Obituaries Australia

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: use double quotes to search for a phrase
  • Tip: lists of awards, schools, organisations etc

Browse Lists:

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Geraldine Anne Dillon (1936–2020)

by Isabel Cant and Tim Barlass

Culinary pioneer Geraldine Dillon, who has died at 84, was at the forefront of bringing recipes, culinary tips and food preparation skills to the small screen. Her television shows were the first of their kind, introducing the latest and greatest food trends of the 1960s and '70s to Australians in the comfort of their living rooms.

Dillon paved the way for the plethora of food television produced in Australia today. Mainstream networks now dedicate whole channels to the topic. Her work was the precursor to MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules. She made her career as the host of Channel Nine’s Fun with Food, Australia’s first cooking show when it aired in 1960. This was groundbreaking, only four years after television had arrived in Australia. She also gave cooking demonstrations at the David Jones department store in Sydney.

Fun with Food, which aired once a week in Sydney and Melbourne from 1960 to 1971, gained a cult following which led Dillon to host The Australian Women’s Weekly TV Kitchen, or TV Kitchen as it became known as by viewers.

Each recipe Dillon created was influenced by her classical training at Le Cordon Bleu culinary school and her extensive travels. These recipes were to be found in that week’s copy of The Australian Women’s Weekly, which in 1971 described Dillon’s recipes as “adventurous and sophisticated, but still practical and within the scope of average cooks”. Featured recipes such as no-bake lemon souffle and escalopes a l’orange (veal steaks) reflect Dillon’s mastery for the classics.

This was an awakening for many Australians, who were set in their ways when it came to cooking, taught only by their mother’s and grandmother’s more frugal endeavours, shaped by ration books and mother England.

In this new era of television, mass migration and affordable travel, Dillon played a huge role in introducing Australians to international foods. She entertained readers of The Australian Women’s Weekly in 1971 with stories from her escapades overseas: “In Norway, I tasted reindeer, considered a real delicacy in that country. It was an interesting flavour, but to me, it was a bit gamey.”

Dillon travelled to the US for culinary inspiration, during which she became the first Australian member of the American Women in Radio and Television Organisation (now the Alliance for Women in Media).

At a time when Australian cuisine was still deeply under the influence of British traditions, she was one of the first to introduce Australian cooks to American-style food. In fact, Australia has Dillon to thank for the addition of salads to our dinner tables.

The New York Times wrote in 1964: “With hazel eyes, dark auburn hair and a flashing smile, Miss Dillon registers enthusiasm about everything she sees and does, from tackling her first American‐style pancakes with blueberries and maple syrup … to a first glimpse of the World's Fair. Miss Dillon would like to introduce the American custom of serving salads with all main entrees instead of only with grilled (broiled) steak and eggs.”

The interview explains that Australians entertain frequently in their homes at small dinner parties and are eager to learn how to make subtly seasoned main entrees and rich chocolate desserts that do not take all day to prepare.

It says Miss Dillon expressed the opinion that there is no general problem with excess calories in Australia and attributes this to the absence of ice cream sodas and sundaes and the fact that most Australians participate in active sports. Miss Dillon particularly enjoyed tennis and swimming, it informed its readers.

Geraldine Anne Dillon was born in Armadale, Victoria in 1936 to Sir John and Lady Sheila (nee Darcy) Dillon. Sir John was the under-secretary in the chief secretary’s department in Sir Henry Bolte's premiership and Victoria's first ombudsman. Her mother worked as a clerk.

At the start of her studies, Dillon was drawn to cooking as more of a duty than a passion, as were many young women living in the ideological constraints of the 1950s. “It wasn’t so much a love for cooking; it was more a practical reason,” she told Kairos Catholic Journal in 2012. “When I was choosing something to do, I felt that everybody had to eat, so I wanted to learn how to cook. And while studying I found I wanted to pass on what I’d learnt to help others.”

After her passion for cooking was sparked, she landed a job as a home service adviser at the Gas and Fuel Corporation in Melbourne. There, and at Myers in Melbourne, she performed cooking demonstrations for the public.

Although her love of cooking was one of nurture rather than nature, Dillon was born with a keen sense of wanderlust, describing travel as her “first love” to the Kairos Catholic Journal in 2012. This sparked the decision to pursue an advanced certificate of cookery at the Cordon Bleu in London in 1959. Dillon one of the first Australians to attend the school.

Little did Dillon know that during her studies in London, Australian publication Woman’s Day had been watching her talent flourish. In 1960, it invited the 23-year-old to work on her first television gig, assisting Le Cordon Bleu’s then co-principal Muriel Downes on a televised tour of Australia. They produced six made-for-TV cooking demonstrations, Cordon Bleu Kitchen, in Sydney.

With that, Dillon landed her big break, resulting in an offer to host a cooking segment on Channel 9’s show Thursday at One. This was the beginning of Dillon’s 16-year career at Channel 9, hosting Australian firsts Fun with Food and TV Kitchen, which ran until 1976. Dillon described these years as “the most happy and wonderful years” of her life.

In between her work at Channel 9, Dillon had her fingers in many pies (figuratively and literally – her most requested recipe from her television career was her brandy alexander pie), writing columns for The Age and later the Herald as well having a radio segment with 3AK. Her decades dominating the Australian media in all things food led her to release The Geraldine Dillon Cookbook, which sold out on first release.

After the TV career and writing, Dillon was catering and hospitality manager at the Moonee Valley Racing Club in Melbourne and travelled to Europe, taking groups to cooking schools. After retiring, she lived in Glen Waverley to be close to her brothers.

She died on August 26 after a long battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Media personality Bert Newton was one of those to send messages of condolence to the family. He wrote: "Geraldine was a delightful and generous lady from a wonderful family." Referring to the studios at "the old piano factory" he added: "Without doubt in those early days it was the premier television complex in the Southern Hemisphere."

Cameraman at the time John Lander said: "The crew loved working with her on Fun with Food. After the show all the crew loved to get stuck into the food. We wouldn't need lunch that day."

Geraldine Dillon is survived by her three brothers, John and Reverend fathers Brendan and Kevin as well as her nieces, Marion and Christine and nephews, Andrew, Michael, Robert and John.

Original publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

Isabel Cant and Tim Barlass, 'Dillon, Geraldine Anne (1936–2020)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 June 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


3 January, 1936
Armadale, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


26 August, 2020 (aged 84)

Cause of Death

cancer (lymphoma)

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Key Organisations