Tea and Damper by A . M. Ebsworth. Image Credit: From Digital Collection of the State Library of Victoria
by Blake Singley,
The first European settlers in Australia used a dizzying array of flora and fauna in their kitchens – but they cooked them in a traditional British style.
The relationship between European settlers and native Australian foodstuffs during the 19th century was a complex one.
While the taste for native ingredients waxed and waned for the first century of European settlement, there’s ample evidence to demonstrate that local ingredients were no strangers to colonials’ kitchens or pots.
British settlers needed to engage with the edible flora and fauna of the continent almost immediately upon arrival.
The journals of First Fleet officers record not only their reliance on native food, but the relish with which they enjoyed it.
For example, First Fleet surgeon George Worgan noted in his diary a feast held to celebrate the King’s birthday:
We sat down to a very good Entertainment, considering how far we are from Leaden-Hall Market, it consisted of Mutton, Pork, Ducks, Fowls, Fish, Kanguroo, Salads, Pies and preserved Fruits.
Gilbert & George are an artistic duo whose large scale works are about fear, and their signature is to always include themselves in their own artworks.
The latest set of works occupy the cavernous spaces of the White Cube gallery in Bermondsey and all feature empty canisters used for inhaling the drug nitrous oxide.
These were all found on their walks throughout London and they’ve also drawn a parallel that when enlarged they look like bombs.
This is meant to hint at the terrorist threat to London but this isn’t conveyed successfully because they resemble world war two era bombs rather than those used by terrorists today.
Other fears include young people in hoodies who offer a stark contrast to the artists in their suits. The addition of street signs in Bengali in East London and a woman in a Burka are uncomfortable additions — Islamophobia may be on the rise but these works reflect this incendiary topic.
Pieter Paul Rubens, Hippopotamus and Crocodile Hunt, 1616. Held by the Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany. Wikimedia Commons.
The best early-modern European picture of a hippopotamus comes from the hand of the celebrated Baroque painter Pieter Paul Rubens.
Until 1800, this 1616 painting remained the only realistic image of this fearsome animal to be produced north of the Mediterranean.
Large and aggressive, live hippos were practically impossible to transport in those days. In modern times, the first two hippos arrived in Italy in 1601, when the Italian surgeon Federico Zerenghi brought their skins from Egypt first to Venice, where he had them stuffed, and then to Rome and Naples, where he exhibited them.
As luck would have it, Rubens was traveling in Italy at that time, and circumstantial evidence indicates that he probably saw these exhibits with his own eyes. Exotic animals were a prized painterly object, and it is no wonder that Rubens decided to picture this animal in his series of Hunts that he painted for Maximilian I, ruler of Bavaria.
Hippos remained a rarity for a long time.
One live hippo arrived in Amsterdam in the late 17th century, and another one in Florence (where it can still be seen in its full glory, thanks to the art of taxidermy) but no further specimens would reach Europe up until the 19th century.
Rubens’ painting, executed on an 8-by-10-foot (98-by-126-inch) canvas, shows the artist at the height of his powers.
Zerenghi’s hippos lost much of their shape during the process of stuffing, and Rubens had to rely on his knowledge of comparative anatomy to recreate the musculature of the animal.
He also obscured much of the hippo’s body, hiding little-known details in the background, and put the well-preserved mouth in the foreground.