My Life with the Demon

Published in 1994, Keith's second book in his trilogy of memoirs recounts his experiences with, around and under the influence of the 'Demon Drink'.

Cover of the  book

From the original dust jacket

You get Keith Dunstan at his warm, witty and 'vintage' best in this sequel to his bestselling autobiography, No Brains At All.

"Oh dear, when was the first occasion I was struck down by the Demon drink? It could have been when I was a server, an altar boy at Geelong Grammar. Keith takes you back to the golden days, when ladies sipped sherry, hotels closed at 6 pm sharp, and the 'boys' at war got a two bottle ration.

And there's more. You discover what really happens when you flee the city to grow vines and enjoy the produce. You' find yourself chuckling along with Keith. He shares trials such as home bottling and brewing.

We drove home with wine lapping around our ankles. It was six months before the smell of wine disappeared from the Holden. You're there as Keith steps out into his Paradise, not Provence in France, but Poplar Bend on the Mornington Peninsula…..

"I have just done a terrible thing, a terrible mistake. I just sprayed the entire vineyard with weed killer."

"The terrible thought came to mind. There is only one place my gold Omega watch could be. It must have slipped off while I was doing that vigorous plunging. It had to be in the fermenter under 1,000 litres of red must."

"Whatever happens, wine needs to be kept warm and comfortable. At our place regularly we have used the electric blankets. It is a splendid test for that part of the marriage vows about sharing all worldly goods."

Keith Dunstan is one of Australia's best known and most loved writers. His previous books are all bestsellers. Keith writes for the Herald Sun in Melbourne and for 20 years penned 'A Place in the Sun' daily for the Sun News-Pictorial to a huge and loyal readership. Keith continues to love life and the Demon.

"Moderate drinker live longer due to lower rates of heart disease. So 1 am pinning my hopes to that, devoting myself to the course of two glasses of the Demon daily, to keep myself away from the real Demon. Cheers!"


This book is about the Demon Drink. 'Demon' 'Drink'...nice alliteration, they go together a little too easily don't they? That's because drink, or should we say, booze, has always suffered from terrible public relations. We hear all about the degradation, suffering, the lives it has destroyed. How about the 99.9 per cent of us to whom it has given infinite joy?

The message that Drinking was a Sin began here back in the 1840s. In my lifetime it began with 6 o'clock closing. The wowsers agreed that Drink, spelled with a capital D, was the cause of all evil. Back in World War 1 the wowsers decided it was the Drink that was ruining our morale. There was only way to defeat the Kaiser, instead of having the hotels open until 11.30 pm, close them at 9.30 pm. The Kaiser remained undefeated, so in October 1916 we introduced six o'clock closing. We defeated the Kaiser but we kept hotels closed for 50 years.

It was a sin for a cafe or a restaurant to have a wine licence. The few restaurants permitted to serve drinks had to put up with a curfew. The unfortunate diner would be half way through a Steak Diane then come 8 o'clock the law abiding proprietor would whip the glasses off the table. The new age of persecution came in the 1980s. We learned to live with .05. "Pull over Driver. Now would you please blow into this bag?".

A further refinement was the purification of our sporting grounds. For example, there were the late afternoon rowdies at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. We all had to share the blame. The first idea was to introduce 'dry' areas. Then through the Outer there was a two can limit. Finally even the cans were forbidden, plastic cups only.

Officially, the Government wanted us to drink less, but look how frightful it would be if we did.

Liquor is the most convenient and wonderful tax medium ever invented. We became the most thoroughly taxed drinking nation on earth. We contribute 2.3 billion dollars to the Commonwealth Government every year. But that's not all, there is a further gift of $100 million to the Victorian Government in licence fees.

We do so much more than the non drinking classes. More than half of every glass is a kindly contribution to Government. In 40 years of drinking I think I have contributed at least half a frigate or maybe the wing of an F18.

Back in the 19th century our grandparents had the naive belief Back in the 19th century our grandparents had the naive belief that if only man would banish alcohol, crime would cease, the gaols would be emptied, lunacy would disappear, husbands would remain faithful to their wives, the enormous wealth spent on drink would be spent on culture, and in the new, splendid dry community, Eldorado would be at hand.

Nothing like that ever happened anywhere, but there are those who still cherish this 19th century dream. It is a strange over-simplification to blame all sin, all road carnage on alcohol. Do the 99 per cent who handle alcohol wisely have to live in guilt for the one per cent who do not know how to use it?

I say 99 per cent because when it comes to those breathalyser tests we have a pretty good record. The police find that 99.7 per cent of us are below the 05 limit.

As a humble user I would like to say a word in its defence. From the time I was born I was told alcohol was a sin. My father, against the wishes of his father, did not think so. From the age of 14 on he started giving me the occasional glass of wine. It has been one of the great joys of my life and I don't want to be penalised at every turn by some misguided politician.

At our place, every evening, come six o'clock we have our glorious ritual, I have a bottle of beer, my wife has a Scotch. It is the happy hour, the summing up, we discuss the good things, the bad things that happened during the day. Maybe it would go just as well on lemonade or barley water, but I doubt it. The alcohol is a relaxing balm and, besides, it tastes better.

Then whenever friends are around we open a bottle of wine. I don't think I have ever extracted a cork without a sense of anticipation and excitement. This is because no vintage is ever the same, no grape is quite like any other, and if you are looking for the extraordinary glory of creation you get it in the magic subtle variations of a glass of riesling, chardonnay or, ah yes, pinot noir.

But now the Demon Drink is under assault again, curiously at a time when consumption is going down. Now look here, the demon, if that's what you like to call it, hit its peak in 1975-76. Australians were drinking 9.8 litres a head of pure alcohol. It is down now to 8.7 litres and that is a mighty drop, better than 10 per cent.

Take beer. In 1975-76 we drank 140 litres a head. Now it is 110 lites. There used to be a theory beer consumption would never fall, it would only go up, but that is a drop of 21.4 per cent and the big reason why the beer producers shifted their activities overseas. But those figures don't tell anything like the real story. Back in 1975 we had no interest in low alcohol beers and the consumption then was all full strength beer.

Now, don't you see, 25 per cent of all our beer is low alcohol Wine consumption is down eight per cent, particularly with the large volume cask wines. Yes, there is a change in the way people handle their drink and I see it in the people around me. I am fascinated by the young, particularly the young journalists. They are an abstemious lot, compared with the rambunctious men of my day. We used to have a group called the Morning Tea Club, and they would gather in the Back Bar of the Oriental Hotel at 11 am.

There was a famous finance writer who had his first beer at Young & Jackson's on his way to the office. Carefully he would time his arrival by train at Flinders Street for 9am. That was when they opened the doors. You don't see these people any more.

There is not the slightest doubt in my mind concerning the health benefits of a glass of wine every day, and most of my mates in the wine industry seem quite capable of living for ever. As I write there is a report in the May 1994 issue of the British medical journal, Lancet. Two doctors from the California State University, Dr C.J. Muller and Dr K.C. Fugelsang point out that salicylic acid is the main ingredient of wine. Aspirin is now being used to lower the incidence of heart disease. High risk heart patients are being advised to take an aspirin a day. The doctors said:

"What many who extol the virtue of wine seem to have missed is that wines, both white and red, are an excellent source of salicylic acid. Those of us who are entrusted with the privilege of prescribing might just as easily say: "Take two glasses of wine and see me in the morning.

Several years ago Dr Peter Tisdall, creator of the great wines that came from Mount Helen, produced a little book titled Wine and Your Health. He quoted many studies on alcohol, but of particular interest was the Kaiser-Permanent Hospital Health Plan published in 'Annals of Internal Medicine' in 1981.

Eighty-seven thousand people were carefully matched and divided into four equal groups: those who regularly consumed O drinks per day, up to 2 drinks per day, and 6 or more drinks per day. The scientists monitored all of the subjects for 10 years.

The results showed that moderate drinkers (up to 2 drinks per day) live longer and are about 27 per cent less likely to die from all causes than either abstainers or heavy drinkers. Moderate drinkers live longer due to lower rates of heart disease.

So I am pinning my hopes to that, devoting myself to the cause of two glasses of the Demon daily to keep myself away from the real Demon. Cheers.

Keith Dunstan, Main Ridge VIC, 1994.


Keywords in this book

Adrian Benns Anatole de Montaiglon Andre Simon Andrew Hickinbotham Anthony Hanson Ashley Harris Baillieu Myer Baron Ferdinand von Mueller Beer Berek Segan Bronwyn Bishop Breakfast Creek Hotel Brown Brothers of Milawa Bundaberg Rum Carlton and United Breweries Cathedral Hotel Charles Malpas Chateau Tahbilk Chloe Christopher Daniel Cocktails Coopers Beer Curly Rourke Cyril H Denny Dan Murphy Darren Kelly David Dunstan David Thomas Doug Crittenden Douglas Seabrook Dr Carl Resch Dr John Wilson Dr Max Lake Dr Samuel Johnson Dr Thomas Fitzgerald E. Tennyson Smith E.W. Bill Tipping Eric Purbrick Fosters Lager Frank Christie Fred Williams Garry Crittenden Geelong Grammar School Gough Whitlam Greg Gallagher Henry Bolte Henry Figsby Young Henry Lawson Hermann Schneider Home brewing Hotel Australia Ian Home Ian Johnson Ian Mackenzie Ian Matthews - Portavin Ian Sutherland Smith Jack Eddy Jack Williams James Halliday Jean-Antoine Chaptal Jeff Kennett Jeff Moss Jimmy Watson Joe Sullivan John and Marjorie Paterson John and Patricia Brown John Beeston John C Brown John Cunnington John Monks Joseph Swan Kathleen Quealy Ken and Wendy Bilham King George V Lady Elisabeth Murdoch Len Evans Derek Rumbold Patricia Rumbold Leon Massoni Vivienne Massoni Les Francis Lillian Frank Lou Richards Lucian Dressell Marie Dunstan Melbourne Cricket Club Menzies Hotel Milawa Mrs Beeton Nat and Rosalie White Neill Robb Neville Baker Norman Brown Osmar White Paul Sheahan Pedler Palmer Peter Cudlipp Peter Grant Hay Peter Janson Peter Joyce Peter Lehmann Peter McIntosh Peter McMahon Peter Walker Philip Suter Phoenix Hotel Reg Egan Reg Fogarty Reschs Reverend E. C. Crotty Rhine Castle Wines Richard Ernest Nowell (R.E.N.) Twopeny Robin Boyd Rocco Tallarida Rothbury Estate Society Rudi Komon Samuel Mauger Sir Alexander Peacock Sir Keith Murdoch Sir Robert Menzies Six oclock swill Stan Keon Stuart Legge Swan Lager T.S. Eliot Ted Zakorski Terry Laidler The Dean of Melbourne - Rev. Dr H. B. Macartney Tom Ford Tom Seabrook Tulloch Wines Virgil Thomson Viticultre Viticultural Society of Victoria Wallhalla Warwick W Armstrong William Dunstan VC William Painter Wine Winemaking Young & Jacksons Hotel