First industry steps for those who feed us
The formation of the Master Caterers Association (MCA) is connected to two major shifts in Australian social life at the turn of twentieth century Australia. The first is a boom in public venues for the consumption of food – restaurants, refreshment rooms, cafes and oyster saloons – in Melbourne and Sydney between 1890 and 1910. The second is the emergence of organised national industrial relations. The minutes from the first two years of the Master Caterers Association reveal how the owners of those businesses who feed us had to grapple with setting up an employer body to represent this newly emerging industry and the issues to be addressed for participation in the newly established industrial relations system.
Formed in 1911 in response to a draft industrial agreement that was developed without consultation, the MCA amalgamated two smaller employer bodies representing pastry cooks and caterers, with a formal brief to include owners of restaurants, eating houses, tea and refreshment rooms as well fish and oyster saloons. The minutes book contains ninety-four pages recorded at meetings of the MCA Executive Committee, annual general meetings and meetings of the Second and Third sections of the MCA. Produced using a typewriter and copied with the recently introduced mimeograph, the minutes are then glued into this book of record. Several sets of minutes have handwritten additions and amendments and two sets of minutes include hand writing placed directly into the minutes books.
Key items for discussion include the setting of standard prices for common meal offerings; lobbying campaigns calling for the regulation of boarding houses and opposing the offering of counter meals in hotels and school lunches in State Schools; MCA representation on Wage Boards; monitoring legal cases involving members which might have implications for the broader industry, particularly around wages and employment conditions; growing membership and representation; and, developing services and benefits for the membership, for example, like establishing an employment bureau.
The strategies to achieve its political and industrial aims are also evident in the minutes. The MCA adopts strategies such as direct political representation to key politicians, involvement with and representation at industrial tribunals, direct lobbying of members and non-members and the development of partnerships and relationships with other employer bodies and the local temperance movement around particular campaigns.
The minutes books are part of a broader archive donated by the Restaurant and Catering Association to the University of Melbourne Archives. The overall archive covers the period 1911 to 1992 and reflects the various transformations the food industry has gone though in the 106 years since its formation and the issues it has addressed when working to feed Australians.
Ross Karavis is in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies. He is undertaking a doctoral project entitled ‘Bon goût in the Antipodes: The impact of the globalisation of French taste on Australian culinary culture 1850 -1914’, and explores the ways in which Australian culinary culture was shaped by the globalisation of French gastronomic taste between1850 – 1914 and how this impacted on the production and consumption of food in Australia.
Hempstead, Colin, and William Worthington, eds., Encyclopedia of 20th-Century Technology (New York : Routledge, 2005) Proquest Ebray
Markey, Ray. A Century of the Labour Movement in Australia. Illawarra Unity – Journal of the Illawarra branch of the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History, 4 (1), 2004, 42 – 63
“Master Caterers Association,” Argus, October 6, 1911, 8
Master Caterers Association. Minutes Book 1912 – 1913. Box. 1, Archive no.1/2. Restaurant and Catering Association of Victoria. University of Melbourne Archive.
Shaw, Jeff. Reflections on Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration in Australia: [Edited version of a paper presented to the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History (Illawarra Branch), Wollongong, 28 August 2004.] [online]. Hummer, The, Vol. 4, No. 3, Summer 2004-2005: 25-29.
Symons, Michael. One Continuous Picnic: A gastronomic history of Australia 2nd. ed. (Carlton, Melbourne University Press, 2007)
 Michael Symons, One Continuous Picnic: A gastronomic history of Australia 2nd. ed. (Carlton, Melbourne University Press, 2007), 127 – 128.
 Ray Markey. “A Century of the Labour Movement in Australia”. Illawarra Unity – Journal of the Illawarra branch of the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History, 4 (1), 2004, 42 – 58
 “Master Caterers Association,” Argus, October 6, 1911, 8
 Colin Hempstead, William Worthington, eds., Encyclopedia of 20th-Century Technology (New York : Routledge, 2005), pg 585