Although there are claims that golden syrup was invented by the British company Abram Lyle & Sons in 1885, in fact, the earliest known mention was in the South Australian Register in 1840. It seems likely that the product being offered for sale by J & T Waterhouse of Rundle Street was imported from either America or the West Indies. Golden syrup, later known as ‘cocky’s joy’ became a staple part of the bushman’s rations.
Golden Syrup is a form of light treacle, a by-product of sugar refining. In the mid-19th century, it was frequently imported from America. In 1842 the Melbourne Times advertised that:
G. A. & R. S have succeeded in procuring a large supply of GOLDEN HONEY SYRUP, at a low price. This article will prove to the working classes an excellent substitute for butter, honey, or milk.
Although Australia’s sugar industry was established in the 1860s, in 1885 the Evening News in Sydney lamented the lack of locally produced syrup:
It is rather surprising that the manufacture of an article of such general consumption as treacle or golden syrup should not be more extensively carried on in. this country. Large quantities of molasses are annually sent away to California, where it is speedily refined, and sent back to us at a very large increase in price. In this way our enterprising friends in America carry on a profitable industry. It is true there are a few establishments in the colony where the process of converting the molasses into golden syrup is carried on ; but it is not done to anything like the extent that it might be, considering the large amount of raw material available for the purpose.
Perhaps, as a New South Welshman, the writer was unaware that Swallow & Ariell had carried off a prize at the 1880 Melbourne Exhibition for their product, while as early as 1868 it was being produced at Spiller’s sugar plantation at Mackay.
The history of the best-known Australian brand, CSR, is not entirely clear. The company, then known as Colonial Sugar Refinery, began processing imported sugar in Sydney in 1855. Its production of the syrup may have begun with extensions to its Yarraville, Victoria, works in 1890. An article in The Age says that “the golden syrup and treacle departments…are relatively new features”.
Because it was cheaper than jam and easily transported in tins, golden syrup became a substitute for butter in the bush. Outback stations and shearers’ cooks bought their supply in 70lb (32kg) tins. It was dubbed ‘cocky’s joy‘ as it was considered a favourite of the ‘cocky’ or small farmer. Cocky’s joy and damper, cocky’s joy dumplings and even cocky’s joy and porridge became well known and treasured national dishes through the first half of the 20th century.