IN THE 1950S AT THE SATURDAY-ARVO flicks, kids couldn't wait for the movie's mushy bits. Just as the music swelled and Clark Gable took Ava Gardner in his arms for the climactic embrace, as their eyes closed and their lips locked for the fade-out pash, we'd reach into our packet of Jaffas and roll a handful of the hard lolly balls - rattle, clatter - down the wooden aisle.
Jaffas were delectable, their sweet orange coating dissolving in your mouth to reveal a chocolate centre, but best of all was their unrivalled ability to ruin the most romantic moment of any soppy melodrama.
''Many of our best memories involve lollies,'' says cultural historian and University of Queensland guest lecturer Toni Risson, who completed her PhD in lollies. ''And the good thing is that those that have stood the test of time, Fantales, Cobbers, Freckles, Violet Crumbles, Life Savers and the like, are still creating memories today.''
Lollies are talismen of their era. ''Kids growing up in the Depression without much money went for Rainbow Balls or Aniseed Balls that were cheap, but lasted ages,'' Risson says. ''Baby boomers were the first children to have money, so didn't mind wasting their Jaffas rolling them down the cinema aisle. Those born in the '80s and '90s wanted an extreme sensation, so opted for Moon Rocks and Warheads, which blasted your mouth. Kids today eat disgusting-looking lollies with names like Rip Snorters, Booger Balls and Brain Blasters.''
Surely, then, it's time for the best of our sweets to take their place alongside kookaburras, boomerangs and Bradman in Australian iconography. For a delicious assortment of reasons, lollies have played a role in most of our lives. They've remained one of life's great cheap luxuries, and sucking, chewing or chomping on one can whisk us back to our Jaffa-rolling youth as surely as a Beatles song or the salt smell of the ocean. ''Lollies evoke the freedom and promise of childhood, and make us feel like kids again,'' Risson says.
Lollies that have earned their place in the Australian sweet pantheon ''have a pleasing and distinctive taste and texture'', says Martin Brown, the business executive manager at Nestle, one of whose divisions is Allen's. ''They're novel in character and catchy in name. They're fun to eat and share.''
Ticking these boxes are Minties and Violet Crumble, both now 90 years old, and Jaffas, Fruit Tingles and Marella Jubes, which were introduced in the 1930s. Mint Leaves, Milk Bottles, Choo Choo Bars, Cobbers, Chokito bars, Clinkers, Snakes Alive, Strawberries and Creams, Jelly Beans, Red and Green Frogs, Kool Mints, Rosy Apples, Redskins, Scorched Peanut bars, Killer Pythons, Turkish Delight, Crunchie bars, Cherry Ripe, Cadbury's Milk Chocolate and Darrell Lea liquorice and Rocklea Road are among other perennial favourites.
Risson ascribes many of the classics' popularity to their fun function, as well as taste. ''Musk Sticks could be twisted on your tongue into a sharp point and used to stab your mate. As little girls, we used a saliva-soaked red jelly bean as a lipstick. We carefully tore lolly wrappers to see who ended up with the longest continuous strip. Cobbers were my favourite sweet, only a cent when I was little, and I'd nibble the chocolate off the sides and then suck the hard caramel in the middle very gently so it lasted half an hour.''
Minties wrappers had ''It's moments like these you need Minties'' cartoons to groan at. Fruit Tingles fizzed on your tongue. Fantales offered movie-star biographies on the wrappers (but why was the star always Troy Donahue?). And when trying to charm your new crush, Love Hearts, with their sweet and sexy messages (''Double Your Pleasure … Kiss Me Twice''), were invariably more eloquent than one's own tongue-tied mumblings.
For many, buying lollies was our first purchasing decision. As proverbial kids in candy stores, we had to decide whether it was better value to buy one Kit Kat or five Rainbow Balls, a packet of Chocolate Cigarettes or six Musk Sticks, for our pocket money. ''Buying lollies taught us about value, how to weigh things up and make the right decision,'' Risson says. ''The microcosm of an economy is played out through kids and their lollies.''
Brown adds that corner shops were a ''mind-boggling treasure trove of trays crammed with a vast variety of loose lollies''. ''We'd pile in after school; it was a great test of patience for the shopkeeper because no one is more value-conscious than a seven-year-old with 20¢.''
The unprepossessing Red Frog is even blessed with the power to soothe the savage hearts of Schoolies. Anita Catalano, the Nestle media relations manager, says each year the company donates 10 tonnes, or 1.2 million, of them to Andy Gourley's Red Frog volunteers, who support high-school leavers partying too hard and in danger of harm. ''Red Frogs quieten the revellers. No one knows why. We tried Green Frogs, but red work best,'' he says.
One reason Killer Pythons have endured, Nestle's Brown says, ''is because it's fun to see who can stretch their Python the furthest before the jelly snaps''. ''We followed up the Killer Python with the Killer Tarantula, a multicoloured, multiflavoured spider, and the seriously nasty Sewer Rat with its evil eyes, long sharp teeth and claws, which was advertised as a mutant rodent that had just crawled out of a toxic drain. They were delicious, but the spider wouldn't stretch and the rat was too gross and they were soon deleted.''
Some lollies - White Knights, Toscas (''Where's George? Gone for a Tosca!'') and Polly Waffles, Chocolate Cigarettes and Metro Gum - hung in bravely for decades, only to become victims of changing times and tastes. Citing falling sales and changing consumer demands, the 85-year-old Darrell Lea confectionery company went into voluntary administration last July. Although the business was bought by the Australian Quinn family, who have undertaken to distribute the most popular sweets in supermarkets, newsagents and chemists, lovers of Darrell Lea liquorice, Satin lollies and Rocklea Road fear for their long-term survival.
The 62-year-old Polly Waffle became headline news in 2009 when aggrieved fans protested that it was being discontinued.
''People were upset at the demise of a product that was once a part of their life,'' Catalano says. ''But Polly Waffles, with their wafer tube filled with marshmallow and coated in chocolate, were labour-intensive and expensive to make, and people weren't buying them. If there was genuine demand, we'd consider bringing them back.''
Unlike the much-mourned Polly Waffle, few tears were shed at the extermination of Blow Flies, Witchetty Grubs, Tennis Rackets, Sea Shells, Siamese Cats, Footy Boots, While Aways, Fun Fish, Slate Pencils, Moon Rocks, Metro Gum, Myrtle the Turtle and other sweets that came and went and are now forgotten, more or less.
Some failed because they didn't taste or look good, or their name didn't trip off the tongue (somehow, Lolly Gobble Bliss Bombs are still going). Others were victims of changing times. Even though manufacturers insist sweets do no harm in moderation and some even blare ''99 per cent fat-free'' on their packets, lollies have been expelled from school canteens.
Chocolate Cigarettes, while hardly a health hazard, died a death when people realised lung cancer was no laughing matter.
Some treats have been scuttled by manufacturers' attempts to ''improve'' the sweet. In England, in a bid to combat obesity and make Mars Bars appeal more to women, the size of the bar was surreptitiously reduced. Consumers vented their fury, and the bar reverted to its original size. Jim Sifonios, a quality controller at Allen's Sweets for 35 years, says, ''People get irate if companies alter the recipes; they don't want taste, texture or size to change … We copped it when word got out that we were messing with Minties, but all we were doing was bringing back the original texture by making it chewier while retaining the hardness and the taste. We had to be careful about the way we changed such a well-loved lolly.''
The demise of the once-ubiquitous corner store rang the death knell for many old lolly favourites and cost manufacturers a venue to test new lines. Those dusty, musty mixed businesses or milk bars with their lolly counters crammed with hundreds of different kinds of loose sweets costing 1¢, 2¢, 5¢ or 10¢ have been vanquished by supermarkets with their aisle of $3 and $4 chocolate blocks and pre-packaged family and party confectionery packs on hooks. Some old-time sweets, especially from small, home-grown independent companies, have been squeezed out of existence. Many have closed or been taken over by multinationals. Since the 1980s, Nestle has acquired Sweetacres (Fantales, Minties and Jaffas), Hoadley's (Violet Crumble, Polly Waffle) and Mastercraft (Redskins, Mint Patties) and the still-viable lines are marketed under the Allen's label.
So what sweets will typify this decade? ''Hard to say,'' Brown says. ''To me, none are obvious candidates to have the longevity of Minties or Violet Crumble. What seems clear is that more chocolate is being eaten today, sweets are being consumed in smaller portions, and there's a demand for resealable packaging.''
Origin of the species
In 1912, in Garrettsville, Ohio, Clarence Crane (father of poet Hart Crane, who, ironically, would perish after flinging himself from an ocean liner in 1932) invented a hard peppermint candy shaped like circular life-buoys thrown to rescue the drowning. Crane sold the rights four years later to E.J. Noble, who produced the sweets in a variety of flavours (Stik-O-Pep, Cinn-O-Mon, Vi-O-Let,
Cl-O-Ve) and packaged them in foil rolls to keep them fresh. WWII Servicemen devoured them by the handful because they reminded them of home. Life Savers were first manufactured in Australia in Victoria in 1925 and, today, owned by Wrigley and available in five flavours - Butter Rum, Wild Cherry, Wint-O-Green, Pep-O-Mint and Spear-O-Mint - the candy with the hole continues to keep its head above water.
The name ''Kit Kat'' was registered by Rowntrees in 1911. It derived from the famed 17th-century London literary and political organisation, the Kit Kat Club. The name lay dormant until 1937, when marketing director George Harris, who also presided over the creation of Black Magic chocolates, Aero and Smarties, used Kit Kat to brand a new chocolate-coated wafer finger confection that was created after a factory employee wrote to Harris saying he craved a treat that ''a man could have in his lunchbox for work''. The bar came to Australia in the 1950s and the famous slogan ''Have a break … have a Kit Kat'', coined in 1958, is still synonymous with the perennial favourite.
Minties were created by Sweetacres in Sydney's Rosebery in 1922, the brainchild of confectioner Keith Wolfe who wanted to create a minty alternative to boiled lollies and chocolates. The slogan ''It's moments like these you need Minties'', accompanying a cartoon, sometimes drawn by leading cartoonists Syd Nicholls and James Bancks, creators of iconic comic strips Fatty Finn and Ginger Meggs, depicting some hapless bloke in a precarious predicament, on the packets, wrappers and advertising hoardings, helped the lollies come into their own in the Depression when laughs were few. Today, it seems, we're still in need of a mint hit and chuckle because 500 million of the square-white-chewy mints are devoured each year.
Began life as ''Chocolate Beans'' in 1882 but in 1937 York-based manufacturer Rowntrees added red, yellow, orange, green, mauve and pink to the existing light and dark brown sweets and renamed the mix Smarties. Australia's Rowntrees followed suit. To celebrate Smarties's 50th birthday, a blue Smartie replaced the light brown stalwart. In case you're wondering how they're made, molten milk chocolate is poured between cold metal rollers to form the button shape. The centre is cooled and smoothed, sugar-coated and dried. Coloured sugar-coating is added, the lolly is polished and the different colours mixed together and packaged.
The chocolate-coated nougat and caramel treat was invented by Forrest C. Mar in Slough, England, in 1932,and has been among Australia's most popular lollies since its introduction here in 1954. Over the years, there have been numerous spin-off versions launched - Mars Lite, Mars Lava, Mars Rocks, Mars Fling, Mars Chill and reduced-fat Mars Red - with varying degrees of success. The deep-fried Mars Bar, the product of fish shop proprietors dipping the lolly in batter and cooking it in boiling oil, for some reason failed to catch on.
Wally Warheads, the cartoon character on the Warheads logo, had a mushroom cloud exploding from the top of his skull and those who gobbled the sweets in their '80s heyday would know how Wally felt. Warheads Extreme Sour Hard Candy were invented in Taiwan in 1975 and came to Australia via the United States. The sizzling sensation in the mouth came courtesy of Warheads' malic acid coating. For a while, munching Warheads was a popular extreme sport as kids competed to see how many they could endure in their mouth at once. This led to a health warning being printed on the pack warning that a ''severe reaction'' could result.
Jaffas, the chocolate-coated orange balls that were as integral to a Saturday movie matinee as the cartoon and the cross bloke who patrolled the aisles with a torch, were first made in 1931 by James Stedman-Henderson's Sweets Ltd in Sydney. They were named by artist Len Gapp after a town in Palestine where oranges were grown for export, and the orange flavour was the work of Sweetacres food chemist Tom Colston Coggan, who formulated several different syrups before landing on the Jaffa coating whose taste has long defied replication by rivals.
Do tell: what are your favourite lollies?