Fondly referred to by the staff as ‘Gutso,’ this little piece of culinary wonder is presently simmering in the guts of the State Library of Victoria. Featuring numerous talks, tours and seminars there is also the added bonus of a High Tea option - yes, you can eat in the library - albeit delicately.
Gusto! opened on August 3rd and is an exhibition showcasing Melbourne’s development through the wining and dining scene as well as Victoria’s produce history. From images of the days-of-yore Coburg fish market to a carefully preserved Mietta’s menu this focus on food has been 2 years in the making, and is on show until April 2013.
Thinking about Australian food there aren’t many stand out dishes that encompass what is unique to this continent - something to declare as entirely ‘ours’. A Kangaroo fillet? Emu rissoles? The lamington is definitely in the fold.
There are the beloved products that have been marketed around the world to polarised audiences: Vegemite, Milo, Cherry Ripe, etc. Gusto! seeks to unravel the influences our colonial history has had on our palate and find out where these traditions began, covering subjects such as the history of viticulture, Indigenous foods, sustainable food practices, fine dining and food rationing.
The curators have done a remarkable job of uncovering gastronomic treasures from the first Australian cookbook, published in 1864, to an actual World War I army biscuit. Vintage advertisements and Government health warnings don the walls alongside photographs of treasured restaurants (some that have been laid to rest like Glo Glo’s and Fanny’s), historical markets (an amazing image of the fish supply on the corner of Spencer and Flinders Streets is among them), and prized Melbourne food identities (think Jacques Reymond, Stephanie Alexander).
When I visited one Saturday afternoon I was lucky enough to experience the high tea option. I was ushered into the Red Rotunda guarded by the bust of Sir Edmund Barry – founder of the library. As hinted at in the name, the entire room is red. This is thought to enhance the skin tones of the portraits housed within. Hard to say if this is true. After a sparkling or two we settled in to hear from the Library’s heritage collections representative who gave us a glimpse into the library’s beginnings and where it sits in the Melbourne scene today. Having scoffed sandwiches, scones, macaroons and cheesecake during this briefing I must say I only retained a snippet of this information, notably that most good Samaritans in colonial times were also unfaithful. Suffice to say we were fed well.
The Keith Murdoch Gallery is a short waltz from the Red Rotunda, right at the entrance of the library itself. Free to all walks of life is what the State Library does so well (as long as you’re wearing shoes). It is a place of refuge in the hive of the CBD, and works effortlessly well at providing stimulating material and resources for public consumption. It is the workings of a sustainable mind.
- * Milo was developed as a fortified food and to help children sleep.
- * Pavlova comes from New Zealand, not Australia.
* High Tea is available on October 13th and November 17th from 2-4pm, bookings can be made here.