Peter Kotz, a fellow social history buff, took the photo below. The rusting, 70 lb golden syrup drum was found on a rough bush track near Alice Springs.

Golden Syrup drum
THE GOOD OIL – GOLDEN SYRUP (Photo by Peter Kotz)

Golden syrup was such an integral part of life in the parched Australian outback. It replaced butter on a damper. Yes, a bit of a fly magnet, but there’s a downside to everything.

Golden syrup on damper.

Of course that fly attraction could be viewed as a positive. In 1924 a station worker from Binnia Downs in Gunnedah wrote to The Australian Worker with a plea; ‘I should be glad if you would let me know how to make ‘flypapers’. The flies are very bad here.‘ The answer he received was; ‘The simplest flypapers are made by spreading golden syrup on paper and sprinkling with black pepper. If these get too dry, sprinkle lightly with a little water.’

What the black pepper was for I have no idea, but it does resemble fly-dirts. Made the little buggars think their mates had been there I guess.

PART OF HOUSE AND HOME

The following is from Broken Hill’s Barrier Miner (17 July 1908)

Each of the boundary riders’ huts perched in some far corner of a huge empty run is a mine of human interest. Some solitary man lives there for months together, without leaving his paddocks. Solid log walls, the fire-place an old ship’s tank, two beds of flat tin, a sack of flour, several bottles of sauce and a tin of ‘cocky’s joy’. Cocky’s joy is golden syrup in 2lb tins, costing 7d – four times as cheap as jam and six times as portable. Every boundary rider’s camp is littered with half-eaten tins of it. They are witty at the expense of it, and yet they cherish it too. Here is the bushman’s description of a climax of misery. ‘When I got back to my camp’, he said. ‘it had been raining. My tent had blown down and my fire was put out. There was a wet kangaroo dog in my blanket…..and my cocky’s joy was full of ants!

As for the nickname ‘cocky’s joy’, this is my favourite explanation, published in The Mail (December 1, 1951)

The small farmer battling for a living was titled ‘cockatoo’, soon shortened to ‘cocky’, because he was ‘just picking up the grains of a livelihood as cockies do maize. This particular word was invented in the 1860s. From it came boss cocky, cocky’s joy (golden syrup or treacle) etc.

Cockatoo foraging

Here is a depression era recipe for Golden Syrup Pudding;

Make a light scone mixture. Place in a piedish and make a cuplike depression. In this pour one cup of golden syrup and one cup of hot water. Bake for half an hour in a hot oven.

Throughout those difficult times, the Carlton football team had a cockatoo as an unofficial mascot. ‘Cocky Marr’ was owned by staunch supporter Mr Bob St. Marr.

Cocky Marr, Carlton's unofficial mascot with its owner Bob Marr.
Bob and his bird.

Every week the bird would stand behind the goalposts, greeting all The Blue’s six pointers with manic wing flapping and squawking. When the team won the premiership in 1938 against Collingwood a Melbourne cartoonist drew Cocky Marr celebrating with syrup;

Better than champagne!

During WWII there were restrictions on tin plate. This led to a ban on the syrup being sold in the various sized tins people were used to; 2lb, 7lb and 56lb. It could only be purchased in bulk (however much that meant) and members of the public had to take along their own containers. A sticky situation indeed.

Rationing was still in place in 1952. At a graziers’ conference in March that year Mr T. J. Wilson, from West Wyalong in the Central West, was observed to be scribbling with pencil and paper instead of paying attention. According to The Land, he produced the following lines of doggeral;

PRAYER FOR SYDNEY

Oh Lord, us Sydney folks implore,

On us your grace deploy.

Give us meat. Oh, give us wheat,

But spare us Cocky’s Joy.

I was brought up in rural Tasmania and we loved our golden syrup. There was always a tin of it in the cupboard. My siblings and I loved to spread it on thickly buttered fresh bread, or Wheatbix.

Our mother used it to make ANZAC biscuits and steamed pudding sauces, but above all for golden syrup dumplings (again, made from scone dough). They were cooked on the stove top in a large saucepan. We lived on a dairy farm, so they were served with lots of fresh cream. Is there a more simple, but comforting winter pudding? I don’t think so!

Golden syrup dumplings.

UPDATE – after I published this piece someone mentioned the delight of Puftaloons, shallow fried and served with golden syrup. There’s only one thing wrong with the picture I found of them. The syrup is in a damn plastic bottle!

Puftaloons with golden syrup
Photo by Malt Collective.
4 Comments
  1. Just loved this..

  2. I grew up with Golden Syrup in Canada. We used it on pancakes. I believe it is still sold in grocery stores though I have cut out much sugar from my diet so never buy it. But it was much better in my estimation than maple syrup. My mother always had a can in the cupboard.

    • Pauline

      I was fascinated by the idea of maple syrup when I was a child, Dine. Did you make toffee with it?

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