Australia has a long and significant history of a close relationship between the populace and alcoholic drinks. A quick glance at the history books will inform you that, from the earliest days of British colonisation and settlement, the fortunes of our great land have been almost inexorably intertwined with alcohol.
In contrast to the often fraught drinking habits that can frequently plague the cities and towns of contemporary Australia, the legend of the classic Australian drinking culture stands as an inimitable part of the fascinating history of the nation.
The New South Wales Rum Corps
It would be fair to say that back in the earliest days of the New South Wales colony, the administrative authorities were not quite as sophisticated as they are nowadays. It is important to understand that, for the British colonisers, the continent of Australia was a world away. Many who arrived in the new colony were of course not there by choice, being convicted criminals who had been transported to Australia as a draconian form of punishment.
In addition to the convicts that were forced to travel to the New South Wales penal colony, there were also the soldiers of the British Army who were required to guard the convicts and to generally enforce order and uphold the law, such as it was at the time. The New South Wales Corps, a Line Infantry battalion, also known as the 102nd Regiment of Foot, served in Australia from 1789 until 1810. The posting was incredibly unpopular with the soldiers due to the distant location in which they would be required to serve.
The tyranny of distance meant that coins were in short supply, meaning that rum soon became a means of currency. The New South Wales Corps rapidly gained the moniker of ‘The Rum Corps‘, due to the habit that was developed by the officers of importing rum, usually brewed in India, at favourable prices, which they would then barter for goods and services in the new colony. The practice was eventually curtailed and finally stamped out by Governor Lachlan Macquarie, who was able to establish a reliable local currency instead.
Larrikinism and Alcohol in Australia
This country has a lengthy tradition involving what might be described as the typical Australian larrikin. The term itself is in fact thought to have originated in Australia. The precise meaning of the word has evolved significantly over time. In the 19th and early 20th century, the term meant something closer to a loutish individual or hooligan, but this morphed into its contemporary meaning, which describes someone who may like to cause mischief or challenge figures of authority, but always does so in a good humoured, light hearted manner.
The Australian larrikin tradition has been frequently linked with the consumption of alcohol. One arguably complements the other, with the dry, irreverent wit of the larrikin often being helped well on its way by a tinnie or two.
Arguably the greatest Australian larrikin of all was former Prime Minister Bob Hawke. In his days at Oxford University, Hawke set a world speed record in drinking beer, sculling down a yard of ale in a mere 11 seconds. Hawke remains one of Australia’s longest serving Prime Ministers, so it certainly did his political prospects no harm at all.
Our legendary former Prime Minister