All over the world, nations have a connection that bonds all of it’s occupants. No matter what nationality, age or status, an entire population can connect through a shared memory. A memory triggered by a simple question. Where were you when the Twin Towers were hit. What were you doing when JFK died. How did you hear of Princess Diana’s death? What events unfolded for you as Man walked on the Moon for the first time. What were your feelings when the Berlin Wall came down?
In Australia we too have one common question that instantly connects all of us. It draws us in, we bond, we have a half hour conversation with a complete stranger on where we were, what we were doing, who was there, what colour it was, ice cream or sponge, why it was chosen…
The question? Which cakes did you have from the Australian Woman’s Weekly Birthday Cake Cook Book? What cakes did your children have? What cakes did you make for your children?
Introduced in 1980, this magazine of 104 birthday cakes has become an icon of our nation. For those who grew up from the 1980s onwards we have all had a cake from this institution. Every parent spent a birthday eve mixing up the right food colouring for the right shade of purple for The Good Witch Cake or counting out the correct amount of musk life savers for the Number Seven, or attempting the complicated cutting and building of the Tip Truck cake. And every year dreading that your child may ask for the Popcorn Duck.
Every child remembers the lead up to their birthday, lying on the kitchen floor pawing through the Book of Cake Miracles. Magic on every single page of such extraordinary feats. What should I choose? My favourite animal the elephant? What about the Maypole? I wonder if Mum would make me the Mary Jane? Oh but I do love the Rocking Horse. The excitement, the build up. This one book gave children the anticipation of joyfulness and wonder and celebration. Feelings that we have all become connected by. And isn’t wonder and joy beautiful values for us all to share?
The beauty of this connection that we all have is that it is not the cake that we most remember. Just by referencing a particular cake we are instantly thrown into nostalgia. Back to a single moment when we were cherished and loved. Memories of a party, how old we were were, who our friends were, what was most important to us at that time. It instantly throws us back into that age, what we were watching, who we were playing with, what we wore, what sports team we followed. A memory of a cake takes us right back to a simpler time where life WAS simple. Life was wonderous and joyful and fun.
My first birthday? Bunny cake. My 6th birthday? Candy Castle cake. 7th birthday? Minnie Mouse. 10th birthday? Beautiful Butterfly. Each birthday cake represents a different town. Different friends. Different houses. Different climates. Just by the mention of Minnie Mouse, my nostalgia takes straight to a two story brown bricked home in the suburbs of Brisbane. It was the summer of 1987, my best friend Nikki lived across the road and we constantly swapped houses. I had a brand new dress to wear to my birthday party, a dress embroidered by my Mum with rainbows and clouds and a sun. I was allowed to wear make up for the first time and I applied it proudly from my costume make up kit. My class mates from Mitchelton Primary were my guests. I don’t remember many of them anymore but I remember Daniel. Daniel gave me a swan jewellery case.
Mum served jelly set in oranges and fairy bread and lollies. And of course, my Minnie Mouse birthday cake. Made from the AWWCBC book. 7 candles, 7 wishes.
I remember how happy I was. How connected I felt to a community, to new friends, to no longer being the new girl at school.
If I were to post on Facebook, right now, ‘Who had the Minnie Mouse Cake’, not only would everybody know what I was referring to but it would invite a deluge of responses of grown up children reminiscing about their day that included a Minnie Mouse Cake. Or of a parent, now a grand parent, explaining in such detail how they tried to recreate the cake and the pressure of staying up until 2am to get it right, of people who said they always wanted the Minnie Mouse cake but had the dressing table, the clock, the humpty dumpty instead.
It is an amazing event, this shared experience of a Country sharing this one book. Sharing our birthdays.
The reason I talk about this iconic shared birthday experience with you all today is for a very exciting experiment and fundraising effort. On the 7th May, a local Canberra support group will be attempting to recreate every single cake from the original 1980 Cake Book and have them all in one room. It is amazing to believe that this will be the first time that this has ever been attempted.
Can you simply imagine the energy in the room on the 7th May? An entire room of people feeling such a strong connection of nostalgia and joy and wonder? I believe that it is going to be one amazing experience and I can’t wait to feel that vibration of shared experiences.
I am very proud to say that I will be one of the cake makers. I will be making the Beautiful Butterfly cake. The same cake I had for my 10th birthday. It will also be the day after my daughter’s second birthday so the event of 104 cakes will be her 2nd birthday party. It will be a truly memorable occasion.
The local support group who have been the drivers for this event are a group very close to my heart. They are PANDSI and they a non-government organisation that relies purely on donations and grants to support and raise awareness for Post Natal Depression & Anxiety. I suffered PND after my second daughter was born and without this organisation I would have struggled a great deal more than I did. My family survived because of the great work PANDSI do. I am very proud to now support this much needed organisation within the Canberra community. Every single cake will be available for auction to raise money for PANDSI. There will also be raffles for additional prizes and Oh Mabel are proud to be a supporter and provide an amazing prize to be won.
Today, I hope I have conjured up some magic for you. Provided a sense of nostalgia and wonder and joy. All thanks to one book. A book about cakes. A book of cakes that draws together an entire country, that can put a smile on an entire country. I think it is something very special.
If you are in Canberra on 7th May I would love to see you! I'll be there with my Beautiful Butterfly. Hoping it looks like a Butterfly... Wish me luck!