1954 Curried Goanna served in Sydney

The Colony Club, Sylvania

On 8 May 1954, Curried Goanna was among the foods served at a special Northern Territory night at a Sydney nightclub,  the Colony Club. The night was designed as a tribute to the stars of the Claude Chauvel film Jedda. However, the aboriginal star of the film, Robert Tudawali, was unable to attend because Australian law at that time banned aboriginal people from being on licensed premises.

The Colony Club, in Sylvania, south of Sydney, claimed to be Australia’s largest nightclub, with two dance floors and a total seating capacity for 1000 people. The dance floors opened onto a beer garden, barbecue and swimming pool set in five acres of garden. Formerly a roadhouse and nightclub known as Oyster Bill’s, it had been transformed under the guidance of restaurateur Tony Clerici, formerly of Romano’s restaurant in Sydney. Clerici’s culinary credentials were impressive.  Described as a “chef par excellence and world-famous restauranteur [sic]” he claimed to have cooked national dishes in every country of Europe and prepared food for many royals, including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

Clerici, famous for introducing Steak Diane to Australia, had to learn new techniques for Curried Goanna and other NT specialties. He was apparently tutored by one of the Territory’s well-known personalities, anthropologist and bushman Bill Harney. Harney had arranged for buffalo steaks to be shipped to Sydney in advance of the occasion, allowing Clerici time to develop his Steak Boomerang for the occasion.

But perhaps that dish never made it onto the menu. According to the Daily Telegraph, the menu served on the night consisted of:

Witchetty grub cooked in almond paste and pork fat
Pipi kai (a chowder made of pipi shellfish and coconut)
Kangaroo tail soup
Squid Arafura (squids baked and stuffed)
Curried goanna
Yabby Kearney (yabbies cooked with mushrooms and sherry sauce)
Murray cod.

The newspaper reported that only a handful of young women declined to taste the witchetty grub and “No-one was sick.”

The dinner was certainly before its time. It was to be many decades before non-indigenous cooks and chefs embraced native ingredients in their restaurants.  And, as far as I know, curried goanna, now requiring a protected species, is yet to feature on another menu.

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