Italian pasta and tomatoes

A complete history of Italian food in Australia

There’s no doubt about it – Australians love a good Italian feed.

Pizza, risotto, ravioli, chicken parmigiana, tiramisu – the options are endless when it comes to Italian cuisine, and we welcome it with open arms. Even the pickiest of eaters can’t turn down a big bowl of spaghetti bolognese!

Before Italian food, Australian’s thought of food as fuel. We stuck to the Anglo-Celtic Australian meat and three veg and guzzled dinner down with a gallon of tea. Since Italian cuisine was introduced in Australia, we now have a deep appreciation of foods from all over the world and understand the connection between fresh ingredients and a happy, healthy lifestyle.

But how did we end up with such an abundance of wonderful, delicious Italian food? In this blog, we explore the rich history of Italian culture and cuisine in Australia, from the 1700s to now. Read on!

The First Fleet & the Gold Rush

Italian people have been living (and cooking) in Australia for hundreds of years. Italian immigration to Australia started with the discovery of the country in 1770. There were two men of Italian descent on board Captain Cook’s ship, the Endeavour – James Matra and Antonio Ponto.

There was also an Italian convict who was sent out with the First Fleet named Giuseppe Tuzo.

However, Italian communities didn’t form until the Victorian and West Australian gold rushes in the 1850s. With them, Italian people brought garlic, olive oil, mozzarella, ricotta, parmesan, coffee and wine, among other things.

It is today hard to believe that garlic was once an unknown and highly suspicious food,” Dr Laura Baldassar, author of Italian Australians: Trailblazers for Multiculturalism, said.

“That olive oil was only available from chemists in small glass bottles for medicinal purposes, bread was prized for its ability to be cut in thin square slices, that cheese came in silver paper and melted into slippery blobs when cooked, that pasta was not a familiar dish, that wine was considered a foreign beverage for foreigners and that tea was a far more popular drink than coffee.”

Post-war life & urban crops

Following World War I, Australia’s economic condition was better than Italy’s, so lots of people migrated to Australia from Southern Italy.

Italy’s farmers (“contadini”) recreated their traditional self-sufficient lifestyles in Australia and set up backyard farms to grow their own fruits, vegetables and spices, growing thriving crops even in urban settings like Sydney and Melbourne. 

The Italian communities grew apricots, figs, tomatoes, beans, fennel, capsicum, grapes, olives, apples, pears and more, plus cure their own meats like ham and salami. 

Thanks to their close connection to the land and a deep understanding of the soil, the Italian people were able to introduce vegetables that were unknown in Australia beforehand like eggplant, fennel, garlic and zucchini.  

Even now, you can walk through suburban areas of Sydney and Melbourne and find flourishing crops in Italian homes!

Italian restaurants

One of the first Italian restaurants in Australia was Beppi’s – a traditional Italian restaurant which opened in June 1956 and is still open today. 

Beppi’s founder, Beppi Polese, used to forage for mussels in Sydney Harbour when most Australian’s thought mussels were just for bait, but Beppi introduced mussels as a legitimate seafood, changing how we think about seafood in Australia.

Beppi’s introduced Italian cuisine to Sydney. Now, there are Italian restaurants, cafes, stores and delis all over the city, including right here at Dee Why RSL Club. Our Aqua celebrates the heart of Italian culture and serves espressos, cakes, and traditional pasta dinners in a modern and relaxed setting.

Drop in for a traditional Italian feed at Aqua inside Dee Why RSL Club – we have all the delicious pizza and pasta you could ever want!

Italian food has transformed the way we experience food here in Australia 

When the First Fleet arrived in Australia, the British brought over food and spices from home – flour, sugar, salt, tea, beef, and chicken. We thought of food as fuel and we weren’t too adventurous. Luckily, the influence of Italian culture has transformed the way we experience and enjoy food here in Australia!

Nowadays, we love experimenting with food and exploring new flavours from all over the world. Italian recipes and spices created a brand new appreciation of food – can you imagine a world without garlic bread, pizza, and pasta? 


Stomach rumbling? Celebrate Italian food in Australia at Aqua inside Dee Why RSL Club. Grab a slice today! 

Image: Unsplash