Posts tagged #Australia

Tea Chronicles Pt.6 - Billy Tea

Mt. French, Frog Buttress, climbers' camp - 1973

Mt. French, Frog Buttress, climbers' camp - 1973

Billy tea is a legendary Australian outback brew favored by bushmen. Ted Cais who contributed some of his vintage bushwalking and climbing photography has also been kind enough to pen some of his early memories of billy tea.

The “Smoke-O” was a staple of outback life around Kajabbi station where I spent my childhood years and never was a finer tea prepared than on an open bush fire.

First, you converted a used jam tin into a billy by threading fencing-wire through holes punched near the top for a handle. The water had to be from a local creek or billabong already steeped in subtle flavours from extracts of plants and wildlife.

Gum trees were plentiful and provided excellent firewood that would be roaring in no time at all. The blackened billy was suspended in the flames without a lid so the water would absorb sparks and ashes whilst coming to a roiling boil. Green eucalyptus leaves were essential on the fire for smoke and distilled oils to imparted a heady signature smoky flavor and complexity.

Brands like “Billy Tea” or “Ty.Phoo Tea” were common in the era and came in coarse leaf form to be measured by eye in a cupped hand and added the instant the boiling water was removed from the fire. Then the billy would be given a few raps with a stick to disperse the leaves and allowed to stew for five minutes or so to achieve a bitter potency saturated with tannins.

The final touch was to swing the billy around your head so centrifugal force would settle the leaves, after which the tea could be decanted into a chipped enamel pannikin. Some might add sugar or even a touch of sweetened condensed milk but the tea was best straight and scalding.

The bushmen would squat around the fire sipping this divine tea while rolling a smoke in Zig-Zag (or Tally-Ho) papers from ready-rubbed flake tobacco with their free hand. A glowing coal from the fire provided the best light so as not to spoil the cigarette with sulphur fumes from a match.

The only tea to compete in aroma is Lapsang Souchong but its flavour is always lacking compared to the classic bush cuppa described above.
— Ted Cais

A huge thanks, as ever, to Ted. You can see all of his photography here.

Posted on May 6, 2012 and filed under Tea.

Scattering Sir Hubert Wilkins’ ashes

Photo by Commander James F. Calvert from National Geographic

Photo by Commander James F. Calvert from National Geographic

On March 17th 1959, the USS Skate reached the North Pole. The American submarine broke through the pack ice into the arctic dusk. A storm was blowing as 2 dozen men gathered, by torchlight, and scattered the mortal remains of the legendary Australian explorer Sir George Hubert Wilkins. Commander James F. Calvert read the traditional Episcal for a burial at sea as a rifle squad fired three volleys and raised the Australian flag.

I first heard of this story many years ago when I read "Icemen", a history of arctic and antarctic exploration. The vivid imagery that this story conjured stuck firmly in my head and in the July 1959 issue of National Geographic Magazine, I found the photograph I'd been searching for since reading about this great Australian.

Wilkins, although little heard of compared to his contemporaries, was one of the most successful explorers to ever live. He saw more virgin land than anyone else in history; he was a polar explorer, ornithologist, pilot, soldier, geographer and photographer. A pioneer of aviation he was the first to pass over the North Pole in an aeroplane and to fly a plane the Antarctic. He was also the first to envision and to undertake a submarine journey under the Arctic ice.

Although he never completed his submarine journey to the floating pole, more than 20 years on Wilkins' widow passed on a copper urn to the crew of the USS Skate who would take the journey he envisioned and scatter his remains at the North Pole.

1970s Paddy Pallin Catalogue

An awesome 1970s catalogue from the Australian, bushwalking pioneer Paddy Pallin. Pallin was unhappy with the limited, heavy outdoor gear available and  began designing and making his own hiking equipment. Such was the demand that Pallin opened a retail store in the early 1930's on George Street, Sydney. There are still Paddy Pallin stores across Australia, producing and selling original gear.

Scans courtesy of Tas-Man at

Posted on October 21, 2011 and filed under Books.