DID you know that there was a time when all of the Chinese restaurants across the country, including the ones on the Southern Highlands, were linked by a tunnel system in a dastardly plot by the Red Army to take over Australia?
No I didn’t know that either.
BACK in the day when this nation had a White Australia policy and paranoia about Reds-under-the-bed was rampant, there were some amazing urban myths and fear mongering rumours rumbling around our country towns, particularly among the far right lunatic fringe who believed we were about to be over-run by hoards of Chinese invaders from the north.
BUT not long after, when Menzies and Holt dismantled the White Australia policy, we were seeing Chinese restaurants pop up like mushrooms all across Australia. There was already Chinese tucker in Dixon Street, but now fried rice was even appearing in conservative country towns like Mittagong, Bowral and even Coonabarabran.
ONE conspiracy theorist, who must have fallen off the disorient express, firmly believed that all of these restaurants were linked by tunnels leading to Dixon Street. He reckoned the Chinese government was stealthily bringing people into Sydney by submarine at night, secretly taking them to Dixon Street then distributing these illegal immigrants along the tunnel network across the country so they would be ready to attack when they got the signal from Peking.
HEARING that story again recently took me back to the early 1970s when a few of us local lads started going to the new Chinese restaurant in Mittagong for a feed. A bunch of us has spent some time travelling in Malaysia so became quite expert at eating with chopsticks and bowls - something of a novelty in Mittagong forty odd years ago. This was at a time when Aussies ate meat and five vegetables for dinner, so the notion of sitting down to braised beef with black bean sauce was adventurous stuff.
KEEN to hone our chopstick skills in another town, we were delighted to find a Chinese restaurant on a visit to Coonabarabran. To our disappointment the table was set with knives, forks and tomato sauce.
Since we thought we were now experts on Chinese cuisine after our few weeks in Malaysia, we naturally asked for chopsticks and soy sauce with the meal. This caused quite a ripple of interest in the country restaurant. Eventually we saw an oriental face peering at us through the square of glass in the kitchen door and about 15 minutes later a mixed set of chopsticks and a well-used bottle of soy sauce appeared on our table.
The meal came next and the food was superb, so we asked the waitress to thank the cook for us. She did just that and the same oriental face we saw at the kitchen peep hole came out to greet us.
“G’day fellahs,” said the chirpy Chinese cook in the most Aussie accent you could ever imagine. “No bastard out here ever asks for chopsticks and soy sauce so I had to run up the road and borrow some from Mum.”
Apparently he was about third or fourth generation Australian having been a descendant of some Chinese gold miners who came to make their fortune at Lambing Flat back in the 1850s. Moral of this story - you can’t always judge a book by the cover and be wary of urban myths.
WHICH brings us to Dudley and Grace who went to the Chinese restaurant and did what they always do when they can’t understand the menu - they ordered the chef’s special.
After downing a couple of glasses of wine the meal appeared in a big cast iron pot. Before they could look inside, the lid rose slightly by itself to reveal two beady eyes peering out through the gap. As Dudley took a closer look, the lid slammed shut again. They didn’t know what was going on so had some more wine. Soon after the lid rose ever so slightly and those beady little eyes could be seen looking out of the pot.
“Bloody hell Grace, did you see that?”
“Sure did Dudley. I think we’d better call the waiter.”
Soon the waiter appeared and asked what was wrong. Dudley explained that they had ordered the Chef’s Special and there was something alive in the pot lifting the lid and looking at them.
“Ah so! Twerribly sorry Sir,” said the apologetic Chinaman. “I accithntally brought you the Peek-ing Duck by mythtake.”