The backyard barbeque remains the most popular of Australian customs even in winter time. I attended one recently and all I can say is that it was entirely too civilised. Perfectly prepared meat cooked on a state of the art gas BBQ with six burners and rotisserie and served on sturdy dinnerware on an equally sturdy outdoor setting. A gas heater hummed away close-by and it was all very nice but my GOD it was a far cry from the BBQs of my youth. Combining, as it did then, various aspects of fire, animal sacrifice, tree felling, alcohol and the great outdoors, the BBQ was considered first and foremost an informal affair. Despite this, it was still a highly ritualised ceremony which included some or all of the following requirements:
1. The BBQ would be crudely constructed of Besser brick and a big steel hotplate - greased up with oil and rubbed down with salt and newspaper before the obligatory charring would commence – usually by your Dad wearing a rubber apron with boobs holding a tinny.
2. Your boob-wearing drunken father would then assemble a woefully inadequate collection of wet and green sticks which would only catch alight after being liberally doused with lawn-mower fuel and fed endless balls of newspaper or anything else flammable within reach.
3. Invited guests who had been asked to ‘bring a plate’ would invariably bring the same thing so that you ended up with three plates of vinegary bean salad and no coleslaw or potato salad.
4. Those same guests would also park their cars in such a fashion as to cause maximum inconvenience. This would include parking in guests with young children who would have to leave first and then locking the keys in the car; parking across a neighbour’s driveway or on the nature strip on a newly sown lawn. It'd also be customary to park in such a way as to block the access and egress of fire engines.
5. Neighbours would play a great role in enhancing the ambience of the event by firing up the chainsaw or deciding it was the perfect time to dig in that load of chicken manure. Some would even indulge in a spot of nude sunbathing just for the benefit of small children.
6. Blackened sausages and steaks would be served up on flimsy paper plates perched precariously on the laps of the participants so that at some point the family pet would score a greasy free meal. This would in some way make up for the torture that would come as every child under ten would later torment the poor animal with a red-hot stick.
7. At some point an item of guest’s clothing would catch fire if not the backyard. This would add an element of danger and drama and it's well accepted that Australians just don’t feel they’ve put in a full day unless they have had a life-threatening brush with the elements.
8. The BBQ would be officially finished when the boys from the fire brigade arrived. That is if they could actually get onto the property.