Beer was not always an Aussie’s beverage of choice. Early Australia ran on rum as this Convict Rum Song illustrates:
Cut yer name across me backbone
Stretch me skin across yer drum
Iron me up on Pinchgut Island
From now to Kingdom Come.
I'll eat yer Norfolk Dumpling
Like a juicy Spanish plum,
Even dance the Newgate Hornpipe
If ye'll only gimme Rum!
Rum, or "grog" as it was known, was the national currency. Dr George Mackaness writes in The Life of Vice Admiral William Bligh that in the early days of the colonies the population was said to be divided into two classes, those who sold rum and those who drank it.
Dr Redfern, the Colonial Surgeon for New South Wales, wrote that when he arrived in the Colony in 1802 "it was lamentable to behold the excess to which drunkenness was carried. It was no uncommon experience for men to sit round a bucket of spirits and drink it with quart pots until they were unable to stir from the spot."
Marcus Clarke writes of the period (For the Term of his Natural Life, 1867):
"Drunkenness was a prevailing vice. Even children were to be seen in the streets intoxicated. On Sundays, men and women might be observed standing round the public-house doors, waiting for the expiration of the hours of public worship in order to continue their carousing. As for the condition of the prison population, that, indeed, is indescribable. Notwithstanding the sever punishment for sly grog selling, it was carried on to a large extent. Men and women were found intoxicated together, and a bottle of brandy was considered to be cheaply bought for 20 lashes... All that the vilest and most bestial of human creatures could invent and practise, was in this unhappy country invented and practised without restraint and without shame"
Naturally something had to be done and the answer lay in switching consumption habits from rum to beer. Lord Hobart wrote to Governor Philip King on 29 August 1802 stating:
"The introduction of beer into general use among the inhabitants would certainly lessen the consumption of spirituous liquors. I have therefore in conformity with your suggestion taken measures for furnishing the colony with a supply of ten tons of Porter, six bags of hops, and two complete sets of brewing materials."
The campaign to dislodge rum as Australia’s favourite drink continued for a few decades. In 1816 the Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter fired a salvo:
"How much more delicious to the parched and thirsty Labourer in the field in Harvest season would be the cheering and sprinkling cup of Ale to the draught of Grog? What sums of money would be left in the Colony, or applied to other uses, was Ale and Beer the general beverage? What excesses would be avoided, and Crimes less likely to be committed? It would be in the interest of every Settler to Endeavour to have a barrel of good Ale in his House instead of Gallons of Rum."
And they got what they wanted – by the mid-nineteenth century it was clear that beer would be our national drink.
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