MAY 1901 SAW MULTIPLE REASONS FOR EATING, DRINKING AND BEING MERRY with the opening of the first Commonwealth Parliament and the associated Royal visitors. The Royal Historical Society of Victoria has four menus from this event in its ephemera collection. They are different but likely from the same designer and printer given the basic similarities. The menu cover for the ‘At home’ features the waratah, kangaroos, an emu and a colonial coat of arms with ship, wheat sheaf, sheep and gold rush references.
Like the first menu cover, this takes up the theme of Australian flora and adds in fauna. There is a distinctly more Victorian feel to the decorative elements of lyrebird, wattle. The coat of arms appears to be a reference to Britain only.
With the emphasis here on the royal rather than the first parliament, the design makes little reference to Australian or Victorian images.
The celebratory meals drew on local vineyards while still providing imported champagne and whiskies. The menu description of food followed the tradition of the time using French rather than English. The caterer for all events was H. Skinner.
RHSV member Michael Magnusson advises:
H. Skinner was Henry Skinner, based at the Golden Gate Hotel, South Melbourne. As a caterer, he was noted for big civic events as well race meetings. Skinner won the tender for the Parliament opening (10s. 6d. per head) but demand exceeded supply along with other problems that caused many complaints about the catering during the occasion. Skinner still made a packet from it and continued in the business until a few years before his death in 1912, when he moved to enter local politics.
Save the best to last, this cover is populated with an emu, wattle, ferns and kangaroos. Presumably aconversazione was a fashionable event in this era. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary website:
Writer Horace Walpole is credited with the first English use of conversazione in a 1739 letter in which he writes, “After the play we were introduced to the assembly, which they call the conversazione.” As this Italian borrowing was used through the years, it gained nuances of meaning. In Italy, it generally referred to a gathering for conversation, but in England it began to be used more for a private meeting. By the 19th century, conversazione also referred to assemblies and soirees of people connected with the arts or sciences. The word has two plural forms in English: conversaziones and conversazioni.
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