Archival Food – 14-Day Unsupported Hiking Expedition, 1920s

Miles Dunphy and Bert Gallop pictured in 1912. Their equipment was still common among walkers in the 1920s, not to mention swagmen. Their basic load-carrying system is identical to that of the traditional Australian swagman - A bedding roll in which blankets, a sheet, coat, socks and underwear are rolled. Food is carried in a dilly bag hung off the swag strap to act as a counterbalance. In this photo we see a couple of rifles. The Dunphys and their bushwalking companions lived off the land wherever possible to supplement their rations. Wallaby, kangaroo and rabbit were the favoured game.

Miles Dunphy and Bert Gallop pictured in 1912. Their equipment was still common among walkers in the 1920s, not to mention swagmen. Their basic load-carrying system is identical to that of the traditional Australian swagman – A bedding roll in which blankets, a sheet, coat, socks and underwear are rolled. Food is carried in a dilly bag hung off the swag strap to act as a counterbalance. The dilly bag (also known as a tucker bag) carried the dry rations as well as the men’s eating gear – plate, enamel mug and knife/fork/spoon and their cooking equipment – a billy can with lid. In this photo we also see a couple of rifles – a .32/20 lever gun and a .22 bolt action. The Dunphys and their bushwalking companions lived off the land wherever possible to supplement their rations and save weight. Wallaby, kangaroo and rabbit were the favoured game.

I recently read an old journal article from 1924 which piqued my curiosity. It was a trip report of a group of naturalists who penetrated deep into the wilds of Tasmania for two weeks, carrying everything they needed for that two weeks – no resupply. Their camping gear list is a separate post in itself, but what interested me was the food they carried. There were no freeze dried meals or MRE entrees or single-serving noodle packs or cliff bars available to recreational walkers in the 1920s. It was mainly whole foods in as lightweight a format as they could manage. The food list below is a list of food carried by each individual for that 14 days. Check it out –

  • 2 x 2lb tin loaves – 1.8kg
  • 4 x lbs self-raising flour – 1.8kg
  • 4 x tins bully beef / camp pie / etc. – 48oz total – 1.4kg
  • 4 x lbs ship’s biscuits – 1.8kg
  • 2 x lbs sugar – 900g
  • 0.5 x lb salt – 225g
  • 3 x lbs dried fruit – 1.4kg
  • 2 x lbs creamoata – 900g
  • 1.5x lbs bacon – 680g
  • 2 x tins unsweetened condensed milk – 24oz total – 680g
  • 1.5 x lbs cheese – 680g
  • 2 x large cakes chocolate – 0.5lb each – 1lb total – 455g
  • 2 x lbs dripping – 900g
  • 1 x lb split peas – 455g
  • 1 x bottle bovril – 0.5lb – 0.255g
  • 0.5x lb tea – 0.255g

Total food weight29lb13.15kg – 2.07lb or 0.939kg per day

To give a modern comparison, lightweight hikers/bushwalkers on a multi-day trip will generally aim at around 1kg (2.2lb) of food carried per day. This means that the old timers’ food weights were actually comparable to modern standards, but this is unlikely to include the weights of the tin cans, glass and calico packaging. Still… not bad.

What's wrong with this picture. A group of walkers near Seal Cove in the Wilson's Promontory National Park in the late 1920s. Backpacks were now rapidly replacing the traditional swag and dilly bag.

What’s wrong with this picture? A group of walkers near Seal Cove in the Wilson’s Promontory National Park in the late 1920s. Backpacks were now rapidly replacing the traditional swag and dilly bag.

Some definitions:

1. Tin Loaf –

A tin loaf.

A tin loaf.

This was a loaf of sandwich bread, very similar in style and substance to a modern bagged loaf of bread, but it was unsliced of course and was only about 3/4 the length of a modern loaf. It was so-named because of the tin used to bake it. Back in 1924 most bread was baked French style –   without being constrained in a bread pan. In this instance these would have been wrapped in newspaper and carried in a calico bag.

2. Camp Pie –

It's a mystery why they call it a pie. It's a lump of rendered and extruded manufactured meat in a tin - as we Aussies like to say, "it's all lips and bums".

It’s a mystery why they call it a pie. It’s a lump of rendered and extruded manufactured meat in a tin – as we Aussies like to say, “it’s all lips and bums”.

Still available in Tasmanian supermarkets today, camp pie was a pork and beef-based luncheon meat in a round or rectangular tin depending on the brand. Similar to Spam. Bully beef of course is corned beef in a trapezoidal tin.

3. Ship’s biscuits –

Made from pretty much just flour and water with a pinch of salt, ship's biscuits were used in exactly the same way as hard tack. Image from http://savoringthepast.net/2013/06/12/ships-biscuit-recipes/

Made from pretty much just flour and water with a pinch of salt, ship’s biscuits were used in exactly the same way as hard tack. Image from http://savoringthepast.net/2013/06/12/ships-biscuit-recipes/

Circular hard tack. These would have been carried packed into a tea tin or in a calico bag

4. Creamoata –

Creamoata - now the kids won't be malnourished anymore...

Creamoata… so the kids won’t be malnourished anymore…

Appears to be some form of pre-mixed porridge (oats with milk powder and brown sugar) which was popular in Australia and New Zealand from the 1910s to the 1940s. Most likely carried in a calico bag

5. Bacon –

Slab of bacon

Slab of bacon

They are talking about thick slabs of bacon – American style.  I’ve had bacon rashers last 4 days in hot weather on a recent hiking trip, so if packed correctly the slab stuff should last even longer. These would have been wrapped in several layers of butchers or news paper

6. Cheese –

Did they even have plastic cheese in the 1920s?

Did they even have plastic cheese in the 1920s?

Hard cheese wrapped in cloth and stored near the middle of the backpack keeps well.

7. Cakes of Chocolate –

Prices used to go down once...

Prices used to go down once…

Back in the day bars of chocolate were also known as cakes of chocolate. Probably carried wrapped in cellophane in case they melted.

8. Dripping –

Bread and dripping - favourite "punishment" food of naughty kids everywhere in the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s

Bread and dripping – favourite “punishment” food of naughty kids everywhere in the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s

It’s a British Commonwealth thing. Similar to lard, dripping is cooked animal fat drained from a pan then filtered (or not) and kept for later as a cooking oil. Old timers love it on bread. In this case this stuff would have been carried in an old glass Vegemite or Marmite jar

9. Bovril –

She loves her Bovril - and just as well... now she might not contract tuberculosis.

She loves her Bovril – and just as well… now she might not contract tuberculosis.

A meat extract paste which was used to flavour stews, make “beef tea” (a thin beef soup) or spread onto bread in the same way as we use Vegemite today. It came in a screw-top glass jar (maybe it still does) and it had a shelf life of around 12 months in the pantry, making it useful as a condiment and ration supplement for long walks.

The whole food packs weighed around 29lb which is close enough to 13.155555555555kg.

A group of hikers eating their lunch of Bovril, creamoats and dripping (OK, I made that up) in the Baw Baw Ranges in Victoria circa 1925.

A group of campers eating their lunch of Bovril, creamoata and dripping (OK, I made that up) in the Baw Baw Ranges in Victoria circa 1925. Note “tucker” box and the billycans.

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3 thoughts on “Archival Food – 14-Day Unsupported Hiking Expedition, 1920s

  1. Being a Yorkshireman I’m not averse to consuming any rendered meat product, but I think even I would balk at ‘Camp Pie’. My hiking trips and fieldwork rarely involve such quantities of rations but I do agree with the sentiments of one of your earlier posts that map and compass should be the first thing packed, a skill sadly lacking for some in this GPS filled age.

  2. Thanks for the comments Pete.

    I personally draw the line at bully beef. Camp pie isn’t the best by itself. Tinned lamb tongues were also a popular camping food back in those days. The period advertisements show 5 or 6 tongues neatly laid out in a star pattern on a salad plate…

    The GPS versus map and compass issue is an important one in my opinion. Technology has nearly gotten to the point where GPS and mapping on a touchscreen device can replace paper maps and a compass for land nav as long as there’s power available. It’s a trend now seen in the nautical world where charts and compasses are going almost completely electronic and navigation is reliant upon GPS or GLONASS systems. When it’s no longer needed, the skill of land navigation could easily die out within a generation or two if we don’t keep it alive by using it. I’m a map and compass guy,

  3. Pingback: Archival Gear – The First “Hootchie and Swag” challenge | THE JUNGLE IS NEUTRAL

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