Old Parliament House Canberra was the splendid venue for the 18th Symposium of Australian Gastronomy from 13th – 16th May 2011. The resonance of this heritage building set in Canberra’s national precinct prompted the 2011 theme The Federation of Taste, in turn producing an intriguing range of papers.
The opening of Parliament House in Canberra in May 1927 completed the work of federating six Australian colonies into one nation and the national capital became the seat of government. After the new Parliament House was completed in 1988, the graceful Old Parliament House became a heritage site and now houses the Museum of Australian Democracy.
The opening reception for the Symposium was held in elegant Kings Hall, where French champagne and canapés complemented the welcoming ode from Symposium bard Robyn Archer. The scene then shifted to the adjoining House of Representatives chamber to debate ‘Liberty, Equality and Food: Making the Revolution’. On the Government benches Marion Halligan and Christian Reynolds put a vigorous case for the proposition ‘That it is the duty of this government to legislate good food for all its citizens’, while on the other side of the Chamber Lenore Coltheart and Robyn Archer were a formidable Opposition. Most memorable though was moderator Alan Saunders, occupying the historic Speaker’s chair to guide the House to the right decision with the most perfect authority.
La Petroleuse Dégustation Dinner in the Ginger Room restaurant, with its view to Federation Mall and the new Parliament House, completed the opening evening of the Symposium with dishes inspired by Babette’s Feast.
On Saturday papers were presented in ‘Gastronomers’ Hall’, former parliamentary committee rooms renamed for the occasion. The traditional ‘bring something’ morning tea was a delicious repast in the wintry courtyard of the Senate, while lunch was launched with a chestnut roast in the House of Representatives courtyard and continued in the adjoining café, the former Press Bar. A chocolatiers afternoon tea in the Senate courtyard followed the Session 3 of the Symposium.
We reconvened in Kings Hall for pre-dinner drinks before the Symposium Banquet, when the former Members’ Dining Rooms became the Deipnosophists’ banqueting hall.
On Sunday the banqueting scene was miraculously transformed for Sessions 4 & 5. Between the sessions came a surprise as doors suddenly opened onto a gracious Federation morning tea in the adjoining Members Bar. After Session 5 came a similar enchantment as we entered the gates of the adjacent Senate Rose Gardens to find laid out for us a Senators’ Picnic Lunch.
The afternoon venues were the National Botanic Gardens native food trail and a bus tour of some of the city’s community food gardens and urban orchards, with talks on the buses as we wended our way some 40 kilometres to the Mulloon Creek Natural Farms. This was the intriguing venue for a southern hemisphere dinner, complete with the starry sky and rising moon.
The farewell breakfast on Monday morning made the original parliamentary kitchens a lively and busy place as dishes of congee and kedgeree were collected. The 18th Symposium offered a unique opportunity to see behind the scenes of the former Parliament House as well as to consider the connections between food and Federation in this resonant setting.
The Federation of Taste
When the founders of federation drafted the Australian Constitution they left no trace of a concern for gastronomy – though many of them, like Edmund Barton and George Reid for instance, certainly rated gastronomy highly. Their law-making nonetheless had a profound influence on the new nation’s cuisine – and still influences our tastes 110 years later.
Food regulation underpins nation-building. Australian history from convict colony to multicultural nation is intimately linked with food law as well as food lore. A century after the decision to bring the colonies together to form one nation, are we finally creating a ‘federated cuisine’? And is it a republican cuisine of liberty and equality, or just for an aristocracy of privileged enthusiasts?
These ideas were basic ingredients for the six sessions of the Symposium, turned into a surprising range of papers to savour. There were the sour – as in Christian Reynolds ‘waste paper’; the sweet – the aching nostalgia of Josephine Gregoire’s presentation, the savoury, even the bitter in Staci Crutchfield’s compelling critique of an inhospitable industry.
PROCEEDINGS OF THE 18TH SYMPOSIUM OF AUSTRALIAN GASTRONOMY