1859 Wild rabbits released

European wild rabbitsIn 1859, Grazier Thomas Austin released 12 pairs of wild rabbits on his property at Winchelsea in Victoria’s Western District. A keen hunter, his aim was to provide sport. They bred prolifically and spread rapidly. By the 1920s there were more than 10 billion rabbits across Australia. More

1859 Café de Paris restaurant opened in Melbourne

Café-de-Paris MelbourneThe Café de Paris restaurant was among the earliest European-style restaurants to open in Melbourne, although four-penny, six-penny and shilling restaurants were abundant in the 1850s. These generally offered basic, English-style food. Rita Erlich’s article on the eMelbourne website gives an insight into early Melbourne restaurants. More

1857 First reference to the counter lunch

Williams's Hotel offered a one shilling counter lunchIn 1857, newspapers in Melbourne carried advertisements for Gregory’s Tavern and Restaurant at the Hall of Commerce Hotel, announcing the introduction of a counter lunch – “Cold in Summer, Hot in Winter”. The lunch included a glass of best Burton brew or Yorkshire Ale and the charge was one shilling. Over the next year or two, other Melbourne hotels (including Williams’s in Elizabeth Street) began promoting their counter lunch offerings, with a shilling being the going rate. However, the push for custom became more competitive and publicans soon began offering free food with the purchase of a sixpenny, or even threepenny, glass of ale. So began the troubled history of the counter lunch. More

1857 Swan Brewery founded in Perth

Swan BreweryIn 1857, Frederick Sherwood founded the Swan Brewery on the banks of the Swan River. After his death in 1874, the company passed through the hands of many owners. The brewery was relocated, but continued its dominance in Perth, with many ‘tied’ pubs. Swan Brewery was bought by entrepreneur Alan Bond in 1981. It is now part of the Lion Nathan group, owned by the Japanese Kirin Holdings Company Limited.

1856 Melbourne’s first Spanish restaurant

Spanish Restaurant advertisement 1860

In 1856 an establishment called the Spanish Restaurant was operating in Elizabeth Street, Melbourne. It seems that it was a joint venture between a French man and Catalonian immigrants Josep and Francesco Parer. Another Parer brother Estafan soon joined them and became a partner in the business. In 1861 the Spanish Restaurant moved to 40 Bourke Street and continued at this address for 23 years. Two other brothers, Felipe and Juan, arrived and the family built a hotel and café empire that endured for many decades. More

1855 Murray cod commercial fishery

Murray Cod

Photo: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos

The Moira Lake Fishing Company (later known as the Murray River Fishing Company) was founded by Joseph Waldo Rice in 1855, fishing mainly for Murray cod. The company employed six European and several local Aboriginal fishermen. Initially, the fish were mostly sold in nearby communities, but once the railway reached Echuca fish could easily be sent to the goldfields and the Melbourne markets. More

1855 James Harrison patents refrigeration system

James Harrison, pioneer of the refrigeration system

James Harrison

Newspaper proprietor James Harrison, of Geelong in Victoria, was among the pioneers of refrigeration. He created Australia’s first vapour-compression refrigeration system using ether. In 1851 he developed his ice-making machine. In 1854 it began operation commercially, a patent was granted in 1855  and he was commissioned to build a refrigeration system for the Glasgow & Co. brewery in Bendigo. His system was soon in use for meat packing houses and breweries. More

1854 Australia’s first biscuit company

swallow & ariell first biscuit companyThe first biscuit company in Australia was founded by Thomas Swallow in 1854. He took a partner, Thomas Ariell and they established a factory in Port Melbourne (then known as Sandridge). Swallow & Ariell began by manufacturing ship’s biscuits, but grew to be the fifth largest biscuit company in the world, with over 150 varieties. More

1854 John Alloo opens Chinese restaurant

John Alloo Chinese restaurantAlthough cookshops operated by Chinese immigrants had no doubt existed earlier, it seems that the first documented Chinese restaurant was opened by John Alloo at Bakery Hill on Ballarat’s goldfields in 1854. The restaurant served European-style food. It was later moved to Main Road, Ballarat. More

1854 First Victorian railway refreshment room

Steam locomotive, Sandridge Line

Thought to be the first steam locomotive on the Sandridge line. Museum Victoria

In Victoria, railway refreshment rooms are as old as the railways themselves. The first railway, constructed by the Melbourne and Hobson’s Bay Railway Company, opened in September 1854. It ran from Melbourne to Sandridge (now Port Melbourne). The refreshment room at Sandridge Station was leased to William Peter McGirr, who successfully applied for a liquor license in April 1855. More

1853 Paddle steamers on the Murray

River navigation became an important way to transport goods and supplies to and from farming districts. The first of the paddle steamers on the Murray River, the Mary Ann, made her first voyage in 1853. In the spring of that year, both the Mary Ann and the Lady Augusta reached Swan Hill and Echuca. More

1853 First gas stoves in Australia

Early gas stove

Victorian era gas stove

The first U.S. patent on a gas stove was granted in 1825 and the first English patent in 1826 but gas cooking did not become common until the late 19th century. Gas was manufactured by burning coal. There were small gas plants in Sydney as early as the 1820s and the first reticulated supply for street lighting in Sydney began in 1841. Gas stoves were being advertised as early as 1853; however, it seems they were little used until the early 1870s. More

1853 Origins of Balfours bakery

Balfours frog cakesFamous for their frog cakes,  square pies and custard tarts, as well as the cafés they ran in Adelaide for many years,  Balfours is a household name in South Australia. The company can trace its history back to 1853, when Scottish emigrant James Calder and his wife Margaret (née Balfour) opened their first bakery and shop in Adelaide’s Rundle Street. Balfours  is now owned by San Remo – another South Australian company. More

1852 Vegetable garden on Victorian goldfields

Goldfields butcher shop

Butcher’s shambles by S.T. Gill

As men deserted their farms to try their luck at the goldfields, production of food in Victoria fell dramatically. Food was expensive and, early on, consisted mainly of mutton and bread. Initially, miners were not permitted to plant productive gardens, but in 1852 at Castlemaine, Owen Jones planted what was possibly the first vegetable garden on the goldfields near his claim.


1851 Gold rush brings immigrants

Gold rush fare: tea and damperGold was discovered in New South Wales in 1851, initiating Australia’s first gold rush. Subsequent discoveries in Victoria attracted immigrants from all over the world, including many from China. The gold fields diet was largely mutton and damper, but Chinese cookshops also played a role. More