The following article appeared in the Winter 1955 edition of The Vegan Society’s magazine, The Vegan (Volume 9, Number 7, pages 2-4).
Written by ALE Clark, it recounts a visit to Australia after a 5 week boat journey.
Eleven years after the formation of The Vegan Society in England, the article tells us there were also a small number of people that identified as vegans in Australia.
Even before 1944, however, when The Vegan Society was formed and the word vegan was introduced, there may have been a few people in Australia opposed to animal use and who ate vegan diets.
There was at least one: Robert Jones, who became the second president of the Australian Vegetarian Society over 60 years before in 1888.
The article provides some insight into what was available in terms of diet in 1955 – when packaged foods didn’t need to supply an ingredient list.
The Vegan Society discussed the use of raw food, and diets based around it from the 1940s – this article gives an example of a ‘high raw’ diet.
Sanitarium, already active then, is also mentioned – they began operation in 1898.
After five weeks of weather varying from snow to temperatures over 90°, the S.S. Strathmore docked at Melbourne late Good Friday evening. The following morning I was called to the telephone (now connected from ship to shore) for our first contact with Australian vegans, Arnold and Freda Robert. Warm greetings of welcome were followed by an invitation to spend the Easter with them.
Promptly at 8 o’clock that evening we were conveyed from the docks in the Robert’s car.
The journey took us through the heart of Melbourne, and various places of interest were pointed out to us until at last we struck open country.
I think it must have been 1 o’clock Sunday morning before we retired—the evening seemed to pass away all too quickly, engaged as we were in lively conversation. We learnt that vegetarians and vegans are few in number in the Commonwealth, but at the same time are consolidated in small vegetarian societies in each state, in addition to an Australian Vegetarian Society with head office at Sydney.
Catering is mainly carried out by the Sanitarium Health Co. (organised by the Seventh Day Adventists). Sad to say, the nut butters and creams so readily available in the U.K. are non-existent here. Peanut butter and Copha—a coconut fat suitable for cooking—are obtainable. There are one or two brands of margarine that might be vegan and I hope to contact the firms for guarantees.
To offset this, fruit is very plentiful and, whilst dear at present with winter prices, is of a wide range and cheaper in the summer. Vegetables are reasonably priced and all the varieties usually grown in England are to be had with a few other Australian vegetables besides, i.e., sweet potatoes, chokoes, apple cucumbers.
Arnold and Freda explained that they buy almond nuts in quantity at an approximate cost of £54 for a year’s supply and, with an electric vitamizer, produce a nut cream. They were, however, envious of the consistency of the English cream. (We had presented them with some cashew nut cream.) Certain nut meats are advertised by the Sanitarium Co. and bear names similar to English counterparts, i.e., Nutolene, Gluten Steaks, etc. It is unfortunate that manufacturers are not required by law to disclose the ingredients of products.
The following day we had the opportunity to see the garden and have a close look at the house. Simplicity, with artistry, have gone to make a home comfortable in a modern style pleasing to the eye. Built in a rectangular fashion and single storied, most rooms have glass windows stretching from just above the floor to near the ceiling and running the whole length of the room. Glass doors on outside walls allow the sunlight to penetrate into the interior from every possible angle. On a moonlight night it is possible to sit in the lounge and survey the countryside, giving the impression that you are actually sitting out in the garden. It is no exaggeration to say that the windows are as large as shop type.
Freda and Arnold are enthusiastic naturalists and the time and trouble they have put into realizing ideals has had its reward in good health and contentment. Anthony, the Robert’s 3-year-old son, is a suntanned sturdy youngster with an intelligence, I should rate, well above average. Raw food, mainly fruit, forms the basis for the Robert diet even to the extent of having very little bread. It goes without saying they are keen food reformists.
Most of the furniture has been specially designed by Mr. S. Krimper, a professor of woodcraft, originally from Austria. Contemporary in style, simplicity here once again shows beauty and craftmanship. The Professor has works of art in the National Galleries of Melbourne and Brisbane. Wood used for the furniture is of the finest Commonwealth hardwoods and has been blended with imported woods to give a combination of shade, colour and graining. All the Krimper works of art, as they might better be described, are original in design, as may be expected. A polished finish has been obtained by continuous rubbing down with very fine sandpaper until an effect much like the gloss of ivory has been produced.
The garden has come similarly under the guidance of another expert, a Miss Edna Walling, who has combined a fruit, vegetable and flower garden to blend suitably into the surrounding landscape. A rather interesting feature is the extensive use of mulch covering the ground around vegetable and flower beds to a depth of 12 inches. Besides acting as humus for the soil, the mulch keeps the weeds down and makes digging and watering practically nil, and gardening a lot easier! Rainwater is collected in a tank and used for drinking and cooking purposes in the house, as the Roberts believe in avoiding the chemicals that are used in the main supply. Orange, lemon and other fruit and almond trees add a finishing touch to the garden.
Later on in the morning we were taken for a drive in the surrounding countryside, known as the Dandenong Ranges. In some ways the rolling downs and woods reminded us of Kentish scenery. Perfect weather prevailed with temperatures between 70° and 80°, making the trip the more enjoyable. The rest of Sunday was spent in discussing a hundred and one subjects ranging from theosophy (Arnold and Freda are members of the Society) to the preparing of compost heaps.
Another drive around the Dandenong hills Monday morning and then, alas, came our time to depart. On the way back to the ship we talked of the possibility of the Roberts removing to Queensland, a little further north than Brisbane (our destination).
Arnold is very keen on the idea of a fruit farm. In next to no time we were thanking our new friends for a lovely week-end and waving farewell from the boat.
And so we sailed on from Melbourne to Sydney, leaving behind “Tranquil Meadows” tucked away in the hills surrounding Melbourne; a haven of peace and contentment, a home of culture and beauty, a spiritual light burning in that vast continent, Australia.
The Roberts, by their example, are showing a new way of life to a meat-loving community, and we can feel happy in the knowledge that the torch is being carried in capable hands.
Best wishes, Arnold, Freda and Tony, and thank you for such a hospitable welcome to Australia!