Anzac Biscuits


An iconic Kiwi biscuit.   So much so, that a couple of weeks ago when I was working with German high school students recently arrived in New Zealand, I decided to bake for them.   It never occurred to me to consider the significance of these oat-filled delights.   I thought I should do something hospitable and generous to ease their adjustment from their homeland to here.   What better than to introduce them to one of our favourite biscuits.   The day before we’d stopped at a dairy in Mt Victoria to eat ice-cream in a cone.  It was when I turned to the whiteboard and wrote Anzac Biscuits on the board and began to explain their origins; that it dawned on me.   Thankfully, these were young, jet-lagged students, not specifically riveted by my now halting description of the origins of a biscuit.    They preferred the eating of them to the discussion of them, but delightfully, as I mumbled my way out of this cul-de-sac of my own making – I heard this – ‘War, what war – who won?’   It reminded me how old I really am.

My granddaughter started school this week and I’ve decided to do baking each week for her school lunch.   Last week I made a ginger loaf for her and this afternoon, I’ve been making… yes you guessed right… my version of the Anzac biscuit which means using whole rolled oats making a slightly chunkier biscuit.    No-one mentions how tricky Anzac biscuits are to make – they sound so simple – but if you get the butter and golden syrup measurements slightly wrong, you can end up with biscuits than run too thin and burn.    I like my new version (and so does my family), which is less crisp and thin, but still delicious.

All this has reminded me of an essay I wrote back in 2004 which was short-listed for the Takahe Cultural Studies Essay competition.   I found it sitting on my C-drive while I was looking through old journals and sub-folders….  I thought it was time to post it on my blog.   A little trip down memory lane, looking at New Zealand – the way we were.    It’s called ‘Marching into the Future’ and was written the year before my novel on book clubs and marching was published.   I must have already been leaning towards this theme.

Marching into the future

On the front cover of the Weekly News dated March 17, 1965, selling for one shilling, is the picture of a very blonde young woman (think straw) wearing a particularly vibrant shade of pink lipstick to frame perfect white teeth and a small gold filling.   On her head is a bright red busbie (think raspberry toppa) attached by a silver chain, which frames her face and sits under her chin.   She is saluting the reader.  She is wearing white gloves and we can see a glimpse of her uniform, white with red braiding (to match her busbie) and epaulets with red tassels.

The girl on the front cover is the leader of the Canadian Guards (back then, one of New Zealand’s top marching teams.).   Inside the magazine, is an article entitled “What Makes The Girls March”?  And the response in the magazine to this question, is evidently given by the “smartest and prettiest in the marching game” – the girl on the front cover.  It tells us she is “blonde, blue-eyed and ‘in marching’ since she was 13”.    But before we get on our high horses about political incorrectness, further on in the article we learn that this pretty blonde also holds down a management role at a radio factory.

We also learn that not only is she the leader of the top marching team, she is also the instructor.

Marching was a very popular sport in the sixties.   It was a time when families packed hampers and went to watch rugby shield matches and marching competitions (on different days of course, but still with almost equal enthusiasm).   When a brass band bought out the best in us.   When being a Drum Major was considered an honour and not an oddity.   It was before the influence of the Internet and the biggest threat to our national identity (losing our butter subsidy) had yet to happen.

On the back cover of the same Weekly News, Farmers advertise their “Wonda-Warm” brand new mulit-check blankets selling for seven pound, seven shillings for a single and ten pound nine and sixpence for a double.  Tartan was big back then and on offer ws the Onehunga “Matua” and you could choose a Royal Stewart, a Robertson, or a Gordon.

There was a choice of twelve Vauxhall models (including the Velox, the Victor and the Viva).  Lloyd Triestino offered trips to Europe on the Marconi sailing in August, or the Galileo in September and you could choose between First and Tourist Class.  In the same magazine there was a picture of “Two members of the Maori race who were honoured at the recent investiture at Government House”.   Imagine saying that today!   And back then, being skinny was a sin especially if you were a man.   The “Hello Skinny!” ad used to run regularly showing a weak-chested boy on the beach being hailed by a buxom woman accompanied by an Arnold Swarzenegger look-alike.  And if you were a real man, you needed a Lichfield shirt that could stand the close up test. While “the men of tomorrow need WEET-BIX today!”

The inside back cover of the Weekly News sports a full-colour roast chicken and stuffed bell peppers along with yes, you’d forgotten all about them, stuffed eggs with pink shrimps on top.   The advertisement is entitled “When the boss comes to dinner” – and it gives hints for a successful dinner party – such as polishing and drying the cutlery, where to put the bread plate and not to forget removing the salt and pepper before serving dessert.   You must of course put out cigarettes if you know your guests are smokers (evidently this is a nice way of saying “You may smoke” without actually saying it!).   And then, a specifically helpful little hint at the end, which explains that you should “Remember to serve all hot dishes on very hot plates and all chilled dishes on cold plates”.

And in case you’d forgotten (because now you carry a Macpac), Duffel Bags were only twenty-two and sixpence (plus postage) from Wisemans.    It was a time when plane’s sang… well not exactly, but an advertisement for NAC says that the “Viscounts sing along at 300 m.p.h. plus!”    And there is a two-page article devoted to the hovercraft trials in Malaysia with military observers from the Commonwealth, United States and Thailand.   And in brief, on page 19, reportedly on March the 11th, “The Prime Minister, Mr Holyoake, pledges that New Zealand will continue to support Malaysia against any Power that seeks to destroy it.”

Queen Street, Auckland, touted as the “Golden Mile” is photographed in all it’s Friday night glory – car headlights, pedestrians, neon signs, and it looks more alive back then, than it probably does now on a Friday night.   Friday night was a cultural phenomenon back then.   The whole family went to town to shop, eat and attend the theatre or cinema.  Boy racers co-existed with the rest of the Friday nighters, part of the overall sport, instead of the only sport.

And technology had given us the Hermes portable typewriter from Beechey & Underwood.   About the same size and probably a little heavier, than the latest laptops, but without memory and propelled by manual dexterity rather than computer chip.  But, you could for forty-five pound and eight shillings, buy a four-track tape recorder with microphone and spare spools.  Or, for the truly technically minded, there was the build your own tape-recordergram with 13-valve stereo, all-wave radiogram chassis as well as the four-track tape recorder.

The television correspondent for the Weekly News tells us about a play written by Bruce Mason “before television came to New Zealand” and already well known to stage audiences, which will screen on television.  The correspondent goes on to say that, whether the audiences will appreciate the locally produced material,  “Will depend on the sophistication viewers have achieved and their ability to take the sweet with the sour when looking at ourselves”.  The correspondent seems to be implying that theatregoers are a more sophisticated lot than the general television viewer – perhaps?

Under a section called “Newsletters” there are brief news reports from London, Singapore, and from Sydney.   It is reported that the Anzac March should be abandoned because it has become “something of a burlesque and “degenerated into a beer and poker-machine bonanza.”  Well, I don’t know about our friends across the ditch, but it seems that here in New Zealand in the 21st century, instead of a declining interest in Anzac Day, we now have a resurgence of interest.

As it happens, marching is also having resurgence – but not in it’s original form.   Marching as a team sport for youth, is in decline, but the girls from the sixties (probably now in their sixties) have begun Leisure Marching.   Women of all ages (from 45 to 85) are joining marching teams, and wearing uniforms (some of them glamorous track suits rather than short pleated skirts and leg tan), but march they do.     This is a new Kiwi sport and surely as quirky and unique as the sport of marching was back in the sixties.   Boys are still urged to eat WEET-BIX and today even top sportsmen can be seduced into appearing in television advertisements to praise the humble Kiwi breakfast.

And, when it comes to weekly news, the new Sunday magazine supplement to the Sunday Star Times proves that blonde blue-eyed girls still rate tops for front covers.  Only this time, it is Barbie on the front cover (August 28th, 2004) with the headline “Nobody’s Perfect” and an article inside about striving for the impossible.  A nice idea… an article to assuage us… but cynical me thinks we might still be using blondes to sell magazines.  And who better than Barbie?   She’s found inside on page 18, sitting in her yellow toy kitchen in a pink robe with mauve fluffy slippers and a glass of red.  Blonde hair tousled and although it is stretching a point (and yes, I’d take away the wine glass), it does remind me of the 10.30 news on ONE… well I know, but almost.

But hey, we’ve come a long way.   There’s a full-page advertisement by New Zealand Post for Father’s Day, using sex (a bare chested man) to sell postage.   Every-body’s (pardon the pun) Dad… with naked chest and perfect torso, biceps rippling (ooh those veins) and his belt, just unbuckled a little on his nicely wrinkled blue jeans.   There’s even a small asterisk to alert us to the important fact that “Actual Father may vary” – meaning, that not all Dad’s cut quite such a dash.   When did New Zealand Post move on from native birds?

Fashion in 2004 it seems, is about fifties femme and girls are not featured marching, but instead fronting rock bands and excelling on the world stage in golf.  And forget your Hermes portable, the best thing that Suzanne Hall of the Living Nature brand products, has bought lately, is an ipod.  Yes, we have our ipods, but we’re also obsessed with how to properly apply blusher – almost two pages on this particular art and the pitfalls of not applying it properly.

We’re no longer prompted to leave cigarettes and ashtrays out for our dinner guests but we still care about table manners (see Sunday Star Times Magazine 26 September 2004 p.50).  Here we are told to sit up straight, fold our napkins neatly and if we’re going to pass the salt and pepper (assuming this is not dessert!) we should “place it on the table next to the other person rather than putting it in their hand”.  An exciting new talent named Miria George is featured in full colour on page 13 and we no longer feel the need to patronise and point out that she is from the “Maori race”.   And forget little pink shrimps on stuffed eggs, we’ve got prawns on pasta (p.43).

So, it might be said that we’ve travelled far from the days when Vauxhalls were the car of choice and marching made the front cover of a weekly magazine.  Instead of twelve types of Vauxhalls, we’ve got six types of milk and when it comes to travel, it seems promoting local destinations (the Maniototo and Wellington!) is now de rigour.   It makes you nostalgic really, for the days when computers filled a room (or two), when tamarillos were tree tomatoes, kiwi fruit were Chinese gooseberries and your mother made Maori kisses.