Dishing up our culinary heritage

The 22nd Symposium of Australian Gastronomy: 16-19 November, Parramatta 2018. Design © Max Dingle for

This past month has provided two wonderful opportunities to break bread with local and international visitors to Sydney and stimulate their appetites for history in themed dining events at Vaucluse House and Elizabeth Farm…

Eels cooking on the fire at Elizabeth Farm for the 22nd Symposium of Australian Gastronomy Photo © Max Dingle

The 22nd Symposium of Australian Gastronomy

Elizabeth Farm hosted the opening reception for the 22nd Symposium of Australian Gastronomy (SAG22) on Friday, 16 November. The theme for the symposium was “Out of Place” and speaks to food and culture growing from, or out of, a particular place or environment, and in contrast, it encompasses impacts of cultural or geographical displacement, and people who find themselves out of place in society. The full program can be found here.

Kicking off in 1984, the Symposium of Australian Gastronomy has been celebrating and interrogating Australia’s food culture for over 30 years. Run by volunteers from lively gastronomic communities across Australia they are held in different locations every 18-24 months. SAG22 was held in Parramatta between 16-19 November. True to the centrality of its theme, the symposium showcased Parramatta’s rich heritage of cultural and culinary diversity, from its Aboriginal Darug origins to colonial occupation, through to more contemporary multi-cultural make-up.

Symposiasts mingle at Elizabeth Farm. Photo © Max Dingle

Over 90 delegates, including local, interstate and international academics, educators, food industry and food media people, their guests and SAG22 co-sponsors attended the twilight event. For many people, including some Sydney-siders, this was their first experience of Parramatta, just 20 kilometres west of Sydney. Parramatta is the site of Sydney’s second-oldest colonial settlement, chosen for its agricultural prospects, with a ‘park-like’ landscape, rich soils and waterways. It was Sydney’s first really productive ‘food bowl’.

Our regular readers will be aware that the Macarthur family, who established Elizabeth Farm in 1793, played a significant part in the development of Australian trade and agriculture. Appropriately for a food conference, guests were greeted in the 1820s kitchen, and the house was opened for a twilight viewing.

Darug bounty

Uncle Greg Sims gives the Welcome to Country at Elizabeth Farm Photo © Juan-Carlo Tomas

But the real emphasis of the evening was to acknowledge the Darug as traditional custodians of the Parramatta area. The Welcome to Country from Darug Elder, Uncle Greg Sims resonated strongly with guests, and was referenced several times by presenters in the weekend’s proceedings. The evening’s menu featured local food resources which were used by Aboriginal people and then appropriated by colonisers such as the Macarthurs: oysters, eel, kangaroo, duck, native fruit and greens.

Social media captured the mood of the evening, with culinary luminaries Barbra Sweeney and Gay Bilson, the Symposium’s plenary speaker. Photo © Juan-Carlo Tomas via instagram

Contributors to the evening’s catering included John Susman from Fishface who donated prime quality Sydney Rock oysters, opened on the spot for guests by expert oyster shucker Steve Hodges. Eels caught in the Hawkesbury River at Ebenezer and purged at Wiseman’s Ferry by fisherman Paul Aquilino the day before were roasted over hot coals by Fred Lindsey from Fred’s Bush Tucker. Simon from Ceveau Restaurant provided Kangaroo loin and salad made with wild greens, native flavours and seasonings, and the vegetarian option replaced kangaroo with roasted yams, in recognition of the word ‘darug’ meaning ‘yam’ or yam eaters.

Colonial influences came into play with ‘eel & mash’ and duck pies made by Broomfield’s Pies inspired by Parramatta’s ‘flying pieman’, wines were supplied by First Ridge Wines from Mudgee and English ‘sloe’-style gin from Brookie’s Byron Slow flavoured with Davidson Plum native rainforest fruit, Davidson Plum.

‘Fred’ Lindsay from Fred’s Bush Tucker prepares freshly caught eel in a traditional Aboriginal method of wrapping in native leaves and paperbark. Photo © Juan-Carlo Tomas

A neighbourly affair

Elizabeth Farm was one of four key places across Parramatta’s expansive heritage precinct where delegates spent their time over the four day program, which gave delegates a strong sense of place and cultural meaning, past and present. The main conference venue for the symposium was the Female Orphan School, now part of the  Western Sydney University campus, the Saturday evening banquet was held at the Parramatta Girls Home, managed by Urban Growth and Parramatta City Council. Local chef Paul Kuipers from Courtenay’s Brasserie created a memorable themed meal which echoed the various uses of this harrowing heritage site. Sunday morning ‘culinary culture’ excursions included tours of Salter’s cottage and the Old Dairy in Parramatta Park, courtesy Parramatta City Council, and culinary tours of Harris Park were provided by Taste Tours Parramatta. Other local contributors included CWA Nepean branch with their iconic scones with jam and cream, and Al Jannah with signature felafel rolls.

Trish Allen, one of several volunteers from CWA Nepean Branch Photo © Max Dingle


We’ll be featuring the other themed dining event, held by The International Dickens Fellowship Conference at Vaucluse in our next post…