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The Food Lovers’ Guide to Australia – Series 5 Episode 3 (2004)

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clip The coming of the light education content clip 1, 2, 3

Original classification rating: G. This clip chosen to be G

Clip description

Each year in the Torres Strait Islands, the Coming of the Light Festival is remembered with religious services and with feasting. And the food for the feasts is always island food from island produce.

Curator’s notes

This clip shows SBS reporter Joanna Savill on Erub Island in the Torres Strait. She appears with Bill, a Torres Strait Islander who is introduced in the voice-over as the chief cook, overseeing and making preparations for a feast to be cooked in a kup murri, or ground oven.

A great deal of detail is given showing the making of the kup murri which extends the familiar cooking show into something more akin to a cultural program. This is the strength of the clip; it’s not just about cooking but also about the cultural practices of Indigenous Australians and our social history.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows Bill, a Torres Strait Islander who is introduced in the voice-over as the chief cook, overseeing and making preparations for a feast to be cooked in a ground oven. Footage of the preparations, including the cutting of a banana tree palm and men dragging a turtle up the beach, is shown. Bill demonstrates to the show’s host, Joanna Savill, how the pork is prepared and then supervises the construction of the ground oven. Finally the food is added, the oven is stacked and the cooking process begins.

Educational value points

  • This clip is from the television series The Food Lovers’ Guide to Australia, notable for its celebration of Australia’s cultural diversity as evidenced by its many cuisines, varied produce and the talents of its chefs. Created in 1996 and, at the time of writing, running to five series, it features domestic and commercial cooking, food producers, farmers and cooks from all over Australia.
  • In the series, the two creators and presenters of The Food Lovers’ Guide to Australia, Maeve O’Meara and Joanna Savill, take on the role of students, aiming to learn from the expertise that people from diverse cultural backgrounds have brought to Australia.
  • The feast being prepared in the clip is part of the Coming of the Light festival, which celebrates the coming of Christianity to the Torres Strait Islands. The success of Christianity in the Islands was due in part to its contribution in ending inter-Island conflict, its compatibility with traditional culture and the allowance that was made for traditional culture to inform and shape the new religion. Torres Strait Islanders are still predominantly Christian and the arrival of the missionaries is celebrated annually through feasting and re-enactment of the event.
  • The Coming of the Light festival is celebrated on 1 July each year to commemorate the arrival of British missionaries on Erub, or Darnley, Island, one of the easternmost islands in the Torres Strait group. On 1 July 1871, Reverend Samuel MacFarlane landed with a group of followers. Dabad, a Warrior Clan elder, welcomed them and became the first Christian convert. Before European contact the traditional religion of Torres Strait Islanders was Zogo, which incorporates cultural heroes, ceremonies and the worship of traditional objects.
  • The traditional life of Torres Strait Islanders, including their modes of food gathering and preparation, provides an interesting contrast to the traditions of mainland Indigenous people, who were predominantly hunter-gatherers. Torres Strait Islanders had a tradition of trading food throughout the Islands and further afield, which they did by travelling in canoes and using highly developed navigation skills. They cultivated gardens and boiled food and their use of the ground oven was probably the result of their continuing contact with Melanesian peoples.
  • The clip shows the construction of a ground oven, a popular Melanesian cooking practice. In the Torres Strait Islands, as well as on Cape York, to which the technology was probably exported, the ovens are called kupmauri or kup-murri. The basic technique involves using a pit lined with grasses or leaves, placing hot rocks under and over the food to generate heat, then damp leaves or grass covered with soil to provide the steam for cooking.
  • The setting for this clip is Erub Island, situated in the eastern Torres Strait. It is the largest volcanic island of the Torres Strait Island group, and has a population of about 375. Erub’s inhabitants have always had contact with other Pacific peoples as far afield as Malaysia and the Philippines. The approximately 100 islands making up the Torres Strait Islands are north-east of Australia and stretch almost as far as Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Although the majority of Torres Strait Islanders now live on mainland Australia, their link to their traditional culture remains strong.

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