The Darwinian Thirst

Darwin, located in Australia’s Northern Territory, was the classic frontier outpost. Settled comparatively late in a country young to begin with, the romantic, the edgy, the devil-may-care have always attended Darwin. Cities regularly afflicted by trauma, including in this case cyclones and the Japanese bombings of WW II, can be that way. Hundreds were killed and injured in the attacks, with a degree of panic that was rarely seen in Allied cities.

Its pristine and varied natural surroundings, not least the warm scented sea and scarlet-tinted gorges, simply enhance the exotique.

The tropical weather of the remote Timor Sea, especially before the A/C era, encouraged local beer-drinking to the max, and if necessary people drank the stuff warm. Port Darwin always had a reputation for outsized thirst. The famed Darwin Stubby, an unlovely two-litre bottle apparently now retired, gave symbolic form to this reality. The container initially was pragmatic but over time was viewed with self-deprecation.

The beer was made locally, by Swan Brewery, which became part of CUB. Finally, the “Draught” was brewed in Victoria. While Australia’s per capita beer consumption has fallen from the 1970s, today’s A/C-laced Darwin features no shortage of beer. Stubby or no, old traditions die hard.

Craft brewing has been slow to develop but has started, see this informative report of Bert Spinks in the “The Crafty Pint”. Spinks relates some interesting history on the origins of the Darwin Stubby, as well.

In the heyday of Darwin’s thirst, press stories abounded on its capacity for malt beverage. They were usually written in slightly apologetic tone, and considering the bluff attitude to alcohol in Australia, that is saying something.

This story in New South Wales in October 1941, is a good example. In that period, Darwin, much like Halifax, Nova Scotia, was stretched to the limit by wartime exigencies. Sometimes beer was scarce,  and “disorders” in hotels, not infrequent. But the beery balm poured on, surely a good thing for a population, civil or military, needing respite from daily stresses.

From the story:


George Johnston, writing in the Molong “Express,” gives these highly interesting sidelights on the Darwinian capacity for beer: For cosmopolitan colour and for wild, uproarious, incredibly noisy life Darwin stands alone. By contrast, Sydney — once regarded as Australia’s “brightest” city — has the atmosphere of chilly coldness. The national pastime in Darwin is drinking beer. Perhaps the population is still savouring the novelty of getting cold beer regularly. A couple of years ago the pubs charged 2/- a bottle for warm beer, 3/- for cold. Now it is all two “bob” and all cold. Whatever the reason, the three pubs do a roaring trade from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.- Consumption is officially 480,000 bottles a month! That works out to the best part of 6,000,000 bottles a year, and that represents a lot of steady drinking. You have only to see the vast dumps of “empties!” Freight alone costs £48,000 a year. …. There is one pub that extends an entire block and is packed to the wide-open doors and overflowing to the gutters until the inevitable— and punctual— cry of “Time, please, gentlemen.” Round the corner is another pub identical with the “saloons” you have seen in every Wild West film Hollywood has ever turned out — swing doors, “bouncers,” and a roaring crowd.

The fact that Darwin’s bars could look “western” to the reporter showed how the country had changed since the 1800s, when most Antipodean hotels looked as Darwin’s still did. In a frontier where the pace of change was slower, old-timey buildings had simply lasted longer.

The Victoria Hotel in Darwin, which somehow ducked Tojo’s bombs, typified the genre, see here. The “Vic” still stands but is no longer a bar.

Note re image: the image above is from this ABC news story, on the demise of the Darwin Stubby.  All intellectual property in or to the image belongs solely to the lawful owner. Image used for historical and educational purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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