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Will spectators excitedly chant Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! at the Rugby World Cup matches in Australia this month, just as they did at our 2000 Olympics? Australian descendants of the 19th century Cornish miners who used to chant Oggie, Oggie, Oggie! hope they will.

The Cornish Association of New South Wales estimates that  two per cent (more than 100,000 people) in this State have Cornish ancestry. Its members, who include sixth-generation Australians, hold an annual Cornish Day and a biennial Cornish Heritage Weekend.

Whenever a stirring chorus of Aussie Aussie Aussie! echoed around the world on TV and radio from the Olympic Games three years ago, those shouting it unknowingly boosted the worldwide popularity of that ubiquitous but peculiar British dish, the Cornish Pasty.

Long ago, Cornish miners shouted Oggie Oggie, Tiddy Oggie in unison at crib (meal) time, before eating their traditional pasties, also known as oggies (or tiddy oggies). And that's where the famous Olympic chant was born.

Australian sailors stationed in Cornwall, England's south-west county, in World War II are thought to have imported the cry when they returned home. Since then, the chant, with Aussie replacing Oggie, has flourished, until these days it rings out at football matches and other sporting events in all parts of Australia.

"An oggie is a Cornish pasty," John and Anna Coles wrote in Cornwall's Kernow Sound magazine. "The word has come into increasing use as a slang word for a pasty, and people often talk of having an oggie for lunch, or granny making the world's best oggies...

"The pasty is a kind of pastry turnover casing, containing meat and vegetables, sometimes with the 'first course' of meat and veg. at one end, and 'second course' of apple at the other. The pastry had to be indestructible, because this pasty had to travel down the tin and copper mines, to be eaten by the miner as his 'croust' at 'crib' time.

"Now, the cry by one person of 'Oggie, Oggie, Oggie!' will be taken up by thousands of voices replying 'Oi, Oi, Oi' and it has become the battle cry of the Cornish."

In case you've forgotten the words of the Aussie chant (and once heard, that's unlikely), it goes:

Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!
Oi! Oi! Oi!
Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!
Oi! Oi! Oi!

Oggies have a long history. Nobody knows exactly when pasties (pronounced PAHsteez) originated, but there's a letter in existence from a baker to Henry VIII's third wife, Jane Seymour (1510-1537) saying "...hope this pasty reaches you in better condition than the last one ..." Cornishman Leonard Ward has found a reference in the diary of William Carnsew of St Kew who wrote on November 15 , 1576 "Myche trobly by ffleeme eatynge an ogye pye."

Cornish pasties originated as portable lunches for tin miners, fishermen and farmers to take to work. Housewives used to make one for each member of the household and mark their initials on one end of the pasty. The miners carried their pasties to work in a tin bucket which they heated by burning a candle underneath it. They threw away the oggies' thick, wide pastry edges after eating the rest of their meal, to avoid being poisoned by tin or copper dust from their fingers.

Sadly, the Cornish mining industry collapsed in the mid 1800s, forcing large numbers of miners, artisans and merchants to seek work abroad. Over a 50-year period, hundreds of thousands of Cornish men, often with their families, set out to make a living overseas. Most of them travelled to mining areas of North America, South Africa and Australia. Smaller numbers went to South America, Mexico, India, Spain - anywhere that required skilled miners.

"This scattering has produced a Cornish diaspora which is unequalled by any county in England," Phil Hosken said in an interesting article, The Overseas Cornish. "In addition to their skills the Cornish established their culture, religion and community life in the nether regions of the world. They taught football and wrestling in Mexico and pasty making 14,000 feet up in the Andes."

Pasties have accompanied Cornish settlers (who were often called Cousin Jack and Cousin Jenny) overseas, and are prepared, eaten and sometimes sold by their descendants in many parts of the world, including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, and many parts of the United States.

In Michigan (U.S.), a major mining area, pasties are more popular than hamburgers. A firm in that State, Mackinaw Pastie and Cookie Co., Mackinaw City, advertises on the Internet:

Pasties...the balanced meal in a crust. Voted Michigan's Best by the readers of the Detroit News in 2002 and 2003!

Made originally as a meal for the miners of Cornwall, England, Pasties date back about 800 years. Wives would bake meat and vegetables in a crust and wrap it in many layers of linens or newspapers for their husband's lunch. It provided a warm and filling meal in the cold, damp mines.

Pasties arrived in Michigan over 100 years ago with immigrants who came to work the iron and copper mines in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The Pastie provided a hot and nutritious meal that had good holding capacity and could be eaten anywhere. This full bodied flavor soon became a favorite with locals and visitors alike.

A trip to Northern Michigan is not complete without a pastie. Pasties from our store are acclaimed by people from all over the world as the best they've ever eaten.

Traditionally, pasties are a complete meal, their contents varying slightly in different parts of Cornwall. They are also popular in other parts of England. In Bedfordshire, for instance, they put fruit in one end of the pasties for dessert and call them Bedfordshire Clangers.

Three years ago, a campaign was launched, aiming to ensure that all pasties described as Cornish are actually made in Cornwall. The county produces more than three million pasties a week, for distribution throughout Britain and overseas. As well as being one of Cornwall's most successful food exports, the Cornish pasty is also an essential part of the holiday experience for 3.5 million tourists a year.

Peter Bray, a former Cornishman living in Australia, said "Cornish bakeries sell thousands of pasties to tourists from all parts of the world. There are many varieties, including vegetarian, cheese and onion, leek, fish, and curry - I even saw a chocolate and banana variety in a shop window in Truro!"

Peter and his wife used to live in the Camborne/Redruth area, which was the tin mining centre. "We and all our Cornish friends still make traditional Cornish pasties regularly," he said. "They are very popular with our Australian and English friends and taste nothing like the pasties that can be purchased in our pie shops here. We still eat them on their own - no additions of gravy or vegetables.

"The traditional way of eating the pasty is in the hand, which was convenient for the tin miner working in waist-deep water, the only light being from the candle fixed to his tin hat."

In Moonta, South Australia, a town with many Cornish miners' descendants, residents and the then Premier, Don Dunstan, held the first Kemewek Lowender, or Cornish Festival, in 1971. They sold so many Cornish pasties that they ran out of flour (they swept the floor of the mill to find more) and filling stations ran out of fuel. A Kemewek Lowender is now an annual event in the three neighbouring towns of Kadina, Wallaroo and Moonta.

FOOTNOTE. Not everyone appreciates oggies. Chris Johns was astonished to be asked by an English coach steward to refrain from eating his pasty during a London-bound journey five years ago. Chris, then 40, who worked as a chef in Buckinghamshire, was enjoying the pasty his mother had made him for the journey. "I couldn't believe it when the steward said the smell gets into the air conditioning and was making the other passengers feel ill," said Chris.



Copyright 2003

Eric Shackle

Story first posted November 2003

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