On one is quite sure, but the name Rosella, as in the tomato sauce, may not have derived its name from the brilliantly coloured Australian parrot (Platycercus eximius) but instead from the condiment maker’s daughters, Rose and Ella. But alas, the truth of that now swirls in the red dust Willy-Willies of the outback and may be just as lost.
Rosella tomato sauce is no longer. The company has gone into receivership and the final chapter is most likely being writing about 118 years of service providing a flavour so essential to pure, Aussie tucker. How ordinary would a piping hot Sargent’s or Big Ben pie be without a manly squirt of Rosella injected beneath the pastry? How un-Australian will become the quintessential sausage, and hamburgers served up in untold millions straight from the Aussie barbecue minus that acquired tradition? This demise of Rosella is culinary heresy—that’s what it is. Damn it man, what’s next?
No more will impressionable young Aussie lads sit at the family table mesmerised by that trademark parrot emblazoned on the label and dream of outback adventure. Didgeridoos and apparitions of Aborigines pouring Rosella sauce on a roasting roo. And, if the kitchen was very quiet and you listened carefully that Eastern Rosella could be heard squawking, beckoning the young to pioneering experience.
Rosella’s tomato soup in cans, a nutritious meal always found in the backpacks of boy scouts and campers will no longer become home to shrill cicadas or treasured rocks, and no more will Rosella’s tomato chutney elevate that pedestrian, cold, lamb sandwich to epicurean excellence. What concoction now to nape a sausage roll redolent of sage? Vale Rosella!
Rosella tomato sauce was never a condiment to be dolloped on the plate with unmeasured abandon or casual indifference. Ask any true-blue Aussie that did the rite-of-passage walkabout thing through foreign lands. They will relate tales of packages from Mum addressed, “poste restante” C/- Beaune France. The rush to the nearest bistro to unwrap a box of shattered glass and red goo. But among the soggy mush the bird looked bright and proud. A curious mixture was Vegemite and tomato sauce, once the shards of glass had been sifted.
Rosella sauce had great value to Aussie ex-patriots, as did Fosters and Vegemite—it could be traded like currency. Homesick countrymen, and girls, oh yes, depressed from lack of sunshine and the tedium of whining Pommies would travel miles on the promise of a Fosters and Rosella on, well on everything. They’ll tell you that a bottle of Rosella tomato sauce would provide solace to homesick travellers—but in fact it did the reverse. Early memories of a smear of the red stuff on a hotdog served at the Royal Easter Show only deepened the depression. And with that image of the parrot came the imaginary smell of eucalyptus gums and raucous cries from the flock, winging overhead. That’s when you took paper and pen and solemnly wrote that bi-annual letter to mother. “Dear Mum, can you send more Rosella and Vegemite, the last lot arrived smashed. I am well. Your son Freddy.” There, depression cured with the licking of the stamp and posted in three weeks.
Rosella tomato sauce was an absolute necessity to the equilibrium of the imperturbable, Aussie lifestyle and no kitchen was fully equipped without it and a “church key”, the bottle opener. Like a Corporal on sentry duty stood the Rosella, secreted in the nether reaches of dim pantries throughout our nation becoming an icon rivalling only the Southern Cross, never to be compared or substituted by American ketchup.
Rosella survived two World Wars, the Great Depression, the Korean War and all other Australian involved conflicts to date, but it could not combat the peacetime forces of Coles and Woolworths and so lays among the battlefield of commercial ruin in mortal strife, its life being absorbed in hungry sands of corporate greed.
Coles and Woolworths control 80 per cent of Australia’s food retailing and that constitutes a monopoly in anyone’s terms. “Let market forces dictate commercial viability” is the polly-mantra—an idiotic chant oblivious to market reality. In an equitable commercial climate, Rosella, and many similar entities could survive the monopoly squeeze by seeking other markets and avoid the inevitable bankruptcy forced by the monopoly demand to supply below manufacturing cost. Enter the removal of consumer choice with the introduction of “homebrand” foreign made crap.
With a mere 20 per cent of market share remaining outside the monopoly, Rosella was in the trap with nowhere to go. The market percentage held among independent grocers is insufficient to sustain companies like Rosella who will let go more than 100 workers before Christmas. Our governments have done us wrong—very wrong. Woolworths and Coles have not only 80% of our food basket but their tentacles foray into fuel, liquor, pharmaceuticals, hardware, poker machines and too many to list here.
Woolworths pubs and gambling assets have 11,700 machines in operation across Australia amounting to more than six of the largest casinos in Las Vegas combined.
Wayne Swan, the world’s best treasurer, tells us how well we are doing. That there is a 48% per jump in small businesses going bankrupt and small business start-ups falling by 95% this year makes a damned fibber of Swan. But, we all knew that anyway, didn’t we?
Thought for the week: The only difference between try and triumph is a little umph.