The New Temperance ?

 

Recent headlines announcing the closure of the iconic Tote Hotel due in part to amendments to the Liquor Control Reform Act; radio talkback about the possible causes of alcohol fuelled street violence and looming billboards showing a child’s view of a parent filtered through a wine glass reminded me that Melbourne has had a precarious relationship with intoxicating beverages from its inception. Alcohol related troubles are not new to this city and the cures currently being prescribed for these ills have been tried before.

Melbourne’s very foundations were watered with alcohol. Several barrels of rum were amongst the provisions unloaded onto the banks of the Yarra by the founding European settlers in 1835. The first —relatively —substantial structure to be erected in the early settlement was a hotel run by John Fawkner. Commercial motive had compelled Fawkner across Bass Strait to Melbourne (then called the Port Phillip District) and he did not let the fact of his being a teetotaler get in the way of what he rightly deduced to represent his best opportunity to make a profit. Within twelve months the small population of just over 200 had put away some 9000 litres of rum, 6000 litres of brandy and considerable measures of beer and gin. Not all of this was dispensed over Fawkner’s bar but he did a fine trade and soon had serious competition. The number of public houses multiplied at an extraordinary rate in comparison to the size of the population and three years after settlement such was the demand for grog that three breweries were operating to keep up the supply. By 1840 Melbourne had an international reputation as a rowdy place whose inhabitants indulged too freely in ‘strong potations’ with estimates putting their rate of alcohol consumption to be twice that of people in Britain.

The profits to be made selling alcohol in Melbourne’s nascent years were enhanced by its illegality (the entire settlement was illegal). No publican held a licence therefore no government dues were paid. This was remedied in 1839 when William Lonsdale was sent from Sydney to bestow legitimacy on the community and ensure that the authorities got their share of this lucrative liquor trade via fees, taxes and fines. The issuing of licences came with government controls such as prescribed opening hours and stipulations about whom alcohol could be sold to: for example a penalty could be levied against a publican who sold liquor to a married person whose consumption of alcohol was known to cause difficulties in his family.

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Diggers of low degree by T.S Gil, held in the collection of the State Library of Victoria 

Recent headlines announcing the closure of the iconic Tote Hotel due in part to amendments to the Liquor Control Reform Act; radio talkback about the possible causes of alcohol fuelled street violence and looming billboards showing a child’s view of a parent filtered through a wine glass reminded me that Melbourne has had a precarious relationship with intoxicating beverages from its inception. Alcohol related troubles are not new to this city and the cures currently being prescribed for these ills have been tried before.

download (2)

Preparing to go through the court: a very distressing case. Frederick Grosse. Collection of the State Library of Victoria.

Melbourne’s very foundations were watered with alcohol. Several barrels of rum were amongst the provisions unloaded onto the banks of the Yarra by the founding European settlers in 1835. The first —relatively —substantial structure to be erected in the early settlement was a hotel run by John Fawkner. Commercial motive had compelled Fawkner across Bass Strait to Melbourne (then called the Port Phillip District) and he did not let the fact of his being a teetotaler get in the way of what he rightly deduced to represent his best opportunity to make a profit. Within twelve months the small population of just over 200 had put away some 9000 litres of rum, 6000 litres of brandy and considerable measures of beer and gin. Not all of this was dispensed over Fawkner’s bar but he did a fine trade and soon had serious competition. The number of public houses multiplied at an extraordinary rate in comparison to the size of the population and three years after settlement such was the demand for grog that three breweries were operating to keep up the supply. By 1840 Melbourne had an international reputation as a rowdy place whose inhabitants indulged too freely in ‘strong potations’ with estimates putting their rate of alcohol consumption to be twice that of people in Britain.

The profits to be made selling alcohol in Melbourne’s nascent years were enhanced by its illegality (the entire settlement was illegal). No publican held a licence therefore no government dues were paid. This was remedied in 1839 when William Lonsdale was sent from Sydney to bestow legitimacy on the community and ensure that the authorities got their share of this lucrative liquor trade via fees, taxes and fines. The issuing of licences came with government controls such as prescribed opening hours and stipulations about whom alcohol could be sold to: for example a penalty could be levied against a publican who sold liquor to a married person whose consumption of alcohol was known to cause difficulties in his family.

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Evening Service. Melbourne Punch 1856. Collection of the State Library of Victoria 

The existence of such a law was indicative that the predilection for alcohol in Melbourne was not without community impact but the police force was too small to ensure that regulations were robustly adhered to. Even when offenders against licensing regulations were caught they were not educated, or penalized heavily enough, towards discouraging repeat offences. It therefore fell on the citizens of Melbourne themselves to take action. In 1837 the Port Phillip Temperance Society was inaugurated; its mission to gain the prohibition of the use of ‘ardent spirits for anything other than medicinal purposes’: they had not picked an easy battle. When the Melbourne Total Abstinence Society invited the well-known temperance evangelist Isabella Dalgarno to deliver a lecture on the evils of drink in Melbourne in 1842, a consortium of local publicans organized for some thugs to attend her lecture and rustle her from the stage. When the matter appeared in court the next day the bruised Dalgarno, the victim in the case, found herself admonished by the judge —who happened to alternate his judicial duties with selling wine and spirits — for having the audacity to speak in front of men: her attackers were let off without even a warning.

This incident reflected where the allegiance of Melbourne’s powerbrokers lay in respect to drink, and this had as much to do with pleasure as money. When petitioned to lend his support to the temperance cause the Anglican Archbishop refused saying that wine was a gift that god intended his flock to enjoy. Lacking the support of any significant civic, commercial or spiritual leader the temperance movement made few gains towards its goal and its voice was pretty much drowned out by the din of the gold rush.

Within a year of gold being discovered in Victoria in 1851 Melbourne’s population more than doubled with 10,000 people a week arriving in the town at the height of the rush. To provide for all these people there was a rapid growth of commercial enterprises particularly hotels. There was, without exaggeration, a licenced house on every street corner and several more on the block in between and all well patronized. Having observed the profits to be made serving drinks in Melbourne while passing through on route to the goldfields Frenchman Antoine Fauchery later returned and opened a small café in Little Bourke Street serving coffee and alcoholic beverages. He traded without a licence but the police turned a blind eye to this as his clientele —foreigners and bohemian types — were quiet and didn’t cause any trouble unlike many of the patrons of the legitimate licenced premises.

Gold money grew Melbourne from a dusty frontier town to one of the largest cities in the British Empire by the 1880s. Once dusty city streets were recast as elegant tree lined boulevards and grand buildings cut a majestic skyline but it remained a city with a drinking problem. George Meudell described Melbourne at this time as a ‘roughish sort of town, wide open and frankly immoral’: a place where French champagne flowed in bars that traded long beyond opening hours because there were not enough police to stop them. In the less salubrious allies and laneways around Little Lonsdale street booze was imbibed as generously though its provenance was likely a local brewery or sly grog still.

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The Night Birds of Melbourne 1877

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Counter Attractions at the Royal, T.S. Gil circa 1856, Collection of the State Library of Victoria 

 

Man-about -town Muedell could hold his drink but many others couldn’t resulting in violence on the streets and in the privacy of homes. Community opposition to the selling of alcohol in Melbourne – and Victoria —was growing louder. This time the temperance leagues had might on their side: several of the city’s most pious teetotalers were also rich and influential men, most notably the ‘dour Scot’ James Munro (who at the pinnacle of his power became Premier and Treasurer of Victoria in 1890). In consortium with other like-minded men Munro developed several grand ‘coffee palaces’ around the city. From all reports these were most amenable places where patrons could avail themselves of all manner of food and drink —except alcohol — yet most failed to show a decent return. Like Fawkner, Munro was not one to let his principles get in the way of financial gain (in more ways than one). After ceremoniously burning the licence for the Grand Hotel (now the Windsor) he later reapplied for it after the hotel failed to make a profit as a coffee palace. Munro and his ilk did not manage to eradicate alcohol from the city but Melbournians were rudely forced to sober up in 1893 when Victoria’s economy collapsed: thanks in no small part to Munro who was caught with his hands in the till. With one of their most prominent advocates deeply implicated in the dodgy dealings that had resulted in truly widespread community misery the temperance leaguers went quite for a while. They were vociferously campaigning again by the turn of the century though.

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All is Right When Dad is Sober 1872. Collection of the State Library of Victoria

 

In 1912 a collective of temperance groups and professional caterers joined together to demand the abolishment of the free counter lunches then available in many Melbourne pubs. The group claimed that the provision of these meals was an unfair and morally reprehensible business practice as they were offered as an inducement to purchase alcoholic drinks (which indeed they were). The free lunches were abolished in 1914 but this was due to austerity measures imposed with the advent of the First World War. A year later 6pm closing for hotels was instituted—and remained in place until1966. Ultimately this law did little to curb drinking: men just spent the hour between knocking off work at five and hotel closing time frenetically downing glasses of beer. At six o’clock they were disgorged on mass from hotels across the city many vomiting on footpaths and others looking for, and often finding, a fight.

It was the inter-war years that saw the anti-liquor crusaders reach the apogee of their influence. Inspired by America’s prohibition laws Victorians went to a ‘no-licence’ poll in 1920 at which the citizens of Boroondara and Nunawading voted for the sale of alcohol to be banned in these areas. In 1926 the Women’s Christian Temperance Union succeeded in having the half-cup of brandy specified in a fruitcake recipe contained in a cookbook used in Victorian schools removed from the ingredients list. Another poll was held in 1930 and again in 1938. The issue at stake was the same at both: the abolishment of liquor licences and closure of all bars and premises that sold alcohol in Victoria. Campaigning on this issue was fierce, and prescient of the aforementioned billboards, the effect of drinking on children was writ large. Pamphlets distributed by various prohibitionist groups bore pictures of angelic children and captions reading: ‘My daddy sold me to a brewery’ and ‘Daddy if you vote for Liquor, will you blame me if I drink?’. Both the polls were defeated but a strong repugnance against the ‘demon drink’ lingered and the liquor licensing laws deliberately implemented to curb social drinking during World War One largely remained in place for the next two decades.

Melbourne in the 1950s had a reputation as drab city of ‘wowsers’ — due in no small part to the ‘antiquated’ liquor licensing laws that its citizens seemed to prefer. There were those though who wanted to enjoy a glass of wine with their meal when they dined out or to facilitate this experience. For years Victorian restaurateurs, wine retailers, wine makers and their patrons had been ardently rallying against the licensing laws. In 1956 – the year Melbourne hosted the Olympic Games— they won the first increment of reform when hotels gained licence to serve liquor with meals until 10pm in their dining rooms. In 1960 restaurants not attached to hotels won the right to serve liquor with meals until 10pm; in 1966 six o’clock closing was repealed and bars were allowed to serve alcohol until 10pm and in 1968 patrons were permitted to bring their own wine (BYO) to a restaurant. This contributed to a boom in BYO establishments. There was no such comparative growth in the licensed restaurant sector – a circumstance that restaurateur Richard Frank blamed on Victoria’s ‘loony’ liquor laws. These laws made it relatively simple and inexpensive to apply for a BYO permit, but required applicants for a restaurant licence to undergo a lengthy and expensive process, including a scrutiny of their morals, to obtain a permit to operate a licensed restaurant.

In 1987 Victorian licensing laws were radically overhauled after a report commissioned by the government (the ‘Nieuwenhuysen Report’) recommended a more liberal and civilised attitude towards liquor licensing be adopted in Victoria. The Liquor Control Act 1987 allowed for extended trading hours for licenced premises; permitted licenced restaurants to sell liquor without meals and allowed for different types of businesses to sell alcohol. A survey conducted by Nieuwenhuysen found that the general populace was reluctant to support such wholesale changes to the way alcohol was sold in Victoria. Yet when these changes were implemented they catalysed a revolution in the way Melburnians ate, drank and socialized: the rest as they say is history — or history repeating itself.

Since licensing deregulation was implemented in Victoria in1988 bars in particular have proliferated in the CBD and inner city at a rate not seen since Melbourne’s earliest decades. Community opinion has landed the blame for our current alcohol related social problems such as street violence and binge drinking on the ease of availability of alcohol. The government’s response has been to introduce restrictions on liquor licensing: a strategy that history shows does not work. While more considered argument suggests that we need to look at the prevailing —and again, historical — cultural attitude that views excessive consumption of alcohol as a normal social behaviour; that violence is happening outside of and not on licensed premises and not allow the anti-social behaviour of a few to restrict the amenity of the majority.

To my mind there is another issue here and its roots go back to John Fawkner. In recommending licensing changes Nieuwenhysen argued that these would bring significant economic and cultural benefits to Victoria, which indeed they have. This has also led to what some in the hospitality industry describe as an ‘oversupply’ of places to eat and drink. So here’s the link with Fawkner: profit. Does the hospitality industry actually need people to consume more alcohol for it to remain viable?

Restaurants earn a better return on serving alcohol than food and for bars it is their stock in trade. Those who lament the oversupply of food and wine businesses also suggest that local planning is to blame for this. Perhaps then planning controls could be implemented as an adjunct to easing our current alcohol related social problems. The safe rate of alcohol consumption could be divided by the adult population of a local government area to arrive at an amount of liquor permitted to be sold there each day. Calculations could then be made as to the number of profitable businesses this could reasonably allow for and permits only issued for that number. Yes I know it’s an silly idea for all sorts of reasons but at least it’s a novel one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recent headlines announcing the closure of the iconic Tote Hotel due in part to amendments to the Liquor Control Reform Act; radio talkback about the possible causes of alcohol fuelled street violence and looming billboards showing a child’s view of a parent filtered through a wine glass reminded me that Melbourne has had a precarious relationship with intoxicating beverages from its inception. Alcohol related troubles are not new to this city and the cures currently being prescribed for these ills have been tried before.

Melbourne’s very foundations were watered with alcohol. Several barrels of rum were amongst the provisions unloaded onto the banks of the Yarra by the founding European settlers in 1835. The first —relatively —substantial structure to be erected in the early settlement was a hotel run by John Fawkner. Commercial motive had compelled Fawkner across Bass Strait to Melbourne (then called the Port Phillip District) and he did not let the fact of his being a teetotaler get in the way of what he rightly deduced to represent his best opportunity to make a profit. Within twelve months the small population of just over 200 had put away some 9000 litres of rum, 6000 litres of brandy and considerable measures of beer and gin. Not all of this was dispensed over Fawkner’s bar but he did a fine trade and soon had serious competition. The number of public houses multiplied at an extraordinary rate in comparison to the size of the population and three years after settlement such was the demand for grog that three breweries were operating to keep up the supply. By 1840 Melbourne had an international reputation as a rowdy place whose inhabitants indulged too freely in ‘strong potations’ with estimates putting their rate of alcohol consumption to be twice that of people in Britain.

The profits to be made selling alcohol in Melbourne’s nascent years were enhanced by its illegality (the entire settlement was illegal). No publican held a licence therefore no government dues were paid. This was remedied in 1839 when William Lonsdale was sent from Sydney to bestow legitimacy on the community and ensure that the authorities got their share of this lucrative liquor trade via fees, taxes and fines. The issuing of licences came with government controls such as prescribed opening hours and stipulations about whom alcohol could be sold to: for example a penalty could be levied against a publican who sold liquor to a married person whose consumption of alcohol was known to cause difficulties in his family.

The existence of such a law was indicative that the predilection for alcohol in Melbourne was not without community impact but the police force was too small to ensure that regulations were robustly adhered to. Even when offenders against licensing regulations were caught they were not educated, or penalized heavily enough, towards discouraging repeat offences. It therefore fell on the citizens of Melbourne themselves to take action. In 1837 the Port Phillip Temperance Society was inaugurated; its mission to gain the prohibition of the use of ‘ardent spirits for anything other than medicinal purposes’: they had not picked an easy battle. When the Melbourne Total Abstinence Society invited the well-known temperance evangelist Isabella Dalgarno to deliver a lecture on the evils of drink in Melbourne in 1842, a consortium of local publicans organized for some thugs to attend her lecture and rustle her from the stage. When the matter appeared in court the next day the bruised Dalgarno, the victim in the case, found herself admonished by the judge —who happened to alternate his judicial duties with selling wine and spirits — for having the audacity to speak in front of men: her attackers were let off without even a warning.

This incident reflected where the allegiance of Melbourne’s powerbrokers lay in respect to drink, and this had as much to do with pleasure as money. When petitioned to lend his support to the temperance cause the Anglican Archbishop refused saying that wine was a gift that god intended his flock to enjoy. Lacking the support of any significant civic, commercial or spiritual leader the temperance movement made few gains towards its goal and its voice was pretty much drowned out by the din of the gold rush.

Within a year of gold being discovered in Victoria in 1851 Melbourne’s population more than doubled with 10,000 people a week arriving in the town at the height of the rush. To provide for all these people there was a rapid growth of commercial enterprises particularly hotels. There was, without exaggeration, a licenced house on every street corner and several more on the block in between and all well patronized. Having observed the profits to be made serving drinks in Melbourne while passing through on route to the goldfields Frenchman Antoine Fauchery later returned and opened a small café in Little Bourke Street serving coffee and alcoholic beverages. He traded without a licence but the police turned a blind eye to this as his clientele —foreigners and bohemian types — were quiet and didn’t cause any trouble unlike many of the patrons of the legitimate licenced premises.

Gold money grew Melbourne from a dusty frontier town to one of the largest cities in the British Empire by the 1880s. Once dusty city streets were recast as elegant tree lined boulevards and grand buildings cut a majestic skyline but it remained a city with a drinking problem. George Meudell described Melbourne at this time as a ‘roughish sort of town, wide open and frankly immoral’: a place where French champagne flowed in bars that traded long beyond opening hours because there were not enough police to stop them. In the less salubrious allies and laneways around Little Lonsdale street booze was imbibed as generously though its provenance was likely a local brewery or sly grog still.

Man-about -town Muedell could hold his drink but many others couldn’t resulting in violence on the streets and in the privacy of homes. Community opposition to the selling of alcohol in Melbourne – and Victoria —was growing louder. This time the temperance leagues had might on their side: several of the city’s most pious teetotalers were also rich and influential men, most notably the ‘dour Scot’ James Munro (who at the pinnacle of his power became Premier and Treasurer of Victoria in 1890). In consortium with other like-minded men Munro developed several grand ‘coffee palaces’ around the city. From all reports these were most amenable places where patrons could avail themselves of all manner of food and drink —except alcohol — yet most failed to show a decent return. Like Fawkner, Munro was not one to let his principles get in the way of financial gain (in more ways than one). After ceremoniously burning the licence for the Grand Hotel (now the Windsor) he later reapplied for it after the hotel failed to make a profit as a coffee palace. Munro and his ilk did not manage to eradicate alcohol from the city but Melbournians were rudely forced to sober up in 1893 when Victoria’s economy collapsed: thanks in no small part to Munro who was caught with his hands in the till. With one of their most prominent advocates deeply implicated in the dodgy dealings that had resulted in truly widespread community misery the temperance leaguers went quite for a while. They were vociferously campaigning again by the turn of the century though.

In 1912 a collective of temperance groups and professional caterers joined together to demand the abolishment of the free counter lunches then available in many Melbourne pubs. The group claimed that the provision of these meals was an unfair and morally reprehensible business practice as they were offered as an inducement to purchase alcoholic drinks (which indeed they were). The free lunches were abolished in 1914 but this was due to austerity measures imposed with the advent of the First World War. A year later 6pm closing for hotels was instituted—and remained in place until1966. Ultimately this law did little to curb drinking: men just spent the hour between knocking off work at five and hotel closing time frenetically downing glasses of beer. At six o’clock they were disgorged on mass from hotels across the city many vomiting on footpaths and others looking for, and often finding, a fight.

It was the inter-war years that saw the anti-liquor crusaders reach the apogee of their influence. Inspired by America’s prohibition laws Victorians went to a ‘no-licence’ poll in 1920 at which the citizens of Boroondara and Nunawading voted for the sale of alcohol to be banned in these areas. In 1926 the Women’s Christian Temperance Union succeeded in having the half-cup of brandy specified in a fruitcake recipe contained in a cookbook used in Victorian schools removed from the ingredients list. Another poll was held in 1930 and again in 1938. The issue at stake was the same at both: the abolishment of liquor licences and closure of all bars and premises that sold alcohol in Victoria. Campaigning on this issue was fierce, and prescient of the aforementioned billboards, the effect of drinking on children was writ large. Pamphlets distributed by various prohibitionist groups bore pictures of angelic children and captions reading: ‘My daddy sold me to a brewery’ and ‘Daddy if you vote for Liquor, will you blame me if I drink?’. Both the polls were defeated but a strong repugnance against the ‘demon drink’ lingered and the liquor licensing laws deliberately implemented to curb social drinking during World War One largely remained in place for the next two decades.

Melbourne in the 1950s had a reputation as drab city of ‘wowsers’ — due in no small part to the ‘antiquated’ liquor licensing laws that its citizens seemed to prefer. There were those though who wanted to enjoy a glass of wine with their meal when they dined out or to facilitate this experience. For years Victorian restaurateurs, wine retailers, wine makers and their patrons had been ardently rallying against the licensing laws. In 1956 – the year Melbourne hosted the Olympic Games— they won the first increment of reform when hotels gained licence to serve liquor with meals until 10pm in their dining rooms. In 1960 restaurants not attached to hotels won the right to serve liquor with meals until 10pm; in 1966 six o’clock closing was repealed and bars were allowed to serve alcohol until 10pm and in 1968 patrons were permitted to bring their own wine (BYO) to a restaurant. This contributed to a boom in BYO establishments. There was no such comparative growth in the licensed restaurant sector – a circumstance that restaurateur Richard Frank blamed on Victoria’s ‘loony’ liquor laws. These laws made it relatively simple and inexpensive to apply for a BYO permit, but required applicants for a restaurant licence to undergo a lengthy and expensive process, including a scrutiny of their morals, to obtain a permit to operate a licensed restaurant.

In 1987 Victorian licensing laws were radically overhauled after a report commissioned by the government (the ‘Nieuwenhuysen Report’) recommended a more liberal and civilised attitude towards liquor licensing be adopted in Victoria. The Liquor Control Act 1987 allowed for extended trading hours for licenced premises; permitted licenced restaurants to sell liquor without meals and allowed for different types of businesses to sell alcohol. A survey conducted by Nieuwenhuysen found that the general populace was reluctant to support such wholesale changes to the way alcohol was sold in Victoria. Yet when these changes were implemented they catalysed a revolution in the way Melburnians ate, drank and socialized: the rest as they say is history — or history repeating itself.

Since licensing deregulation was implemented in Victoria in1988 bars in particular have proliferated in the CBD and inner city at a rate not seen since Melbourne’s earliest decades. Community opinion has landed the blame for our current alcohol related social problems such as street violence and binge drinking on the ease of availability of alcohol. The government’s response has been to introduce restrictions on liquor licensing: a strategy that history shows does not work. While more considered argument suggests that we need to look at the prevailing —and again, historical — cultural attitude that views excessive consumption of alcohol as a normal social behaviour; that violence is happening outside of and not on licensed premises and not allow the anti-social behaviour of a few to restrict the amenity of the majority.

To my mind there is another issue here and its roots go back to John Fawkner. In recommending licensing changes Nieuwenhysen argued that these would bring significant economic and cultural benefits to Victoria, which indeed they have. This has also led to what some in the hospitality industry describe as an ‘oversupply’ of places to eat and drink. So here’s the link with Fawkner: profit. Does the hospitality industry actually need people to consume more alcohol for it to remain viable?

Restaurants earn a better return on serving alcohol than food and for bars it is their stock in trade. Those who lament the oversupply of food and wine businesses also suggest that local planning is to blame for this. Perhaps then planning controls could be implemented as an adjunct to easing our current alcohol related social problems. The safe rate of alcohol consumption could be divided by the adult population of a local government area to arrive at an amount of liquor permitted to be sold there each day. Calculations could then be made as to the number of profitable businesses this could reasonably allow for and permits only issued for that number. Yes I know it’s an silly idea for all sorts of reasons but at least it’s a novel one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The existence of such a law was indicative that the predilection for alcohol in Melbourne was not without community impact but the police force was too small to ensure that regulations were robustly adhered to. Even when offenders against licensing regulations were caught they were not educated, or penalized heavily enough, towards discouraging repeat offences. It therefore fell on the citizens of Melbourne themselves to take action. In 1837 the Port Phillip Temperance Society was inaugurated; its mission to gain the prohibition of the use of ‘ardent spirits for anything other than medicinal purposes’: they had not picked an easy battle. When the Melbourne Total Abstinence Society invited the well-known temperance evangelist Isabella Dalgarno to deliver a lecture on the evils of drink in Melbourne in 1842, a consortium of local publicans organized for some thugs to attend her lecture and rustle her from the stage. When the matter appeared in court the next day the bruised Dalgarno, the victim in the case, found herself admonished by the judge —who happened to alternate his judicial duties with selling wine and spirits — for having the audacity to speak in front of men: her attackers were let off without even a warning.

This incident reflected where the allegiance of Melbourne’s powerbrokers lay in respect to drink, and this had as much to do with pleasure as money. When petitioned to lend his support to the temperance cause the Anglican Archbishop refused saying that wine was a gift that god intended his flock to enjoy. Lacking the support of any significant civic, commercial or spiritual leader the temperance movement made few gains towards its goal and its voice was pretty much drowned out by the din of the gold rush.

Within a year of gold being discovered in Victoria in 1851 Melbourne’s population more than doubled with 10,000 people a week arriving in the town at the height of the rush. To provide for all these people there was a rapid growth of commercial enterprises particularly hotels. There was, without exaggeration, a licenced house on every street corner and several more on the block in between and all well patronized. Having observed the profits to be made serving drinks in Melbourne while passing through on route to the goldfields Frenchman Antoine Fauchery later returned and opened a small café in Little Bourke Street serving coffee and alcoholic beverages. He traded without a licence but the police turned a blind eye to this as his clientele —foreigners and bohemian types — were quiet and didn’t cause any trouble unlike many of the patrons of the legitimate licenced premises.

Gold money grew Melbourne from a dusty frontier town to one of the largest cities in the British Empire by the 1880s. Once dusty city streets were recast as elegant tree lined boulevards and grand buildings cut a majestic skyline but it remained a city with a drinking problem. George Meudell described Melbourne at this time as a ‘roughish sort of town, wide open and frankly immoral’: a place where French champagne flowed in bars that traded long beyond opening hours because there were not enough police to stop them. In the less salubrious allies and laneways around Little Lonsdale street booze was imbibed as generously though its provenance was likely a local brewery or sly grog still.

Man-about -town Muedell could hold his drink but many others couldn’t resulting in violence on the streets and in the privacy of homes. Community opposition to the selling of alcohol in Melbourne – and Victoria —was growing louder. This time the temperance leagues had might on their side: several of the city’s most pious teetotalers were also rich and influential men, most notably the ‘dour Scot’ James Munro (who at the pinnacle of his power became Premier and Treasurer of Victoria in 1890). In consortium with other like-minded men Munro developed several grand ‘coffee palaces’ around the city. From all reports these were most amenable places where patrons could avail themselves of all manner of food and drink —except alcohol — yet most failed to show a decent return. Like Fawkner, Munro was not one to let his principles get in the way of financial gain (in more ways than one). After ceremoniously burning the licence for the Grand Hotel (now the Windsor) he later reapplied for it after the hotel failed to make a profit as a coffee palace. Munro and his ilk did not manage to eradicate alcohol from the city but Melbournians were rudely forced to sober up in 1893 when Victoria’s economy collapsed: thanks in no small part to Munro who was caught with his hands in the till. With one of their most prominent advocates deeply implicated in the dodgy dealings that had resulted in truly widespread community misery the temperance leaguers went quite for a while. They were vociferously campaigning again by the turn of the century though.

In 1912 a collective of temperance groups and professional caterers joined together to demand the abolishment of the free counter lunches then available in many Melbourne pubs. The group claimed that the provision of these meals was an unfair and morally reprehensible business practice as they were offered as an inducement to purchase alcoholic drinks (which indeed they were). The free lunches were abolished in 1914 but this was due to austerity measures imposed with the advent of the First World War. A year later 6pm closing for hotels was instituted—and remained in place until1966. Ultimately this law did little to curb drinking: men just spent the hour between knocking off work at five and hotel closing time frenetically downing glasses of beer. At six o’clock they were disgorged on mass from hotels across the city many vomiting on footpaths and others looking for, and often finding, a fight.

It was the inter-war years that saw the anti-liquor crusaders reach the apogee of their influence. Inspired by America’s prohibition laws Victorians went to a ‘no-licence’ poll in 1920 at which the citizens of Boroondara and Nunawading voted for the sale of alcohol to be banned in these areas. In 1926 the Women’s Christian Temperance Union succeeded in having the half-cup of brandy specified in a fruitcake recipe contained in a cookbook used in Victorian schools removed from the ingredients list. Another poll was held in 1930 and again in 1938. The issue at stake was the same at both: the abolishment of liquor licences and closure of all bars and premises that sold alcohol in Victoria. Campaigning on this issue was fierce, and prescient of the aforementioned billboards, the effect of drinking on children was writ large. Pamphlets distributed by various prohibitionist groups bore pictures of angelic children and captions reading: ‘My daddy sold me to a brewery’ and ‘Daddy if you vote for Liquor, will you blame me if I drink?’. Both the polls were defeated but a strong repugnance against the ‘demon drink’ lingered and the liquor licensing laws deliberately implemented to curb social drinking during World War One largely remained in place for the next two decades.

Melbourne in the 1950s had a reputation as drab city of ‘wowsers’ — due in no small part to the ‘antiquated’ liquor licensing laws that its citizens seemed to prefer. There were those though who wanted to enjoy a glass of wine with their meal when they dined out or to facilitate this experience. For years Victorian restaurateurs, wine retailers, wine makers and their patrons had been ardently rallying against the licensing laws. In 1956 – the year Melbourne hosted the Olympic Games— they won the first increment of reform when hotels gained licence to serve liquor with meals until 10pm in their dining rooms. In 1960 restaurants not attached to hotels won the right to serve liquor with meals until 10pm; in 1966 six o’clock closing was repealed and bars were allowed to serve alcohol until 10pm and in 1968 patrons were permitted to bring their own wine (BYO) to a restaurant. This contributed to a boom in BYO establishments. There was no such comparative growth in the licensed restaurant sector – a circumstance that restaurateur Richard Frank blamed on Victoria’s ‘loony’ liquor laws. These laws made it relatively simple and inexpensive to apply for a BYO permit, but required applicants for a restaurant licence to undergo a lengthy and expensive process, including a scrutiny of their morals, to obtain a permit to operate a licensed restaurant.

In 1987 Victorian licensing laws were radically overhauled after a report commissioned by the government (the ‘Nieuwenhuysen Report’) recommended a more liberal and civilised attitude towards liquor licensing be adopted in Victoria. The Liquor Control Act 1987 allowed for extended trading hours for licenced premises; permitted licenced restaurants to sell liquor without meals and allowed for different types of businesses to sell alcohol. A survey conducted by Nieuwenhuysen found that the general populace was reluctant to support such wholesale changes to the way alcohol was sold in Victoria. Yet when these changes were implemented they catalysed a revolution in the way Melburnians ate, drank and socialized: the rest as they say is history — or history repeating itself.

Since licensing deregulation was implemented in Victoria in1988 bars in particular have proliferated in the CBD and inner city at a rate not seen since Melbourne’s earliest decades. Community opinion has landed the blame for our current alcohol related social problems such as street violence and binge drinking on the ease of availability of alcohol. The government’s response has been to introduce restrictions on liquor licensing: a strategy that history shows does not work. While more considered argument suggests that we need to look at the prevailing —and again, historical — cultural attitude that views excessive consumption of alcohol as a normal social behaviour; that violence is happening outside of and not on licensed premises and not allow the anti-social behaviour of a few to restrict the amenity of the majority.

To my mind there is another issue here and its roots go back to John Fawkner. In recommending licensing changes Nieuwenhysen argued that these would bring significant economic and cultural benefits to Victoria, which indeed they have. This has also led to what some in the hospitality industry describe as an ‘oversupply’ of places to eat and drink. So here’s the link with Fawkner: profit. Does the hospitality industry actually need people to consume more alcohol for it to remain viable?

Restaurants earn a better return on serving alcohol than food and for bars it is their stock in trade. Those who lament the oversupply of food and wine businesses also suggest that local planning is to blame for this. Perhaps then planning controls could be implemented as an adjunct to easing our current alcohol related social problems. The safe rate of alcohol consumption could be divided by the adult population of a local government area to arrive at an amount of liquor permitted to be sold there each day. Calculations could then be made as to the number of profitable businesses this could reasonably allow for and permits only issued for that number. Yes I know it’s an silly idea for all sorts of reasons but at least it’s a novel one.