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

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

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.

Once Upon a Bushfire II – The Prequel

Talking heads are saying Australia is due for a potentially-apocalyptic bushfire season this summer. Their conjecture is kind of borne out by the fact that we are only in spring and already there have been some terrible fire emergencies – not just those of the last few days, but those which devastated residential areas in far western Sydney just over a month ago on September 10, 2013.

It’s been a very early start to what is almost certain be a very scary summer. Personally I’m no stranger to natural disasters, having experienced first-hand the raw power of Mother Nature when she’s in a destructive mood – cyclones in Far North Queensland, vulcanism in the Hawaiian Islands… and bushfires right here in the bush. The fires tend to happen in approximately decade-long cycles, and we’re about five years overdue.

Back in  January 1939 the area was also long overdue for a burn. Just as occurred here, it was a perfect storm of environmental factors conspiring to create perfect conditions for catastrophe – hot and strong gusty winds, high temperatures and a high fuel load. Here’s a glance back through time at what the newspaper reporters and editors of that era had to say about the crisis they faced as Sydney was almost completely encircled by out-of-control bushfires.


Much Property Damage.

SYDNEY, January 15, 1939.

Four people were burned to death in New South Wales on Saturday when the worst heat wave ever experienced in the State reached its climax. Bush fires, driven by a fierce 50 miles an hour westerly wind, spread destruction in almost every important area throughout the State. From Palm Beach to Port Hacking and as far up the Blue Mountains as Mount Victoria a complete ring of bush fires surrounded Sydney, and disastrous fires also were reported from Penrose, \Vollongong. Nowra. Bathurst, Ulladulla, and Mittagong. Hundreds of houses, thousands of head of stock and poultry were destroyed and thousands of acres of grazing land, valuable timber areas. and orchards were devastated.

Fires at Castle Hill. Sylvania, Cronulla, and French’s Forest roared over fronts extending at times over many miles and had it not been for a sudden change of the weather, even greater damage would have occurred. Minor outbreaks were reported to fire brigades in almost every outlying suburb. During the day 275 calls were answered by the metropolitan fire brigade. All equipment was rushed to vital points. Firemen and volunteers, including 150 police, fought for more than eight hours to quell outbreaks.

The following deaths by fire were reported to the police-John Roach (aged 70 years), of Yalwal, near Nowra, an invalid pensioner: Percival Davies (33), of Box Hill: and a boy, “Snowy” Metcalfe, of Moree, who, with Davies, was burned in a shack. A man believed to be Harry Martin (63), a returned soldier, was burned while releasing a horse from a stable at Rogan’s Hill. Alexander Muir (77). of Cronulla, was injured. His condition is serious. In addition hundreds of persons suffered minor burns and smoke-scorched eyes.


Penrose, the heart of the orcharding district in the Southern Tablelands, was almost completely destroyed. The railway station and only one or two houses escaped. At Ulladulla, a few miles south of Milton on the south coast, eight houses and a timber mill and ice works were destroyed. Fire practically wiped out the settlement of Trunkey, some miles from Bathurst 15 houses being destroyed and 44 people rendered homeless. Nelligen, six miles from Bateman’s Bay, lost its two churches, a wattlebark factory, and nine homes. Fires swept almost into the town of Mittagong, about 20 houses being razed. At Castle Hill near Sydney, fire swept up gullies turning an area of vegetation dried almost to tinder into a veritable furnace. About 25 properties were destroyed, including the homes of several city business men. Serious fires also occurred in French’s Forest in the northern suburbs. All roads through the forest were closed to traffic for some hours owing to the danger of falling trees. Three houses In the area were destroyed.

At Valley Heights, on the Blue Mountains, where fire threatened the railway station, water from standing locomotives was pumped into the railway supply tank and was used to fight back the flames. Motoring authorities reported more than 400 cars were held up in Sydney and its environs because pf petrol vapourising under tile intense heat and causing cars to stop. About 30 houses and several valuable poultry runs were destroyed In a fire which advanced on a seven mile front near Sutherland, 15 miles south of Sydney. One of the houses, owned by Mrs. M. Bubb, was valued at £5000. Mrs. Bubb (aged 70) was rescued by her nephew, who dragged her to the edge of the Georges River and put her in a boat. Two homes at the back of Dee Why, two houses at Bay View, and one at Newport were destroyed when a fire broke out at Narrabeen and threatened several houses. A volunteer brigade was formed from among the Summer School of the Workers’ Educational Association, which was across the road from the fire.


The Minister for Education (Mr. Drummond) and Bishop Noyes, of Armidale, who were to have spoken at the school, joined the volunteers, Mr. Drummond was clad in shorts and a singlet. They finally were driven back by smoke and heat and the house which they had worked to protect was destroyed. Rifle-shooters at Liverpool and members of a cricket team left their sport in the afternoon to assist at fires in many suburbs. Ten houses were reported to be burned, with all their contents, and at least 25 others were endangered when a bush-fire drove from Kellyville through Castle Hill.

In the Vural and Galston district It Is estimated that more than £50,000 damage has been done by fires. Properties destroyed include Mirrabooka and Glen View, the properties of Mr. A. H. Stuart: Monds, the property of Dr. J. Sparkes: and Hillcrest, the property of Miss E. Chaffer, all on the old Castle Hill road. A volunteer fire brigade in the district was overwhelmed with calls. Boys from De La Falle College at Castle Hill did wonderful work, operating on five or six fronts. They saved hundreds of acres of valuable orchard country from destruction.

Source: National Library of Australia’s TROVE Newspaper archive – Queensland Times, January 16 1939, page 7 –

New South Wales was not the only area hit by devastating fires in a 100-110 deg F (37.5 -43 deg C) heatwave that January in 1939. The southern state of Victoria suffered greatly on a day which would come to be known as “Black Saturday”.


Loss of Life and Property Exceeds 1851 Destruction

MELBOURNE, Wednesday.

TRAPPED by bushfires, 18 people perished in Victoria to-day. The death toll has now reached 20 since the fires commenced. At least 10 others are missing.

To-day was the blackest day in the tragic history of Victorian bushfire terrors, eclipsing the terrible “Black Thursday” of 1851, and the disastrous fires of 1926, 1928 and 1932.

Damage almost beyond assessment has been done. Thousands of square miles of valuable timber country have been burnt out, farm lands have been ravaged and dozens of homes destroyed. A large section of the State is now a blackened ruin and smoke from the advancing flames shrouds the entire State.

Seven people met terrible deaths when two cars in which they were making a dash for safety through the blazing bush at Narbethong were overwhelmed by flames.

Eleven men perished in a holocaust in the Rubicon forest, near Alexandria.

The Narbethong tragedy was discovered by firefighters who were searching the ruined area for people who had been reported missing. They found the burnt out cars close to gether on a track leading from the Buxton-Maryvale road to Peiglan’s mills. Nearby were five bodies, those of three men, a woman and a child. In the ruined cars were the charred bodies of two more men.

The victims were :—

Kenneth Kerslake (35), of Niasaroon, a timber worker. Eileen Kerslake (35), his wife. Ruth Kerslake, his little daughter. Frank Edwards, Mrs. Kerslake’s brother. Chris Soldaris, a Greek mill hand. Antonio Igoshus, a Greek mill hand, and Peter Igoshus, his brother. All the victims had been terribly burned and – the heat had been so terrific that some of the metal of the cars, and the glass windscreens and windows, had been melted.

The Kerslakes and Edwards were making a dash to Narbethong. On the way they picked up the Greeks who had been sheltering in a river. Not long afterwards, a wall of flame met the two cars as the fire which had raced through the Acheron district with incredible speed, over took them. Five of the victims, including the child, made a run for it, but dropped in their tracks as the scorching blast struck them. A similar fate overtook the two men who had remained in the cars. It was an irony of fate that, had the Greeks remained in the river, they would still be alive, for seven other men, employees of the same mill, were found safe after the fire had passed.

Eleven men lost then lives in the Rubicon forest, near Alexandria. They were :—

Baden Johnston (30), a millworker. Alfred Neason (35), a millworker. Hedley John West (40), of Healesville, forestry foreman. Leonard Sims, Geoffrey Wyatt, James Cain, D. Argent, A. Paine, P. Le Brun, Joseph Pherry, and P. Murdoch.

The men apparently lost their lives after an ineffectual effort to save the Rubicon and Pearce mills from destruction. As the fire advanced, they, were obliged to run for their lives. Johnston, Neason, Murdoch and West apparently tried to reach Thornton, but they died on the track through the forest. Their bodies, burnt almost beyond recognition, were found this morning. The other bodies were found not far from the mills. Two bodies were huddled in a small clearing. Smouldering coats covered their faces, but the heat had killed them.


In another part of this area 25 timberworkers saved their lives by standing in a dam for many hours, dipping their heads beneath the surface periodically to save their faces from the heat.

The fire which claimed the lives of seven Narbethong victims almost accounted for two other men from Feiglan’s mills who, shockingly burned about the lower parts of their bodies, reached Buxton to-day after a nightmare journey through the fire-swept forest.

Covered With Sawdust. They stated that, after trying with out success to save the mills, they ran to the only cleared patch, the cricket pitch, where they lay down and covered themselves with sawdust from the mills. Scorched, and suffering agony to the limit of endurance, they remained there until the fire had passed. The sawdust had been charred. and their bodies from their feet to their waists were badly burned.

The destruction of telegraph lines has made a careful check-up of the missing people impossible at present and it is possible that some of those whose whereabouts are unknown are safe.

The Powelltown valley was a sea of flame and hundreds of acres of valuable timber country have been destroyed.

Anxiety expressed yesterday about the safety of men, women and children at the Ada River mill was allayed to-day when they were brought safely to the township.

Naojee, the scene of the disastrous fires in 1926, is again menaced. The flames are creeping slowly towards the town through the heavily timbered country.

Huge trees in the Loch valley have crashed to the ground and there appears to be no hope of combating the flames at. this juncture.

Plantation Threatened. The State pine plantation is threatened with destruction and a large batch of forestry workers has been rushed to the scene. They were fighting fierce flames this afternoon. The Rubicon forest is ablaze from end

to end and terrified setters are sheltering wherever possible. Three timber mills were destroyed with great rapidity by the flames last night and a number of homes owned by timber workers disappeared.

Searchers to-day found Messrs. S. Stanfield, J. Fish and K. A. Kirk patrick, employees of the mill at Powelltown, sheltering in a deep cutting with fire all around them. People were forced to spend the night in a deep cutting near the Tynee river, while a large number of men, women and children raced for their lives before the flames at Ingrams’ hill. It was here that a fight had been waged for days without the slightest hope of quelling the fires. Displaying the greatest of pluck, eight men have remained behind at the mill battling to the end to save the homes of the workers.

From the fierceness of the flames to-night, they have no chance, but are working almost at the point of exhaustion. Only heavy rain can aid them. Seven women, 17 children and 44 men who took refuge in Ingrams’ mills last night, set out on a timber train for Erica when the position became critical to-day. They were unable to proceed far at the timber tracks on which the trains travel had been burnt through. Motor trucks from Erica took them to safety.

Residents on the fringe of the Toombullup forest completed a fire break, 25 miles long, in four days, to protect the townships of Myrrhee and Whitlands. About seven people were in the Rubicon danger area yesterday when a telephone message was sent warning them to leave immediately.

Went To Save Dog

One party of men who had been making a road to Rubicon power station ran down the track, but five men waited while one of them went to the rescue of his dog. The remaining men were not seen again. The owners reached a clearing which they had pre pared earlier in case of an emergency

Rubicon residents succeeded In getting through to Alexandra, although, for many miles, they had to drive through terrible fires. The fires at Blackwood destroyed thousands of acres of forest and five houses.

First aid men on motor cycles are going to affected areas to attend to burns suffered by fire fighters. The Governor has donated £100 to the Lord Mayor’s bush fire appeal fund.

The outskirts of Wallhalla were swept by fire this morning when a house in the southern end of the town was destroyed. The hospital and many homes were evacuated. Volunteers were called to fight the blaze, which was within half a mile of the main street. Blankets, mattresses and food were sent by motor trucks to-day to Erica. Marysville, and Warburton. At least a dozen other centres are threatened by fires.

Thousands of cattle are endangered in the Kiewa Valley, which is ablaze. Five homes near Daylesford and four homes at the Black Forest were destroyed to-day.

Source: National Library of Australia’s TROVE Newspaper archive – Northern Star, January 12 1939 Page 1 –

A burned out car lies abandoned on a dirt road after catastrophic bushfires in the Victorian ranges in January 1939

A burned out car lies abandoned on a dirt road after catastrophic bushfires in the Victorian ranges in January 1939

Of course, Victoria’s “Black Saturday” of 1939 was eclipsed by the events of almost 70 years later on February 7, 2009, a day which also deservedly bears the name “Black Saturday”.

Once Upon a Bushfire

An unseasonal, but not entirely unexpected wildfire hit close to home yesterday. Hot, gusting winds, high temperatures, very low humidity and a high fuel load in pristine forest which had not seen flame for decades conspired to create potentially catastrophic bushfire conditions.

At least a hundred homes have been lost north of here in the Lithgow/Bilpin/Mt Victoria triangle – an area I know well from my wanderings through the state forests and the bottom end of the Wollemi National Park.

Further north on the NSW Central coast there have been more homes lost and one fatality. Gutsy 63-year-old Walter Linder was winning the battle alone to save his Lake Munmorah home against raging flames when he suffered a fatal heart attack.

In my area I have seen the devastation first-hand – 8000 hectares of beautiful dry sclerophyll evergreen forest destroyed. Stock, pets, native birds, mammals and reptiles succumbed to the flames, radiant heat and smoke. Aluminium road signs melted completely. A young family standing in the back yard of their Yanderra home, surveying the remains of their shed, their car and a boat and trailer in disbelief. It could have been so much worse.

Despite the devastation and the danger to human habitation and populations of native wildlife, the Australian bush is highly adapted to seasonal fires. The heat triggers some native plants to germinate, the thick understorey is burnt away, allowing new growth to see the dappled sunlight in the eucalypt forests. Bushfires are a terrible and humbling sight to behold, but they are part of the cycle of life in this land. Those of us who choose to live in the bush must adapt our ways and be ever mindful of the threat. You can’t expect to stand in the way of such a force of nature and not be burnt.

Sunday and Monday will bring more high temperatures and gusty winds so we shall see what happens.

Here are a couple of shots I happened to snap today during my travels.

BW1b2P7CAAAPJfm.jpg large

BW1df-RCMAA6dpa.jpg large