The relationship between food and film in Australian culture has not always been an entirely happy one. The images of homegrown cuisine that have defined this nation don’t readily lend themselves to the big screen like, say, the pastries of France or the spices of India.
Watching an Aussie alpha-male sweat over his barbecue, pouring beer over his blackened steak on a hot summer’s day... well, it’s not exactly Babette’s Feast, is it?
However, exploring the relationship further, a likeness emerges that suggests this country's favoured foods and favourite films are not so far removed from one another and that, at their best, both represent the down-to-earth nature of its people.
The land and sea that surrounds Australia has provided nourishment to sustain the population for thousands of years. Some of the earliest images captured on film are of indigenous bushmen feasting on witchetty grubs. And, since the first ships arrived, settlers have forged deep into the wilderness to sample native plants, such as warrigal greens, and tilled the often unyielding soil to produce basic yet nourishing dishes, such as the iconic campfire bread, damper.
It is a shared aesthetic that was not lost on the organisers of the Australian Film Festival, held in March in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. In only its second year and entirely created to showcase homegrown films, the festival launched the Spot Food & Film Festival, a celebration aimed at the like-minded visionaries who produce both culinary and cinematic works of art.
The recipes that have been chosen to coincide with the movies of SBS’s Australian film season primarily reflect the tastes of Australia’s first settlers, which they brought with them from 18th-century Great Britain. But these Anglo-Celtic recipes – from a billy-can bun to puftaloons (a cross between damper and scones) – also nod to the fact that these early settlers needed to adapt these recipes to suit the Australian flora and fauna.
Sarah Watt’s My Year Without Sex confronts a mortal threat of universal concern with caustic suburban charm and aching honesty; Jonathan auf der Heide’s Van Diemen’s Land examines the darkness at the heart of man and the madness Australia's unforgiving landscape can inspire; Richard J. Frankland’s raucous doper comedy Stone Bros. pays homage to mateship and the free-spirited abandon with which young Aussie men lead their lives; and Mark Hartley’s celebration of the wild and wacky 'Ozploitation’ genre in Not Quite Hollywood honours the vivid ambition of this nation’s filmmakers, daring the world not to notice us.
By that measure, Sal Kerrigan’s meatloaf in The Castle may just about be the perfect Australian dish. It represents the very best that can be achieved from limited resources; its very existence unites different people under the one roof and it tastes a whole lot better splattered with tomato sauce. Australia’s tucker, like its films, is most often the coming together of disparate, and sometimes desperate, elements to create a flavoursome, uniquely antipodean entity.
Photography Brett Stevens.