Food and Sex: searching for ‘the answer’

The year is 1913, and you’re walking through the Domain. There’s a crowd gathering around a strangely-dressed man, so you go over to listen. He’s reading from a book:

Postcard image of William Chidley

Postcard image of William Chidley, in his usual outfit. He read his controversial book 'The Answer' out loud to the public - to the horror of local law enforcers. NAA: A1861, 336

‘Coitus impairs the proper function of the skin … The nerves of taste are perverted also, the wish for natural food – fruit and nuts – is destroyed and the taste for meat, oysters, etc., acquired.’

What would you do?

a) walk away in confusion, wondering what he’s going on about, and why the crowd is staying

b) buy a copy of the speaker’s book, because this is quite interesting

c) get the nearest policeman and insist that the speaker be arrested. He’s talking about sex in public!

The speaker, William Chidley, well-known eccentric, public speaker and author of the book ‘The Answer’ knew quite a bit about being arrested. His firmly held views on sex, food and clothing, and his insistence of making them public, ensured that he did quite a few bits and pieces of gaol time, and by 1913 he also knew what the inside of a lunatic asylum looked like.

His book ‘The Answer’ drew on well-known theories of the time. These theories held that sexuality and desire were morally and physically degrading – but that they could (and should!) be repressed with good clean living, namely exercise and changed diets. Flesh in the diet was frowned upon as being too ‘stimulating’, as were tobacco and alcohol.

Pioneers of these theories included men such as John Harvey Kellogg, co-inventor of the corn-flake, and in 1913 these sort of views were widely accepted by many people. For instance, one of the judges who locked Chidley away, reportedly said in his sentencing, that,

‘With a great deal of [Chidley’s] book he agreed – for instance, that man was not a carnivorous animal, and that the use of meat had a great deal to do with the demoralisation of the human race’. The Argus, 21 June 1913

But Chidley took those theories to new extremes. He argued that people had become so degenerate that they didn’t realise that each and every sexual act was causing physical and mental damage. Furthermore, they should only be having sex in the spring. His advice for a better life started with a change of diet and no more sex:

‘As you persevere in your fruit diet, drinking no hot teas nor doing anything unnatural, you will find your clothes become irksome. You can then pass on to life in the open air – return to Paradise – and in the spring, if you fall in love, you will find that coition will come about quite simply and naturally, and do you no harm whatever, but a world of good.’

And did Chidley practise what he preached? He refused to wear conventional clothing, instead wearing neck-to-knee swimmers. He stuck to a vegetarian diet. We can only surmise about his sexual activity!

It’s fair to say that the crowds loved him. Chidley with his book were featured in the moving picture ‘William’s Weekly’ alongside other Sydney attractions. A clothing manufacturer started marketing the ‘Chidley Flannel Shirt’.

However, the authorities didn’t want to encourage him. During 1912 and 1913 he was arrested repeatedly, for many crimes. The most interesting charge was for sending a prohibited publication through the post. This charge raised very interesting questions. Chidley was unaware that his book was on this list (not surprising – the list was never made public). He maintained that the book wasn’t obscene – it was scientific work – and he attempted unsuccessfully to take his appeal to the High Court. In the meantime, the court questioned his sanity, and he was sent to the Kenmore insane asylum in 1916.

Supporters got him out after only a few months, essentially by promising to take very good care of him. But sadly, the end was near for Chidley. He attempted suicide shortly after, and was placed back in an asylum, where he died after a couple of months at the tragically early age of 56.

Not quite the 130 years that he had promised followers of his vegetarian/clothingless/sexless ideal.

Posted in 1910s, copyight collection, New South Wales, nutrition | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Flighty Amy Johnson and her stodgy lunch

Who, flying into Canberra in 1930 for lunch, was so important that the sheep were specially cleared from the Duntroon aerodrome field?

The wonderful Amy Johnson, that’s who!


Studio shot of Any Johnson, taken by Melbourne photographer Dorothy Izard in June 1930 and copyrighted by her boss Ruth Hollick, just a few days after Amy had lunch in Canberra NAA: A1861, 6086

In 1930, Amy Johnson captured the hearts and imagination of Australians when she became the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia. She didn’t quite succeed in breaking the record Bert Hinkler had set two years before of 15.5 days. However, flying a tiny Gypsy Moth because that’s all she could afford, 26 year old Amy set an enormously respectable time of 19.5 days, landing in Darwin on 24 May 1930. For this, she won a prize of 10,000 pounds that had been offered by English paper The Daily Mail for the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia (it’s probably fair to guess that they thought their money was safe when they offered the prize).

Amy’s feat was an immediate cause for celebration all around the nation. Some Australians tried their luck at using this mood to make money. William Robert Gray and Mary Bruce (both, coincidentally, from South Australia) decided to write poems – Gray’s poem was a particularly epic effort, entitled ‘Amy Johnson (Lady Amy of Boadicea)’, while Bruce went for a clever little acrostic poem. Composer and song writer Billy Maloney wrote and copyrighted ‘Take your hats off to Amy Johnson: that wonderful flying girl’.

Other Australians just wanted to meet this dynamic young woman. One such person was Prime Minister James Scullin. How could she tour the country without dropping into the national capital and having an official reception and lunch with him? So although Canberra had not originally been on her schedule, Amy Johnson dropped in for half a day on 14 June 1930.

The organisational effort was considerable. Even with her short stay of only hours, local societies still wanted her to attend special dances in her honour – their suggestions had to be politely rejected. A flying reception committee was sent to meet her – early on it was suggested that all the pilots in the reception planes should be women – but this was scrapped when it proved difficult to find enough female pilots. There certainly weren’t enough pilots in Canberra – the reception committee flew in from Sydney, with the government promising to pay for their fuel. The sheep were cleared from the aerodrome field, and the Opposition asked questions in Parliament about whether the powerline at the end of the runway had been removed.

Amy Johnson had crashed her plane irreparably on her arrival in Brisbane’s Eagle Farm, so she didn’t fly in under her own steam. Undaunted, she still flew in – but as a passenger in someone else’s plane.

So, at the end of all of this fuss and bother of getting to her lunch, what was Amy Johnson fed? Well, here’s the menu:

the front cover of Amy's Luncheon menu

The cover starts off promisingly - looking appropriately official and important

After an official cover, things get a bit disappointing once you open it up:

The special food prepared for Amy Johnson in June 1930

The food on offer seems disappointingly prosaic, especially as this was a lunch to honour such a remarkable woman. It does raise questions for me... Where did the Parliament House kitchen get its whiting from - and how fresh would it have been? Does anyone have any clues about what a diplomat pudding might be? And is that a food stain on the menu?

However, don’t despair -someone also invented an Amy Johnson cake! This one’s not from the National Archives, but it’s worth including anyway.

This is a CWA recipe – from a 1957 South Australian edition. I tried making it last weekend: it’s not every day that you see a cake recipe that combines scone with sponge! (I have now learnt the hard way that you have to be careful mixing and cooking sponge cake – my effort collapsed. But the family still loved it.)

Rub 2ozs butter into 1 large cup S.R flour, sifted with a pinch of salt, mix to firm dough with a little milk. Roll out 1/4″ thick and line a greased cake tin. Spread with raspberry jam and sprinkle with 1/2 cup currents. Then make a sponge mixture: beat 2 eggs and 3/4 cup of sugar until light and fluffy. Fold in 1 cup sifted S.R flour and finally 2 tablespoons butter melted in 3 tablespoons of milk. Pour on top of pastry. Bake about 40 minutes in moderate oven. When cold, ice with thin lemon icing and sprinkle with coconut.

But did Amy Johnson enjoy her stodgy lunch in Canberra? Hard to say. She did send a note thanking the Prime Minister for the occasion, noting that it was a pity the weather was so ordinary. June in Canberra can be a bit awful. But it certainly showed that as well as being a very adventurous and capable pilot, she was a polite young lady!

Posted in 1930, ACT, copyight collection, menu, National Archives, recipe | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

What’s cooking, Uncle Sam?

Would it be scones made by the Queen?

A bit of news from the US National Archives – in June they’ll be launching an exhibition about food from their records, an exhibition that ‘explores the nation’s, love affair with, fear of, and obsession with food’.

Called ‘What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?‘ one of the many documents and photos they’ll have on display is a letter from Queen Elizabeth to President Dwight Eisenhower. Apparently he was so impressed with her scones at a barbeque at Balmoral Castle in 1959, he asked her for the recipe!

The Queen can make a mean scone

The Queen in the 1950s - proving she is more than a mere monarch - she can make a mean scone! NAA: A2756, RVK129

The Queen’s Drop Scones

4 teacups flour
4 tablespoons caster sugar
2 teacups milk
2 whole eggs
2 teaspoons bi-carbonate soda
3 teaspoons cream of tartar
2 tablespoons melted butter

Beat eggs, sugar and about half the milk together; add flour. Mix well, adding remainder of milk, bi-carbonate and cream of tartar. Fold in butter.

It’s interesting to see that the Queen measures things in teacups. Also that she didn’t bother President Eisenhower with details like cooking times and temperatures! That’s because drop scones (also known as Scotch pancakes) aren’t your traditional scone – they’re more like a thick pancake. They need to be fried.

I wonder if these scones will feature at the wedding later this week?

Posted in 1950s, recipe | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Enjoy your Easter

I don’t know about you, but for me Easter is all about food. Chocolate eggs and hot cross buns – what a great combination!

Baker brings out hot cross buns

An unnamed baker brings out an enormous tray of hot cross buns. This is how Easter looked in 1966! NAA: A1200, L54660

The search for the perfect hot cross bun is always rewarding. This year I tried mocha hot cross buns for the first time – yum. The chocolate used for Easter eggs is usually pretty poor quality, but be honest – does it really matter?

handcrafting chocolate Easter eggs

You can just feel the loving care and attention that these Sydney women are lavishing on making their chocolate eggs in 1966. I bet the eggs I bought this year weren't made like this! NAA: A1200, L56221

Looking through the files in the National Archives, it becomes apparent that the government has had very little to do with what is, of course, a religious festival. However, one thing seems constant – road safety campaigns.

This file from 1960 gives a really good insight into how a national Easter road safety campaign was run. For instance, it was important that the message had a strong religious theme – something that would be unlikely to happen today. But I think my favourite ad is this one:

She was to be an Easter bride - road safety message

She was to be an Easter bride. Things have just gone truly pear-shaped for this young couple.

So take this message to heart! Enjoy your friends, family and food, and above all, stay safe on the roads this Easter.

Posted in 1960s | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The ‘professional child impersonator’ and her Oslo lunch

In my last post about the school’s milk program, I received a comment that the milk given out to Australian school children every day would have complemented their Oslo lunches. My immediate response was, ‘what the hell is an Oslo lunch?’ After a little bit of searching in the National Archives, I found this poem, which gave me some clues…

The Oslo Lunch

Joey was a boy so slight,
That he was a perfect fright:
Then his Mother had a hunch,
She gave him the Olso lunch

One red apple every day,
To strengthen Joey for his play…
One good ounce of ‘Kraft’ cheese spread,
On some buttered wholemeal bread

1/2 a pint of milk, quite pure,
Joey’s normal then, for sure;
He’s a strong and healthy boy,
So he is his parent’s joy.

It turns out that the Oslo lunch was a mid-twentieth century phenomenon – designed by Norwegian Professor Schiotz in the 1930s, trialled in London 1938 and slightly later in Melbourne in 1941. Nutrition conscious housewives, constrained by rationing, were encouraged to give their families an Oslo lunch – in other words, a cheese and salad wholemeal sandwich, accompanied by fruit and a drink of milk. It’s fair to say that cheese manufacturer Kraft saw the Olso Lunch as a rather wonderful marketing opportunity.

Family eating sandwiches for lunch

The Black family eat a healthy lunch of sandwiches in their flat in 1962. The family had recently immigrated from England, and this photo was one of many thousands taken by the government to lure yet more immigrants to Australia. NAA: A12111, 1/1962/22/2

Such a solid and sensible lunch seems an unlikely source of inspiration for a series of poems. However, Brisbane housewife and  ‘Professional Child Impersonator’ Dulce Letitia Burns felt otherwise. In 1945 she submitted a series of children’s poems (suitable for an illustrated booklet) for copyright. The poem above is hers. Another sample of her work:

Mummy, Daddy, Sister Sue and me

My Mummy has the Oslo lunch…
She has it every day,
For then my Mummy knows for sure,
That fat she will not stay.

And Daddy always likes it too,
It fills him full of vim…
He knows the good from Oslo lunch
Isn’t just a whim.

And sister Sue enjoys it too
It makes her bright and gay
For when the Oslo lunch she has
Fit she’ll always stay.

And I just look for it each day
And run in quickly from my play
For when I hear the luncheon bell
I know the meal is swell

And she finishes the poem off in capital letters, ‘KEEP YOUNG AND HEALTH… TRY THE OSLO LUNCH’

Dulce’s submission is confusing. Is it really a booklet of children’s poems as she claims in the accompanying form? As a mother, I can’t really envisage reading my kids poems about Oslo Lunches. I think further hints can be found in the text next to poems.

Under one poem titled ‘Brother Bob’ she has typed ‘I have always eaten ‘Kraft’ Cheese, when previously on the market. My Mother and husband… would not allow anything else in the house… that’s a fact’.

This is not a booklet of poems – this is a pitch she’s written to Kraft for a series of radio advertisements. On another page she says ‘I could put this poem to music, should you wish, but the child’s speaking voice I use is rather funny. I could also come down to sing in my natural voice… I can sing Shirley Temple songs, a bit like her (when she was little).’

My guess is that she’s written this pitch for Kraft as an idea for advertising on radio, and at the same time applied for copyright on her work, so that Kraft couldn’t steal her creative ideas.

She submitted a few things for copyright over the years – mostly songs, Her most creative year was towards the end of the war in 1944, when she submitted the following songs: ‘Hail to America’, ‘Tribute (to the American dead)’, ‘Eleanor (America’s First Lady)’, ‘Our Gracious Queen’, ‘In the Hush of the Evening’, ‘The Street of Forgotten Men’, ‘Marching Feet’ and finally, ‘The Women of Britain’.

Her obvious bias toward America is interesting – given that she lived in Brisbane during WWII. She can’t have had any lingering ill feelings from the 1942 Battle of Brisbane. It would be interesting to know where, and to whom, these songs were ever sung. She does mention in her Olso Lunch copyright application that she worked in war effort entertaining.

So I’ll finish with another of Dulce’s efforts:

Little Mary from next door

Little Mary from next door
She looks so very, very poor
If she had the Olso lunch…
She’d look better, that I’m sure.

Posted in 1940s, copyight collection, National Archives, nutrition, Queensland | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Making school children drink milk

My Mum hates milk. She can’t stand the stuff.

The smell of milk is enough to start her retching. She won’t use it in anything, and only buys milk for guests to use. This makes milk in her house all the more dangerous, as the small unused portions of milk lurking in her fridge go off. Why does she hate milk? Well, she blames the government scheme that provided milk to all Australian school children.

My Mum grew up in Sydney, and to be fair, her memories of school milk sound pretty awful. Every morning about 9am, a small bottle of milk – 1/3 pint, to be precise – would be delivered for each child. The milk would sit there (in the sun) until morning recess, when each child would get their very own (now warm and possibly slightly off) bottle of milk.

This milk delivery happened nationally from 1950 through to 1973 in most creches and primary schools. Given this length of time, and number of school children involved, I don’t imagine that my mother is alone in her milk phobia.

What's wrong with this image? Three school children show all signs of enjoying their milk.

What's wrong with this picture? Three school children show all signs of enjoying their milk in the playground of St John's Park Primary School, near Liverpool, NSW. From left: Vilia Runia (11) Karl Forthuber (12) and Maureen Bradbury. July 1957. NAA 12111, 1/1957/31/13

So why was all of this fresh milk being delivered? It was largely a public health scheme – aimed at improving the nutrition of Australian children. Similar schemes were being run in Britain and New Zealand – there was a great deal of concern in these post-war years that young children weren’t receiving a balanced diet. In 1944, an Australia-wide nutritional survey had found that most Australian households were consuming significantly less than the recommended daily intake of calcium. Some Australian States had been running their own free milk schemes independently – but in February 1950 the Commonwealth Government decided to centralise the scheme so that (in theory) no child under the age of 13 would miss out.

It also helped, of course, that several Australian states had milk surpluses – the milk purchased by the Commonwealth Government for school children would be a very welcome source of income.

If you flick through to the 134th page of this file, you can read Earle Page’s speech introducing the original bill. It gives a snapshot of the medical surveys and recommendations that led to the free milk scheme.

Picture of school children drinking milk

This picture taken in 1965 is more accurate. You sense that these Canberra children are drinking their milk from a sense of duty rather than pleasure. NAA: 1200, L52518

Fast forward twenty years to 1970, and the scheme was still running – nearly an entire generation had been given milk that they would not have received at home. My mother’s experience tends to indicate that the children themselves were less than grateful for this.

The Federal Cabinet reviewed the program in 1970, and their decision to continue with the free milk scheme can be found here. More interesting notes on the submission can be found here, where you can see queries about whether milk’s medical benefits had been proven, and whether giving children warmed milk that they hated was a good thing.

The Cabinet found that costs had risen substantially – providing the milk had cost $72,000 in 1951, whereas it had grown in cost to just over $10,000,000 in 1969.

(Please note that I’m using dollars because the report did – I have no idea how they compensated for the switch to decimal in 1966!)

In 1969 the scheme used 12.4 million gallons of milk, which was then about 3.4% of liquid milk sales. To stop the scheme at this stage would have been a blow for the milk industry – and therefore was a major consideration in the recommendation to continue the scheme until 1980.

1980? But it didn’t go that far… I started school in 1974, and I never received free milk!

1974 was in fact the year that the scheme changed considerably. By then it was projected that the scheme would cost $12 million and the decision was made to supply fewer schools in order to reduce the costs to $5 million. Preference was given to children with disadvantaged backgrounds.

So I never had free milk at school – which may explain why I rather like the stuff.

Posted in 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, nutrition | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Promoting the wonders of soybeans

Who was Dr Paul M Koonin?

Do a Google search on him and you’ll find him quoted extensively on alternative medicine websites.You can find examples here, here and here.

But information is scarce about the man, who in 1941, thought that soybeans deserved an entire book to promote their virtues. Despite being quoted as some sort of authority on many current websites, none bother to provide an explanation of who he was. He hasn’t merited a page on Wikipedia, or an entry on the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

The National Archives holds six of his books in its copyright collection – but in addition to these it also has a few extra files that shed some light on the life of the man who called himself Dr PM Koonin.


Soybeans the wonder food, a book written by Dr Paul Koonin

Who was Dr Paul M Koonin, the man who wrote an entire book in 1941 to promote the virtues of soybeans?

His story is complicated, and I’ve been pulling together all sorts of information together from his Naturalisation file, his Intelligence file and by searching online newspapers at the National Library.

It seems that he was born Poltio Michel Koonin (or Bakunin) near Minsk around 1884. He first arrived in Australia around 1907, a couple of years after Red Sunday in St Petersburg, and after a particularly nasty era of anti-Jewish pogroms in Russia and surrounding countries. There seems little doubt that these events are the reason he left Minsk and started a life of travel.

I’ve read so many words to describe him – it’s very difficult to get a feel for the man. He claimed, at various times in his career, to be a photographer, the Secretary of the Unemployed, a dentist, a world traveler, a Russian agent, a naturopath, an osteopath, a dietician, and a psychologist – not to mention the ‘Late Director of Medical Research at the University of Kharkov’.

All of these claims are in sharp contrast to the words used to describe him by the authorities in Australia, the UK and South Africa. Police and intelligence reports used words such as ‘adventurer’, ‘imposter’, ‘undesirable’, ‘a man of very sharp practice’ and ‘bogus medical practitioner’. He was deported from South Africa to Australia in 1933 after he not only contravened their medical laws, but was suspected of being a ‘Bolshevik emissary’. Australian authorities allowed him into the country reluctantly, especially as they had been receiving reports from the UK about his behaviour whilst running a dental practice in London and later Colombo. But as they had granted him Naturalisation in 1910, they had no choice but to take him.

It wasn’t just countries that didn’t want him. In 1934, after he attempted to persuade the Communist Party of Australia that he was a Soviet emissary, they published the following notice in their paper ‘The Workers Voice’:

‘The Communist Party wishes to inform all workers that it repudiates all connection or association with a person who, under the name of Dr Paul M Koonin, has been giving lectures introducing himself as a member of the Russian Living Church of Christ.
It is stated that he has given out that he has the endorsement of the CP of A. This is not the case.’

Over the years the descriptions of his qualifications get more and more inflated. In Australia in 1909 he claims a Bachelor of Arts from the Hebrew University in Minsk, and in 1911 adds a Fellow of the Zoological Society. Whilst living in the UK he was said to hold  ‘certain American diplomas for dentistry’, but once he arrived in Australia he claimed a Doctorate of Dental Science from the University of Kharkov.

It’s an appropriately colourful background for a man who, once he finally settled in Sydney, dedicated his life to promoting what were, in the late 1930s and 1940s, very alternative approaches to health management. Another of his books, that ran to two editions, was Health Cocktails: How to make them (according to the new science of vegetable juice therapy).

cover of the Health Cocktails booklet

In 1939 Paul M Koonin published 'Health Cocktails'

So who was Paul M Koonin? I’m not sure yet…  I have a lot more research to do, and more stories to digest. I need to think about the time he had 3000 false teeth stolen from his suitcase while traveling to Colombo – or when he tried to meet Victorian Premier Bent as ‘Secretary to the Unemployed’, but was refused admission because he was a Russian and a Socialist. On what medical grounds was he refused when he tried to join the British Forces in 1914? What was so suspicious about his friendship with Russian circus owner Mr Isako in Ceylon? And how many times did he marry, attempt to marry, and even try to import women to marry?

I assure you – I’m not making any of this up.

His story is fascinating – not the least because his words have become immortal on the internet without people actually knowing who or what he was.

Posted in 1900s, 1910s, 1930s, 1940s, copyight collection, New South Wales, nutrition, Victoria | Tagged , , | 1 Comment