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'Time, gentlemen, please'

Two very different books on alcohol
by
June 2010, issue no. 322

Under The Influence: A history of alcohol in Australia by Ross Fitzgerald and Trevor L. Jordan

ABC Books, $35 pb, 335 pp

Book 2 Cover Small (400 x 600)

My Name Is Ross: An alcoholic’s journey by Ross Fitzgerald

New South, $34.95 pb, 240 pp

'Time, gentlemen, please'

Two very different books on alcohol
by
June 2010, issue no. 322

In Under the Influence, Ross Fitzgerald and Trevor L. Jordan look at Australian history and contemporary life through the lens of alcohol use in the community. ‘How a community or nation handles alcohol may be a strong indicator of its collective character’, they suggest. While seeking evidence for this, they throw up some fascinating material.

There was briefly a possibility that New South Wales would be settled as a dry colony; Lord Sydney had wanted this. However, the First Fleet sailors were entitled under British naval law to rum rations, so large quantities came with them or were picked up en route. Rum soon became the surrogate currency. After that, alcohol was firmly entrenched in Australian life.

The ‘Rum Rebellion’ is described at length, and ‘in the end, the events directly precipitating [it] had nothing to do with rum at all’. It was really a clash of personalities and power between Bligh and Macarthur, though several of the fringe players seem to have spent much of their time inebriated. This angle on history is not radically revisionist, but it is convincingly demonstrated. On the other hand, the Northern Territory Administrator, John Gilruth, was run out of Darwin in 1918 simply on the basis of booze. He had prohibited the unloading of 700 cases of Melbourne Bitter for consumption during the Christmas period, something the Territorians would not tolerate.

Richard Harding reviews 'Under The Influence: A history of alcohol in Australia' by Ross Fitzgerald and Trevor L. Jordan and 'My Name Is Ross: An alcoholic’s journey' by Ross Fitzgerald

Under The Influence: A history of alcohol in Australia

by Ross Fitzgerald and Trevor L. Jordan

ABC Books, $35 pb, 335 pp

Book 2 Cover Small (400 x 600)

My Name Is Ross: An alcoholic’s journey

by Ross Fitzgerald

New South, $34.95 pb, 240 pp

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