In an article published in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1953, W.P. Thornton sought to refute the idea that Australia had no distinctive dishes or drinks. Among the drinks he cited as unique to this country was the Diamantina Cocktail. The recipe for this appetising libation was, he wrote,a pint of condensed milk, a pint of Bundaberg rum and a well-beaten emu egg. “It goes without saying,” he continued, “that the effect of a few of these Diamantina Cocktails is truly remarkable.”
It’s unclear when it was invented, but the cocktail is named after the Diamantina River, which rises in south west Queensland, passes through Birdsville and joins the Wharburton River, emptying into Lake Eyre in South Australia. Like many outback rivers, the Diamantina is often dry for much of its length, while the basin is prone to flooding during heavy rains.
Known as the channel country, it’s an area of vast cattle stations, isolated from city comforts. It’s the kind of country that bred bush legends of resourcefulness, physical toughness and hard drinking. In early years, Dutch gin and Jamaican rum were the beverages of choice in bush shanties, but by the 1890s there was a local alternative. Beenleigh Rum began production in 1884 while Bundaberg produced its first rum in 1889. Nestlé Condensed Milk was introduced in Australia in 1880 and, being preserved in tins, became a staple of the roving stockman.
There’s no available evidence that anyone ever drank a Diamantina Cocktail, but the recipe was mentioned in The Bulletin in 1960 with the note that, according to outback Queenslanders, the quantities specified were “sufficient for one”. A modern cocktail website gives the recipe with a footnote: “If bundy [sic] is not available, use a dark rum. Drink, fall down, technicolour yawn. ” Another cuts the quantities down to 30ml each of rum and condensed milk, uses a hen’s egg and specifies it all be shaken with ice. Very civilised. Just an egg nog, really. But perhaps not capturing the true spirit of the outback.