DRINK – OR NOT TO DRINK ALCOHOL – HAS BEEN A STRONG THEME of South Australian social history. For all its reputation as capital of the wowser state, Adelaide from the 19th Century had more hotels than churches.
But a strong Protestant Nonconformist Dissenter (Methodist, Baptist, Congregationalist etc) aversion to alcohol was entrenched in the colony’s foundation.
A Total Abstinence League was formed in South Australia in 1840 and boasted 10,000 members by 1869. By the 1880s, the Independent Order of Rechabites, a friendly society that required its members to be teetotallers, was flourishing and offering health care and social insurance.
Two other influential temperance organisations were the South Australian Alliance (1884), providing political leadership to the movement, and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU; 1886) which linked its goal of combating alcohol-related problems by advocating for women’s suffrage and for protecting women and children in the home and in the workplace.
From the late 19th Century, the temperance cause was further strengthened by alcohol-free “coffee palaces” and temperance hotels in Adelaide and elsewhere in South Australia. These provided food, comfortable accommodation and opportunities to socialise in surroundings far removed from that of the hotel front bar. Among the most notable were the Grand Coffee Palace (1891, replacing a coffee palace destroyed by fire in 1889; rebuilt 1907) and Grant’s Coffee Palace (1908; West’s Coffee Palace from 1919; now Arts SA headquarters) almost directly opposite each other in Hindley Street, Adelaide, and the Grosvenor Hotel on North Terrace, Adelaide (1918).
Despite its name, the temperance movement stood for total abstinence and for many years its goal was to end the liquor trade. This was seen as benefitting health, good order and progress. It supported laws that moved towards this end. Achievements that fell short of its ultimate goal were “instalments on prohibition”.
Among its early victories was the enshrining in law the “local option”, where electors controlled liquor licences in their district; restricting Sunday trading hours, raising the legal drinking age and, in 1916, 6 o’clock closing – the result of winning a 1915 referendum.
METHODISTS, OTHER NONCONFORMIST DISSENTERS STRIKE A BLOW FOR ABSTINENCE
The most famous South Australian temperance achievement was the state-wide referendum win in 1915 when 100,418 voters, out of 176,537, favoured 6pm closing of hotel bars. Among the temperance movement’s earlier victories had been the enshrining in law from 1880 of the principle of local options, where electors living near a hotel could exercise control over hotel liquor licences in their district. It also achieved restrictions to Sunday trading hours and raised the legal drinking age.
An attempt in the South Australian Parliament in 1938 to revoke 6 o’clock closing of hotels encouraged temperance advocates into a major public campaign, involving huge marches and rallies and carefully targeted lobbying of politicians. With many independent members in parliament being lobbied, the “booze bill” was defeated – by one vote. But temperance’s last big victory and marked the end of its greatest vigour and popular support although 6pm closing remained intact until 1967.
BREWERIES ONE OF COLONY'S FIRST INDUSTRIES
South Australian Brewing, Malting & Wine & Spirit Co., emerging in 1888 from amalgamating Edwin Smith’s Kent Town and William Knox Simms’ West End breweries and the wine and spirit business of Rounsevell & Simms, was a major development in the brewing industry. South Australian Brewing, Malting & Wine & Spirit Co. listed on the stock exchange of Adelaide. It sold the wine and spirit business to two Adelaide wine merchants, A.E. & F. Tolley and Milne & Co. in 1893 and became South Australian Brewing Co. Ltd. The new company bought breweries in Laura and Port Augusta in 1893 and closed them in 1893 and 1898. Walkerville Co-operative Brewing Co. Ltd, originally operating at Walkerville, took over the Torrenside Brewery at Thebarton (established in 1886 by the Ware brothers) in 1898. Walkerville Coop was to become South Australian Brewing's main competitor. Lion Brewery in North Adelaide was the other major competitor, but it ceased brewing in 1914. Other smaller breweries were finding it increasingly difficult to survive. Poor brewing practices, competition from larger city breweries that took advantage of the expanding railway system, the Beer Duty Act 1894 which exacted a duty of two pence per imperial gallon (2d/4.5L), and, following federation, brewer’s licences and regulations associated with the commonwealth government’s Beer Excise Act 1901 resulted in more brewery closures in the city, suburbs and country.
SOUTH AUSTRALIANS ADEPT AT CREATING OWN NON-ALCOHOLIC DRINKS
Bickford’s Lime Juice Cordial was one of first products from the South Australian cordial and aerated water factory and laboratories opened on Waymouth Street, Adelaide, in 1872. In 1850, when pharmacist William Bickford died at the age of 35, his wife Anne Bickford continued trading asA. M. Bickford & Sons. The family built a factory and started making cordials and soft drinks in 1874. Including the now-famous lime cordial, these products soon gained international awards.
SOUTH AUSTRALIAN BRANDS GO ON TO BIGGER THINGS
SOUTH AUSTRALIA REMAINS THE BIGGEST-PRODUCING WINE STATE
South Australia remains Australia’s wine state, producing 50% of its bottled wines and 80% of the country’s premium wine.The state’s wine industry generates almost $1.8 billion in revenue, with $1.2 billion of this from exports. A rebound in prices and vintage quality, with China’s growing interest, has buoyed the industry after down periods such as the 1980s when vines were pulled out in the Barossa Valley. This led to greater appreciation of South Australia’s wine heritage including old vines.
21st CENTURY FLOW OF SMALL BREWERIES
CROSSOVER WITH THE WINE SCENE
A $2.5 million whisky distillery using local grain will create a tourism experience amid the McLaren Vale wine region. John Rochfort is bringing his experience in the Tasmanian whisky industry back to South Australia in partnership with Jock Harvey of Chalk Hill Wines. Rochfort was also a prime mover in bringing the first biannual Asia Pacific Whiskies and Spirits Conference to Adelaide in 2017 and for the next decade. Adelaide’s Tin Shed Distilling Company is also making international waves.