookbook publishing. (Available onsite at the State Library, and off site to Victorian registered users).


Foodwriters in the Australian dictionary of biography.
Fancies, fridges and fondues: finding vintage recipes in Trove.

Community cookbooks

Books written and compiled by an array of church, schools, community and welfare groups form a significant part of the collection. The writers worked to produce a record of culinary activities, ingredients, favourite recipes, comfort foods and a collective project. Illustrating the centrality of food to shared occasions, these books formalise the honorable tradition of recipe sharing.

The cookbooks are a sure indicator of the take up of influences on recipes and ingredients into the mainstream - from lasgane, bolognaise sauce, chop suey, sweet and sour to creme caramel and cassata. 

Organisations such as Presbyterian Women's Missionary Union, the Country Women's Association, the Red Cross and the Nursing Mothers' Association also produced books, running into many editions, often still in print.

Books and pamphlets

Community cookbooks - many available online in full text.

Journal articles

Tried and tested community cookbooks in Australia 1890-1980 - thesis exploring the role and meaning of community cookbooks.

Promotional cookbooks

These recipe collections were produced by agricultural boards and companies as a marketing tool to encourage purchasing their products. The Dried Fruits Board published the series of Sunshine cookery books - "there's a reason for a raisin."

Trufoods produced dried milk powder and their "attractive" recipes for the "modern housewives [who] study food values too—they know how important it is to see that the family gets nutritious meals."

The Laurel recipe book & household guide, promotes the use of kerosene in fridges and stoves, and as a cleaning product..."through prosperity and depression, this Company has made a substantial contribution to the development of Australia by producing and distributing in city, town, and country, petroleum products of the highest quality...Laurel Kerosene—has become the most popular kerosene amongst Australian housewives."
The booklet included Chinese and American recipes, household tips and uses for their products.

Books and pamphlets

Promotional cookbooks - many available online in full text.