The theme for WHM 2011 brings a focus to Australian women who made significant contributions to the history of food, whether in cooking or in education, science, or technology. In taking their skills and expertise into the public sphere, these women changed history by challenging perceptions about women’s unpaid domestic skills.
Mietta O’Donnell was arguably the person who defined haute cuisine in Australia – first through her 21 years as a restauranteur and in later years as the country’s leading culinary publisher and critic. Her grandparents, Mario and Teresa Vigano, arrived in Melbourne from Milan in 1928. They went on to establish the legendary “Mario’s” restaurant, which they ran for more than thirty years. Mietta was influenced by their entertainment flair from an early age.
Hetty Perkins was fourteen when her father died and her mother lost the work she had found on the Winnecke goldfields in Central Australia. Hetty and some friends found work in the hotel at Arltunga, 90 kilometres ENE of Alice Springs. The hotel cook, also Aboriginal, had been brought up by a Chinese woman ‘and she can cook!’ as Hetty recalled.
Flora Pell was born in Melbourne on March 12, 1874. She was the eldest girl in a large family and went to work early to help support her siblings. By the time she was 15 she had passed her teacher’s exams and she began teaching cookery in Geelong, then Bendigo and Carlton.
Doris Taylor’s contribution to social welfare in Australia is both significant and long-lasting. Meals on Wheels, the organisation she founded in Australia in 1953, provides regular, balanced and nutritious food through its own kitchens to the elderly and infirm in their own homes, at a small charge. It serves the needs of many thousands of Australians every day.
During her lifetime, Mary Martha Farrelly was a committted and popular advocate for the health giving properties of wholemeal grains, fresh fruits and vegetables. Although perhaps ahead of her time in recognising the benefits of such foods, Mary’s commanding presence and straightforward message on the subject of diet gained her considerable respect. She was in demand as a speaker throughout Western Australia for much of her life and she was fondly referred to as The Wheat Queen. Mary’s life-long interest in the welfare of women and children contributed to her success in other fields such as in the Country Circles movement, seen as the genesis of the Country Women’s Association in Western Australia.
Hannah Phillips was born in Hill End, NSW daughter of a publican. Hannah later told her children that her father put her into the kitchen of his hotel at Townsville, and she worked through the dining room to the office, until she knew how to organize and manage. He then sent her, aged 15, to manage his Club Hotel at Toowoomba. By the turn of the century Hannah was well known as keeper of the Queen’s Hotel in Townsville and after the publication of her first cook book considered one of Australia’s best cooks.
She was born Deborah Drake-Brockman but, through her amazing career as a businesswoman, social hostess, cook, traveller and charity worker, she was better known by three other names. Married and widowed three times, she was known in her native state of Western Australia as Lady Hackett, in South Australia as Lady Moulden and finally in Victoria as Dr Buller-Murphy.
Annie Margaret McArthur’s research into food began in the 1940s when, as a relatively young science graduate, she began collecting data on the nutrition of indigenous peoples in Australia. Her ground breaking work in the Arnhem Land Report of 1948 made it necessary for scholars to change their views significantly about the contribution made by women to the Aboriginal diet and social economy.
One of Australia’s pioneer dietitians—Audrey Cahn—was instrumental in bringing nutrition to be the well regarded, prestigious research and study discipline that it is today.