"In the beginning"


The views expressed in this blog are not necessarily the views of the blog management, (on the other hand, they are not necessarily not the views of the blog management).

No effort has been made to stay within the bounds of the truth in this blog as it has always been the view of the management that the truth should never be allowed to stand in the way of a good story.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Billy tea and Damper

I have been prompted by a reader, Linda May, to write a bit about an Australian stalwart "Billy Tea" this traditional brew became popular when our country was younger and more people lived in the "bush".
When campfire cooking was the norm rather than the exception and when 'swaggies waltzed matilda' along the backroads in search of work or at least a meal from the 'squatters' along the way.
Billy tea is always best if accompanied by a fresh 'damper' so here is the drum on how to do it.

Billy tea

Making Billy Tea is one of those legendary pastimes where every bushy has his own method and style and fiercely disputes the quality of any tea made by any other bushy

What you need

  • Tea, (Australian grown of course)
  • Sugar as needed
  • Milk as needed
  • Water
  • “Billy Can”, make your own or buy one, (A homemade billy is just a suitable sized tin can with a piece of fencing wire threaded on as a handle).
  • Forked stick
  • The requisite number of tin panikins (mugs) = 1 each person.

What you do

  • Wait for some coals of the fire - ie when the wood has burnt down a bit.
  • Put the Billy on.
  • When boiling, throw in a single fistful of tea for each person and then throw one in for the pot.
  • Leave on heat for another minute then pull away from coals using the forked stick on the handle to lift.
  • Add 2 or 3 fresh gum leaves.
  • Wrap the hot handle of the billy with a hanky (handkerchief) and swing it vertically around your head 3 times to settle the tea leaves to the bottom.
  • However if you just let it sit for a minute or two and then pour carefully you still get a good cuppa.
  • Or you can really spoil the effect by useing a tea strainer to remove the tea leaves and then serve the way you like it black or with milk and/or sugar.
  • Nothing like a good tin mug of billy tea to start the day, and served with some damper - mmmm yum!


In colonial Australia, stockmen developed the technique of making damper out of necessity. Often away from home for weeks, with just a camp fire to cook on and only sacks of flour as provisions, a basic staple bread evolved. It was originally made with flour and water and a good pinch of salt, kneaded, shaped into a round, and baked in the ashes of the campfire or open fireplace. It was eaten with pieces of fried dried meat, sometimes spread with golden syrup, but always with billy tea or maybe a swig of rum.

The traditional recipe has been modified by some who now use self raising flour and milk as well as fancy bits like sesame seeds and herbs, but old habits die hard so I prefer the original, however I do prefer to use a cast iron "camp oven" to cook it in, saves having to brush of the coals and ash from the fire.

A camp oven (usually made of cast iron) sits in the glowing
coals of your campfire it also has some hot coals on its
concave lid to distribute the heat evenly.
Here we have a damper in one camp oven and roast lamb
and vegetables in the other

I hope you enjoyed your look into the past, I'm not really the one who should write about "Billy Tea"
as I don't drink tea at all, but I do love Damper and campfire cooking.

We have had a saying here in Australia that goes; "Only in America" as most of the really strange
stories seemed to originate there, here is one that proves the exception to the rule.
I'm telling you this story in case anyone thinks I have lost my sense of humour.

Situation: Derek Guille broadcast this story on his afternoon program on
ABC radio. (Australian Broadcasting Commission)

The Story:
In March, 1999, a man living in Kandos (near Mudgee in NSW) received a bill for his as yet unused gas line stating that he owed $0.00. He ignored it and threw it away.

In April he received another bill and threw that one away too. The following month the gas company sent him a very nasty note stating they were going to cancel his gas line if he didn't send them $0.00 by return mail.

He called them, talked to them, and they said it was a computer error and they would take care of it.

The following month he decided that it was about time that he tried out the troublesome gas line figuring that if there was usage on the account it would put an end to this ridiculous predicament.
However, when he went to use the gas, it had been cut off.

He called the gas company who apologised for the computer error once again and said that they would take care of it. The next day he got a bill for $0.00 stating that payment was now overdue.

Assuming that having spoken to them the previous day the latest bill was yet another mistake, so he ignored it, trusting that the company would be as good as their word and sort the problem out.

The next month he got a bill for $0.00. This bill also stated that he had 10 days to pay his account or the company would have to take steps to recover the debt.

Finally, giving in, he thought he would beat the company at their own game and mailed them a cheque for $0.00.

The computer duly processed his account and returned a statement to the effect that he now owed the gas company nothing at all.

A week later, the manager of the Mudgee branch of the Westpac Banking Corporation called our hapless friend and asked him what he was doing writing cheque for $0.00.
After a lengthy explanation the bank manager replied that the $0.00 cheque had caused their cheque processing software to fail. The bank could therefore not process ANY cheques they had received from ANY of their customers that day because the cheque for $0.00 had caused the computer to crash.

The following month the man received a letter from the gas company claiming that his cheque has bounced and that he now owed them $0.00 and unless he sent a cheque by return mail they would take immediate steps to recover the debt. At this point, the man decided to file a debt harassment claim against the gas company.

It took him nearly 2 hours to convince the clerks at the local courthouse that he was not joking.
They subsequently assisted him in the drafting of statements which were considered substantive evidence of the aggravation and difficulties he had been forced to endure during this debacle.

The matter was heard in the Magistrate's Court in Mudgee and the outcome was this:

The gas company was ordered to:

[1] Immediately rectify their computerised accounts system or show cause, within 10 days, why the matter should not be referred to a higher court for consideration under Company Law.

[2] Pay the bank dishonour fees incurred by the man.

[3] Pay the bank dishonour fees incurred by all the Westpac clients whose cheques had been bounced on the day our friend's had been.

[4] Pay the claimant's court costs; and

[5] Pay the claimant a total of $1500 per month for the 5 month period March to July inclusive as compensation for the aggravation they had caused their client to suffer.

And all this over $0.00.

This story can also be viewed on the ABC website.


Christina said...

campfire cooking - very interesting.

LOL at the gas co. story - sounds like a typical bureaucratic mess!

kenju said...

I assume gum is eucalyptus. Am I right? I'd love tea made that way, as anything on a campfire tastes better!

Hale McKay said...

The Billy tea and damper piece was interesting.

The gas bill story was hilarious!

Great post. Thanks for the laughs, Peter.

linda may said...

Thanks for posting about the billy tea. But I might add it is ready after the tea leaves have sunk to the bottom. I have a brand new camp over, have had for years and itis still sitting in the box in the shed. He he. but one day....
Yes I can fully believe the gas company story. When I was in Wagga at the potter's club, we would often get 2 or 3 bills sent together all dated separately but arriving together, accompanied by a nasty letter demanding payment as payment was now overdue.

Merle said...

Hi Peter ~~ Good Billy tea story. And the joke is really good. I have heard some of it before but not the ending.
I am watching the Grand Final and it is a good game. Take care, Love, Merle.

Puss-in-Boots said...

Love real damper and golden syrup. I'm not really a tea person unless it's Earl Grey or Green Tea.

Oh God, that story about the gas just reinforces the problems I'm having with Centrelink. I'm going to write a post about it...too incredible not to!

Jack K. said...

Great explanation/lesson about billy tea and dampers. I had never heard of them until now.

As for the gas company story, if it weren't possible, it would really be hilarious. I think I saw something like it pass through cyber-space about a year ago. At that time it was here in the US somewhere.

Either way, it leaves one shaking one's head.

Cliff said...

Billy Tea?/ We had Billy Beer one time. It was named after the brother of the worst President to ever darken the doors of the white house.
I'll pass on the bread but I'll bet it all tasted great in the bush.

Walker said...

You got to do what you got to do when you are in the middle of no where and no StarBucks in sight.

It's like when i used my batmonton racket for a strainer for years before i bought one

Jamie Dawn said...

Billy Tea sounds good to me. I am a tea drinker. I love hot tea and iced tea. I like mine sweet.
I drink tea just about every day. I usually use green tea plus a flavored tea such as vanilla/carmel or chai tea. Good stuff!

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