Boil the Billy Mate!

Tea is not only for dainty ladies in Edwardian houses to enjoy an afternoon respite with their contemporaries over tea and cake. There are more rural, masculine traditions associated with Tea.

Boiling the ‘Billy’ for a campsite brew of tea is as Australian as the cork hat to keep the flies away. Legends and yarns abound from the days of drovers stockmen, and shearers boiling the Billy that was a ubiquitous aspect of life on the land long before we all were more civilised and had power on in the shearing sheds, towns and homesteads.

Mid the wattle and the gum trees and dear old stringybark/ We unpack the different hampers, each as happy as a lark/ And spread out the good provisions, then away we go to see If the dear old Billy’s boiling, for it’s time we made the tea/ Now billy tea is certainly a delicious kind of treat And the boys will tell you plainly that……it really can’t be beat.

1911, May Coats from Upper Sturt writes in The Register

Billy tea is made the way they like it in the bush and is one of those secrets that are never shared completely. So, have a go next time you are camping out and try this quintessential Australian method for a cup of tea served in a metal enameled mug of course.

Billy tea requires a good fire, a large Billy can, water, Aussie tea, milk, sugar, a forked long stick and a couple of gum leaves.

Arrange some coals from the fire so the Billy can will sit on them, to boil the water. Once boiled add 2-3 handfuls of Aussie tea leaves, and take off the coals with the forked stick over the handle. Add a couple of gumleaves.

Now for the tricky bit, grasp the handle with your hat or a cloth and swing it quickly in full circle motion over your head round and round widely from knee to shoulder. The reason being is to sink the tea leaves to the bottom of the Billy so you can pour the tea without filling the cup with tea leaves. Best had with damper made in the coals.

The shearer’s these days are more inclined to like a proper teapot in the comfort of the shearing shed. I’m told they like a spot of Lady Grey tea as well. How things have changed?

Content Di Baker 2020 Images Unsplash