Down the rabbit hole with Mr Whippy

Down the rabbit hole with Mr Whippy

What started with hearing an odd ice cream truck tune playing turned into a fascinating history lesson about soft serve ice cream in Austraila.

An ice cream van decided to roll down our street, playing some indecipherable tune that wasn’t Greensleeves. This started me down an interesting internet trip about the history of Mr Whippy and Mobile Ice Cream vans in Australia.

I learned that Mr Whippy was introduced into Australia in 1962 after its incredible success in the UK in 1959. A fleet of custom built Commer Karrier vans—​fitted with the now synonymous Greensleeves chime box—​were shipped out from Southampton in the UK to begin operating in Sydney first, and subsequently all major regions of Australia. The vans were individually numbered as part of the franchise operation.

Image of the first Mr Whippy vans in Australia

The history behind the music Ice Cream Vans played was the main reason why I started to search for information. It turns out that each country has different tunes they play.

In Australia and New Zealand, it’s Greensleeves. This is largely because the song is in the Public Domain now and is royalty free. From what I’ve read on the history, it seems that some of the proliferation of this tune is due to the chime boxes on the imported trucks back in the 1960s, and the way this tune became almost synonymous with the Ice Cream Van in this country.

Parents know it, and pass the knowledge down to their kids, who pass it to their kids. This is why over 50 years later, the song still resonates with me as 35 year old ice cream lover.

Until recently, one of the 11 tunes generally associated with Ice Cream Trucks in the USA was the tune "Turkey in the Straw". The racist lyrics that were unfortunately attached to this tune are no longer considered acceptable to the public, and other tunes as diverse as the "Super Mario Bros theme" and "The Entertainer" are used to bring the kids to the curb.

Wikipedia is great if you want to learn about the history of Ice Cream vans worldwide, and the tunes they play. You can really go down the internet rabbit hole if you read the history of each song, so click if you dare…

The Australian Food Time website is a great place to learn more about how Mr Whippy started in Australia and how the legacy is perpetuated by the Staff family of Hervey Bay, Queensland.

It’s great to see that their original vans still use the original (yes, the 1960’s original) Italian Carpigiani ice cream machinery. That would be no mean feat to keep working. The Staff family even contributed to the book by Steve Tillyer entitled The Mr. Whippy Story.

In the 60’s I’d imagine Mr Whippy vans would be the only way you would have been able to enjoy a Rocket, Sherbet, Hundreds and Thousands, or Choc Top. These days, Soft Serve is available wherever you see a fast food burger chain. But it’s just not the same as walking up to the window and getting a cone covered with stuff, or having to quickly dart across the hot bitumen, and reach up to get the prize of a cool cone from a hole in a noisy truck.

So, what is your favourite Soft Serve variety?

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