Craig's Travels
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Fond of the Drink

Now the Louis likes his native wine and Otto likes his beer,
The Pommy goes for "Half & Half" because it gives him cheer.
Angus likes his whisky neat and Paddy likes his tot,
The Aussie has no drink at all - he likes the bloody lot!

Of all the interesting intricacies possessed by the Aussies, the most prominent is probably their capacity to drink copious amounts of alcohol. Up until the 1950's, Australians were number 1 in the world in beer consumption per person. I'm not making this statistic up (even though 72% of statistics are made up on the spot), I'm actually pulling this information from a helpful and entertaining book (well helpful anyway) called Australian Drinking Stories, written by Australian author Jim Haynes. I was entertained simply by the fact there WAS a book called Australian Drinking Stories, if not particularly entertained by the surprisingly dry stories. Regardless, Jim offered some interesting insights into the pub culture and drinking history in the fine nation.

My favorite quote from Mr. Haynes offers a possible justification for why Aussies are so fond of drink: "It is possible to argue simplistically that, with a population consisting entirely of convicts, soldiers, sailors and children born our of wedlock and in prison hulks, the First Fleet set a national trend for drunkenness and tolerance that could never be entirely reversed." It sounds like a bit of an excuse to me. Jim's logic is that because, 40 generations ago, the country was founded by criminals, it is quite all right for Aussies to get pissed at the local pub and act like a buffoon. Come on Mr. Haynes, if people want to act like a buffoon, that is perfectly acceptable in my book, but don't blame it on some long-dead prisoners!

There is something to be said about a strong history of drinking here in Australia. It's true that from 1793 to 1814, rum was the accepted currency in New South Wales. And James Cook often encouraged members of the First Fleet to drink a certain Jungle Juice that may or may not have warded off scurvy. Plus, much of the early industry in this country came from mining (and in fact still does). The extraordinary heat at these mining locations lends itself to drinking refreshingly cold beer. At least this was the case once the mining communities acquired refrigeration, which came long before television and in some cases, electricity.

Recent decades have seen an incredible boom in Australia's wine industry, with imports to the United States skyrocketing, especially to Trader Joe's. Wine regions in northern Tasmania, Hunter Valley in New South Wales and McLaren Vale in South Australia have been producing fine wines for almost a century, but in the last few decades wine productions has become a major cash industry.

Furthermore, in the last 6 or 7 years, the city folk in Australia have acquired a taste for cocktails, as evidenced by the extraordinary volume of "alchy pops" on the Australian market. Alchy pops, for those not in the know, are the sweet tasting alcoholic beverages preferred by high school girls. These beverages are now sold in 12 oz aluminum cans in Oz, meaning one can go into a bottle shop and pick up a six-er of pre-mixed Jack & Cokes.

With all this drinking going on, no wonder Aussies love spending time in the pub. For some, the friends acquired at the pub are more of a family than the people at home. For others, the pub is their entire social network. Still more just like to have a cold beer and be social.

My informal survey concluded that 56% of Australians believe that drinking is actually the national past time for Australia. The closest other answer was sporting (either watching or playing), with 12% of the total vote. Of course, the results to this survey might be a little skewed due to the fact that most of the people polled were drinking at the time. Even still, most Americans when asked this question would probably say baseball or football. While Americans do party, I doubt that a majority of Yanks polled would say that drinking is the National Past time of the USA. Australians certainly are fond of the drink.

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