Chiko debate rolls on, again

The most-loved Chiko Roll.
The most-loved Chiko Roll.

FORGET about the global debate over fleeing refugees and the civil war in Syria.

The real political battle waged in Canberra this week was over the regional roots and origins of the iconic Aussie savoury snack, the Chiko Roll.

As refugees fled war-torn Syria, a bitter war of words erupted between Member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters and NSW Riverina Nationals MP Michael McCormack over the Chiko Roll's authenticity.

It’s not the first time warring political factions have pointed an angry finger to make vicious accusations about disputed parentage lines and it’s unlikely to be the last. 

Mr McCormack has objected to an argument between the regional towns of Bendigo and Castlemaine, in Ms Chester’s electorate, where both are claiming to be the snack food's birthplace.

But in escalating the dispute into an Australian civil war, the Nationals MP hit back with a counter-claim that the first Chiko Roll ever sold in Australia was at the Wagga Wagga Agricultural Show in 1951.

That qualifies the famous food product as a “Wagga Wagga icon”, he said.

“The Chiko Roll has a been a Wagga icon for more than 60 years and a special Golden Chiko Roll was presented to the Wagga Wagga City Council in 2001,” he said.

“That proves it is a Wagga Wagga icon. But here we have Bendigo and Castlemaine all of a sudden deciding to have this dispute about which of their communities owns the Chiko Roll.

“Well neither of them do - it’s Wagga Wagga and always has been. But this is what you get when you a Labor federal member and a Labor State government.

“Bendigo has had its gold rush and that’s long gone now but Wagga Wagga still has its Golden Chiko Roll.”

In accusing the ALP of stealing “what is obviously a Wagga Wagga icon”, Mr McCormack said false claims about the Chiko Roll’s origins amounted to identity theft.

“It’s outrageous, it’s preposterous and I won’t put up with it,” he said.

As Canberra moves to introduce new country of origin food labelling laws to try and stop deadly diseases entering Australia on imported frozen berries, Mr McCormack told Fairfax Media a federal Senate inquiry was needed to try and resolve the Chiko Roll dispute.

“I call on the Labor federal member for Bendigo to confess the fact that this is Riverina thing, this is a Wagga Wagga thing and to stop claiming the Chiko Roll is theirs,” he said.

But Ms Chesters bit-back saying the Nationals party’s politicisation of the Chiko Roll was “outrageous and pathetic”. 

She cited information from the back of the Chiko Roll packet to support her claims.

She also accused Mr McCormack of “stacking” the snack food's Wikipedia reference page with false and misleading information, fuelled by the Wagga community.

“The Chiko Roll was born in Bendigo where a local man wanted a snack to eat, with one hand, at the footy,” she said. “A boilermaker named Frank who was born in Castlemaine and was a boilermaker in Bendigo, spent his early years in the Bendigo electorate, my electorate, and developed the Chiko Roll. It’s undisputed that this is a Bendigo icon – it’s one of the first things they teach you at school.

“It’s on the back of the packet so this isn’t an issue of advertising – this is the brand itself claiming to be home in Bendigo.”

In a thinly veiled swipe at Victorian Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party Senator Ricky Muir, Ms Chesters also claimed her electorate was home to the Bushmasters military vehicle - not just the Chiko Roll – while Myer and other iconic brands also originated in Bendigo.

She attacked Mr McCormack’s research on the Chiko Roll’s Wagga heritage as being riddled with soured Wikipedia references.

“We all know the weaknesses of Wikipedia,” she said. 

“A government member should know anyone can make claims, rewrite history and add claims to Wikipedia. Who has been the biggest contributor to this Wikipedia page? It’s the Wagga local council and the local newspaper and the Wagga Wagga Guide so they’ve stacked this.”

However, Ms Chesters yielded some ground to her arch rival, admitting the Wagga Show was rightfully where the first ever Chiko Roll was sold – but stressed the deep fried food fantasy was born, developed and first produced in Bendigo.

Mr McCormack quipped back, saying Bendigo “didn’t know a good thing when they saw it” so the Chiko Roll had to move interstate to NSW, to achieve commercial release.

Ms Chesters said a poll on the issue run by the Bendigo Advertiser showed 76 per cent of respondents agreed Bendigo was the Chiko Roll’s home.  

During the tasteless disagreement, the politicians also clashed over the product’s position in the national food chain, alongside the choice of other consumer icons like the meat pie.

“It is one of those snacks that you have when you don’t like to admit that you’ve had the snack,” Ms Chesters said. “It’s one of those guilty pleasures that you don’t like to admit you’ve had after a night out, like a dim-sim.”

But Mr Cormack said, “I do like to admit that I’ve had the snack - I love Chiko Rolls”. “It’s a very tasty treat and when you’re on the road, it’s an absolute staple diet for busy National party members,” he said.

Ms Chesters said the last Chiko Roll she ate was at the Bendigo Show last year, while Mr McCormack said his was consumed last week, near the Grong Grong pub.

He also claimed the Chiko Roll first arrived in Wagga Wagga when the Country Party’s Hugh Roberton was the member for Riverina, in 1951. 

But Ms Chesters said, “this is classic of the National Party trying to take away the innovation of a boilermaker from Bendigo and steal the heritage of another town”.

Both politicians however said they had a serious message about the Chiko Roll’s role in Australian society.

“It is an Australian icon there is no risk about that and in a good healthy, moderated diet, it’s ok to have a Chiko Roll every now and again,” Mr McCormack said.

Ms Chesters said the debate “reminds us that as Australians we make and produce a lot of products and our regions are vibrant areas and centres of excellence”.