University of Tasmania
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Ordinary and exotic : a cultural history of curry in Australia

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posted on 2023-05-27, 10:15 authored by Moran, FA
In 1969, Australia's most popular curry‚ÄövÑvp, Keen's, offered consumers an Authentic Indian-flavour curry‚ÄövÑvp, with a recipe for Kare Daging‚ÄövÑvp (see figure 1) [not included in abstract]. The promise of a sophisticated cultural experience was tempered in several ways. In addition to their curry powder, ingredients for the mild lamb curry included tomato sauce, plum jam or chutney, sultanas, a Granny Smith apple, dried apricots and sugar. Visually, the exoticness of the dish was also moderated. An ornate brass plate and crescent-moon dish are upstaged by the curry, surrounded by a ring of rice in heavy brown crockery, and a row of silver forks, signalling its appropriateness for western consumption. This advertisement epitomises how curry was thought about, not just in the moment of production, but over the two centuries of curry's history in Australia. Curry is simultaneously conceptualised as familiar, and yet exotic and other. This theme, to varying degrees, has characterised ideas of curry in Australian history. Curry is understood in this thesis as anything using the term, including foods that used some form of curry as an ingredient, whether powder, paste or sauce. This study is interested in what it means, in scholar Allen S. Weiss' words, for a version of a dish to appear at this time and place.‚ÄövÑvp It is the domestic consumption of curry, as opposed to restaurant, that is my focus. While the origins of curry are much contested, my understanding is founded in historian Cecilia Leong-Salobir's argument that the foodstuff emerged through a process of negotiation and collaboration‚ÄövÑvp between Anglo and Indigenous Indian populations. Curry, for Leong-Salobir, is useful in examining the porous boundaries of colonialism in areas of race and domestic relationships.‚ÄövÑvp Historian Mary Procida likewise sees curry as a hybrid dish, exemplifying the active participation of the colonized peoples in shaping the daily lives of the imperialists.‚ÄövÑvp This thesis reveals a long and complicated history of curry in Australia. A temporal approach illustrates how curry has been represented and understood through time; showing it has dominantly been thought of as simultaneously familiar and foreign. This story links to some of the broader themes of Australian history, particularly around national identity, connection to Britain, and the negotiation of that relationship. This is a cultural history, and a textual analysis approach has been undertaken. Cookbooks have been read with advertisements, magazines and newspapers, providing insights into changing conceptions of curry, and Australian culture. Given the abundance of material pertaining to curry, the study is not exhaustive, but instead presents exemplars of how curry has been thought about. Curry is significant in its ability to illuminate the entanglement of the everyday with important historical issues such as empire, race, class and identity. Australia presents an ideal site for examining curry given its relatively recent and concise colonial history, its continued status as a settler society, and its location within the Asia-Pacific region. In line with scholars such as Jean Duruz and Adele Wessell, this study attempts to shift the gaze of Australian food studies outwards. It does so by exploring the connections of Australian food culture with other international sites, rather than examining Australia as an isolated experience, or simply in relation to the colonial metropole, Britain. The thesis is structured into three chapters, the first two framed by two broad time periods, the 19th and 20th centuries, and the third a Tasmanian case study, encompassing both centuries.


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