In days gone by, I created an app all about the peculiarities of this city I love so much. Among the tributes to the strange and beloved was a post about that most Australian of foodstuffs – Vegemite.
Australians grow up on the stuff and think nothing of it, but migrants and visitors to our shores have to be taught how to enjoy Vegemite. Many never really manage it.
I used to suspect that Vegemite was concocted in some terrible laboratory accident, but it was in fact invented on purpose.
Marmite is a whole other controversial foodstuff, also dividing folks into the ‘love/hate’ camps. Australia’s much saltier version came about because the exports of Marmite from Britain to Australia were limited as a result of attacks on ships during World War One.
Our nation, swearing never again to be desperate for a yeast-extract spread, turned to Cyril Percy Callister.
Cyril was born in Victoria and schooled in Ballarat. With his Masters of Science from Melbourne University and experience developing explosives for the Brits during The Great War, he invented a process from scratch using spent yeast from the Carlton and United Breweries. I’m not sure where the explosives expertise comes into it, but he scienced like anything and produced the goods!
Vegemite: The Final Product was released in 1923, although it didn’t become popular until the late 1920s.
Cyril also worked on cheese products for his employer, Fred Walker & Co Pty Ltd, which may explain why cheese and Vegemite work so well together – though most Australians prefer it thinly spread on hot, well-buttered toast.
Callister was super-smart and very savvy in the ways of food technology and was all round a pretty decent guy.
Cyril P. Callister passed away of a heart attack in 1949. He is buried in Box Hill Cemetery near the Middleborough Road end, in plot 14 of section 158. Pass by sometime and pay your respects from a grateful nation.
(The jar of Vegemite I left as tribute all those years ago is probably gone now, though.)
And if you’re a non-native and want some tips on how to eat Vegemite like a local, ask away!