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Australian take on a British product

Vegemite was invented in Melbourne in 1922 when Australian food manufacturer Fred Walker asked chemist CP Callister to create a product similar to British Marmite.

Made from brewer's yeast, Vegemite was initially slow to catch on, but sales improved in 1930 when Walker secured the Australian rights to Kraft's processed cheese and co-marketed it with Vegemite.

Cracker biscuits spread with Vegemite. One cracker has a toothpick with the Australian flag on it.
Vegemite on crackers, complete with the Australian flag. Photo: Janine Kelly

During the Second World War, Vegemite captured the Australian market. Marmite was unobtainable and the Australian Army supplied Vegemite to its troops.

In the 1950s and 60s, despite acquisition by the American company Kraft, Vegemite became a distinctively 'Australian' food, featuring in songs, and on souvenirs and other popular culture ephemera. Vegemite returned to Australian ownership in 2017 when purchased by dairy company Bega.

As overseas travel increased, Vegemite was carried around the world by Australians as a way to reaffirm their connection to home.

Poster featuring an illustration of a jar of Vegemite with the word 'Multicultural Australia' on the label. Above and below the image are the words: MULTICULTURALISM. OUR NATION WAS BUILT ON IT...SPREAD IT AROUND! - click to view larger image
‘Multiculturalism, spread it around’ poster. Department of Immigration and Citizenship collection, National Museum of Australia

Nostalgic links

In the 1950s, Vegemite spoke of Australian vitality and innocence. Today it provides a connection back to seemingly simpler times and is symbolic of the reverence for the ordinary in Australian culture.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd tapped into this when he declared in the 2007 election campaign that he was a 'toast and Vegemite sort of guy'.

Vegemite's links to nostalgia are evident in contemporary advertising campaigns, which often hark back to the original 'happy little Vegemites' ad of the 1950s.

Spreading a multicultural message

Vegemite was once used to sell the idea of multiculturalism. A poster featuring the traditional Vegemite jar with the word 'multicultural' replacing 'Vegemite' and with the slogan 'spread it around' was designed to promote the idea of multiculturalism as characteristically Australian and something to be encouraged.

Introduced as a series of national policies in 1973, multiculturalism has been both championed and criticised by politicians and members of the public throughout its history.

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