Drinking in Australia

  • Australia used to be one of the world's great drinking nations. It is believed that during the Convict era, when rum was used as currency, the colony's inhabitants drank more alcohol per capita that any other time in human history. Perhaps realising the dangers of a lone man drinking themselves into oblivion, it became poor form to drink by oneself. As one observer wrote in 1887:

    " All through Australia, in every class, it is not considered good form for a man to drink by himself. Very few even of the most hopeless drunkards ever do so. The consequence is, that when a man feels inclined to drink, he immediately looks out for someone to drink with" "At whatever hour of the day a mans meets another whom he has not seen for say twelve hours, etiquette requires that he shall incontinently invite him to come and drink. This is a custom that pervades every class in the colony, and cannot be departed from without something more than a breach of good manners." Finch Hatton 1887

    Obviously, a society descended from criminals, dubious police officers, corrupt officials and cockney immigrants was going to have a fair share of sly characters looking out for their own self interest. Social alcohol consumption, or "shouting" probably became a type of character test. The shout is a pretence of a gift, but in reality, it is more of a loan. If an individual has a drink bought for them, and fails to reciprocate, it reveals a dodgy character looking out for themselves. (*see shouting etiquette below.)

    Wowsers have often been unable to appreciate the social side of the shout. As one wowser complained in 1887 :

    "Shouting", or rather its meaning, is peculiarly Australian. The shortest and most comprehensive definition of "shouting" is to pay for the drink drunk by others. Drunkenness is the vice of which "shouting" is a parasite. No other Australian vice has so large a vocabulary. "

    Prior to Federation in 1900, a great deal of politicising was underway in regards to who would be the Australia's first Prime Minister. It is no coincidence that the candidate that emerged was an alcoholic. Affectionately known as "Toby Tosspot" due to his fondness for a drink, Edmond Barton's qualifications for the job were noted by his biographer who wrote:

    "A public man who shouldered these responsibilities needed an ample appetite and a good capacity for alcohol. Barton was able to do justice to all these forms of hospitality".

    Just as the man who first led a federated Australia was an alcoholic, it is also quite fitting that Bob Hawke, the Prime Minister who changed Australia's national anthem from God save the Queen, was also renowned for his fondness for grog. So renowned in fact that he was immortalised in the Guinness Book of Records for sculling 2.5 pints of beer in 11 seconds.

    Australia's love affair with alcohol endured right up to the 70s when its per capita beer consumption was up with the great boozing nations of Ireland and Germany. Since then, alcohol consumption has been diminishing and now Australia is a teetotaller by world standards.

    Even though Australians are drinking far less than the past, there is a lionising of alcohol consumption which perhaps isn't seen in other countries. Furthermore, alcohol still plays a very important role in the social fabric of Australian society. University students often discuss their ideas at the pub after lectures. Boozing is often part of post-match celebrations of football teams. Most importantly, the shout is still the mainstay of the Australian pub. It is a custom that allows an outsider to be inducted into the social group and treated as if they are of equal status - irrespective of their socio-economic, political or national background.

    The etiquette of a round (shout)

    "In tribal societies in which gift giving is economically important, there may be exchange of gift giving of identical (or useless) gifts which serve to maintain the relationship between donors. In Australia, the ritual of the round, known virtually to all adult members of society has some parrallel functions. It symbolise entry to a group (and, for that matter, makes pointed an exclusion). It binds a group together." National Times January 1978

    * No dragging the chain- It is a well understood obligation that slower drinkers in a shout must attempt to keep pace with the faster members of a shout.

    * Immediacy - Never accept a beer if you do not intend to shout on that evening. Shouting "next time" is not acceptable no matter how much interest is involved.

    * Reciprocal - Even worse than the previous rule is accepting beers from the drinking party and then just buying one for yourself when it is your turn.

    * Consistency - Changing drinks on people during a shout is considered poor form. I.e., shouting everyone VBs then asking for a "boutique" beer on the return leg.

    * Accountability - Knocking over someone else's beer will only be tolerated if there is a full replacement on the table. In some mining communities, the spilling of ones beer requires the guilty party to receive a punch in the arm from all other members of the party which could be up to 60 people.

    * Egalitarian - No matter how much money is earned by each of the party members, or where their money came from, the same shouting rules apply.

    * Free will - The order of the round is determined by each individual volunteering that it is his/her shout. Fellow members should not never have to remind an individual of their obligations to the group. They will only do so in the event of a breach.

    * Abstaining - From time to time an individual may wish to stop getting drunk. Ideally, they should wait till the completion of every group member's rounds before abstaining from future rounds. If it is essential that they abstain mid-round, they should request a non-alcoholic beverage. This ensures that the first volunteer is not punished for putting their hand up first. It ensures group equality and it also ensures that the person buying the next round does not feel like a bludger by being remiss in their obligations.

    * Gender neutral- Should a women be given a drink that has been purchased in the course of buying a round, she is subsequently part of the round. All the previous rules thus apply. A round can consist of only two people.

    17 May 2007, 05:58 Cassy
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  • German drinkers are better!

    Great post - but the German drinkers are even better!!!

    Klaus 17 May 2007, 05:59 - Report
  • travell

    i'am ilyes hamrit i'hope travellin ausralia
    diplom meganic aotomobile
    maill;[email removed]

    ilyes hamrit 28 Sep 2007, 04:58 - Report
  • just shoutin back Cassy

    That's some pretty interesting stuff Cassy. Im from Canada and see the same type of edicate and things frowned upon in a sence. It's called a round in Canada, buy im sure I didn'y need to tell you that. I came across your article researching Au in hopes to visit your beautiful country ASAP. One of the main reasons Australia interests me is I am A 23 year old male who has family I've yet to meet that lives in TAS. I'm not sure how common the name Cassy is in Au but one of my cousines there carries the same name. coincedence... Any way I look forward to visiting and familiarizing my self with australia its customs and the people. I should fit in famously, enjoyed the article...

    Ryan 14 Feb 2008, 06:17 - Report
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