The Beer Demon
Living in New York was extremely uncomplicated. The Demon drink was half the Australian price. Whisky, Bourbon, Scotch and Rye could even be bought in gallon bottles. Liquor stores were open night and day. They never seemed to close. Why did one not find drunks on the streets as we did in Melbourne? There was no problem about restaurants, even tiny cafes served drinks with meals. How easy it was to slip into this style of life. Our local grocer was an Italian, named Bruno. One Sunday morning I went round to Bruno to buy a dozen bottles of beer.
"Sorry," said Bruno. "We can't sell liquor until noon on Sundays. That's the law in New York."
I fumed. "What sort of a country is this. You can't buy liquor on Sunday mornings." Suddenly I came to my senses and remembered the unique and wondrous liquor laws back home. We returned to those in 1952.
Six o'clock closing came to New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania during World War 1. Until then hotels were open until all hours, usually until 11.30 pm. In Melbourne they had the remarkable span 6 am to 11.30 pm.
For more than 30 years temperance organisations had been fighting for shorter hours and now they had a marvellous chance. King George V had banned wine, spirits and beer from the Royal Household for the duration of the war. Lord Kitchener, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Lloyd George and most of the members of the Asquith cabinet put out loyal statements saying they would do the same.
If this sort of thing was going on in the Old Country, Australia had to do the same. There was no question, early closing was the way to defeat the Kaiser. South Australia was the first to go for six o'clock closing on 27 March 1915. New South Wales and Tasmania decided on six o'clock in 1916. Victoria had two stabs at it. The Legislation had the lovely title, Temporary Restriction Bill. It first went into effect on 6 July 1915 and this reduced drinking hours to 9.30 pm.
But you see the war was not going well. There had been the defeat in Gallipoli and appalling casualties in France. More effort was needed to defeat the Kaiser and there was the worry that soldiers might be lingering in bars. This would reduce their fighting efficiency.
Originally Victoria was to have a referendum to decide on the ideal closing time, and a number of options were to be offered, 6,7,8,9,10 and 11 pm. Those who wanted early closing would accept nothing but six o'clock. The Argus printed leader after leader pointing out that six was absurd. This was precisely the hour when thousands of men left warehouse and shop. "Yes," said the Reverend E.C. Crotty. "Muzzle the liquor dog at the most dangerous hour for the sheep."
But could we wait for a referendum? The Battle of the Somme was at its height. The Premier of Victoria, Sir Alexander Peacock, decided there was no time available for such democratic niceties, so he brought down the six o'clock legislation at once and it came into effect on 25 October 1916.
The Temporary Restriction Bill which was to be beautifully temporary only to the Armistice, went right through until February 1966, a few months short of half a century.
Politicians were terrified of the wowser vote. Not until Henry Bolte was there a man brave enough to take them on. Six o'clock closing was an extraordinary phenomenon. Just as the Argus warned back in 1916, it caused an avalanche of drinking at precisely the wrong time.
Drinking arrangements were very different. By the 1990s at least two thirds of all beer was being drunk in stubbies or cans, in the home. In the 1950s and 1960s it was the other way around, two thirds of all beer was produced in barrels and drunk in hotels. What a different story it was, pubs were prosperous. One did not have to walk more than 50 metres to find a drinking well. They were unlike the homely old pubs of England and many of them hardly deserved the name.
The most famous on my walk down Flinders Street was the Port Phillip, next to Young & Jacksons Hotel and opposite Flinders Street Station. It had been a landmark almost since Melbourne began and it was a labyrinth of bars. The public bar had huge punkahs, mechanically operated, which shuffled back and forth, gently moving the smoke-filled air, and even sending ripples across the surface of one's beer.
"There are only 30 precious minutes left."
Yes, as the Argus said, six o'clock closing left a desperate situation. Here is an extract from 'Wowsers', published in 1968:
"Imagine the scene, a large room with a cold lavatory like atmosphere, but filled with pushing men. There are no seats, no tables, no stools, no clutter that might interfere with high speed action. There are only 30 precious minutes left and there are five in one's school; as a point of honour each man must shout, that is every man must buy a round of drinks. Can it be done in time? There is a large clock on the wall, invariably set fast, because the police come around at 6 pm to make sure the bar is cleared. Like the last moments before an execution, time ticks away, tension mounts and mounts.
There are always a few loafers in the school, who tend to waste time talking instead of drinking and the school gets behind on its schedule. Getting everybody his last shout is a desperate affair. There is extra staff for the peak panic, eight or ten skilled barmen and barmaids, all equipped with the latest pluto taps on plastic hoses, an invention designed for dispensing beer at frightening speed, but they cannot cope.
It is ten to six, now five to six, the bar is ten deep with pushing bodies, all thrusting handfuls of glasses towards the barmaids (no such niceties as a fresh glass for every beer in 1960): 'Here' - 'Here' ~ 'For Chrissake here'. Well, you know the barmaid pretty well, and she serves you first, but then you have to get your five glasses back to your mates against the wall. It is like penetrating the crowd behind the goals at a football match, but infinitely more hazardous, you are carrying the precious cargo. Your mates help, of course, and you try to pass the glasses overhead. But now it is two minutes to six, the mob is getting desperate, like the last few fighting for the lifeboats on a sinking ship. There are dozens of deeply unfortunate gentlemen with empty glasses who may have to leave without the honour of having shouted. So they shove, but as the beer rains down on them out of your full glasses they do not even notice.
Yet amongst the canny there was an alternative. Immediately upon entering the bar at 5.30 pm one lined up one's small platoon of five and all approached the bar at once and bought five beers each. There was one difficulty in this, under the no-ornament-no-comfort-at-all action policy there were no tables, and while there were often ledges and windowsills, one had to get in early to make use of them. So the only choice was for each member of the school to put his five beers on the ground between his feet and then demolish them, one by one, before six. Great care had to be taken not to move one's feet and to resist all bumps, but one learned by experience.
At six the publican would ring bells, make announcements over an amplifier. He would go round almost with tears in his eyes urging everyone to finish their drinks: "Come on, fellers, fair go, drink up, fair go." The rules were very real and we knew the penalties. At 6.15 pm the crowd, after their 30 minutes of tension would be out on the footpath, many reeling. Constitutions that have not known food for five hours or more need to be strong to take five beers in 30 minutes on an empty stomach."
Six o'clock closing was the rule for all hotel bars. Restaurants and hotel dining rooms could serve wine and, ah yes, "spirituous liquor", until eight pm. Licensed restaurants were few indeed and there was an extraordinary anomaly, they were allowed to serve wine but not beer. Apparently there was a fear that if beer were served in polite restaurants, heaven knows what might happen. Perhaps there could be orgies such as witnessed in many a low pub. Beer was out. However the delicate hour in every restaurant or dining room was eight o'clock. Right on the tick of eight all glasses and bottles were swept off the table. Failure to do this could result in that most terrible of calamities for a restaurant or hotel, the loss of a licence.
Tourists would tell horror tales of their visit to Melbourne. Just as they would back home in Paris, New York or London, they would move down to dinner, say, at 7.30 or 8 pm. Maybe they had a chance to order a whisky or a good bottle of wine. Then almost immediately after the drinks had been poured the waiter would announce: "I am sorry ladies and gentlemen, but you will have to finish your drinks in five minutes." If they came in at eight the wine list was closed, drinks were finished. All this was such a remarkable tribal practice newspapers like the New York Times, the London Daily Telegraph and the San Francisco Chronicle would send feature writers to record stories about the strange Melburnians. There were scenes to record. I used to walk along Flinders Street every night at 6.15 pm to 6.30 pm. Always there would be a few chundering in the gutter outside Young & Jackson's Hotel.
It was an interesting phenomenon for Australia. They were sound beer drinkers, yes, always in the first half dozen in world ranking, but, as for total consumption of alcohol, nowhere near the Italians or the French. Yet one never saw street drunks in Paris or Rome like one saw in Melbourne. But then in Australia it was essential to be a beer drinker, and it was a sign of manliness to get drunk. If you had too much to drink the night before it was important to tell all the boys about it the next day: "Geez, did I get pissed last night. The car had to drive itself home."
Ten o'clock closing came to Sydney on 1 February 1955. Of course, naturally as point of honour Melbourne took not the slightest notice of this. There was an attempt to get it for the 1956 Olympic Games, but the Victorian Local Option Alliance fought a brilliant campaign on the STICK TO SIX. So Melbourne stuck to six for another decade.
It was marvellous for all the towns along the New South Wales border. Every evening come 6.15 pm there was the great exodus out of Victoria. At Wodonga they would go to Albury, at Wahgunyah they motored off to Corowa, at Cobram they fled to Tocumwal, Echuca emptied to Moama, from Mildura it was Gol Gol, and in Swan Hill where there was no sister town, the folk used to slip across the river to the Federal Hotel, known as the Old Fed.
When 10 o'clock closing hit Victoria in February 1966 all this was ruined. Tasmania too was miserable about the situation. The Australian Hotels' Association Tasmanian branch even put in a plea for 11.30 closing on Friday and Saturday nights and for two hour periods on Sundays. Anything to attract the Victorian beer drinker.
None of the dire predictions came to pass. I was put on assignment to tour city bars to check on the riotous celebrations with Melbourne's return to 10 o'clock after 50 terrible parched years. It was a non story, indeed there was even an air of tragedy about it.
There was the usual busy period between five and six but most drinkers had drifted home by 6.30 pm. My first stop was the Cathedral Hotel, a lovely old pub at the corner of Swanston and Flinders Lane, a home away for home for good Anglican priests and Cathedral workers. There was only one other person in the bar, and we experienced the sort of pure happiness experienced by Crusoe when suddenly he discovered Friday. Together we chatted over this marvellous new freedom, but somehow our souls were not in it.
The same story applied in pubs all over the city. Melbourne simply was not a late beer drinking city. The beer drinking disappeared out to big pubs in the suburbs. Hotels like the Cathedral discovered they had to employ more staff for less beer sales and for many it was the end. The dear old Cathedral pub was one of the first to go. Heaven knows where Bishops priests and Arch Deacons go for their pints now.
The next remarkable effect of the new legislation was the introduction of women. Australians had never liked women very much. They had kept them out of their clubs. There was a sort of sexual apartheid at the Melbourne Cricket Club where females were relegated to a separate stand where they could do no harm. At Flemington, the Victoria Racing Club had a line on the pavement beyond which women were not allowed to pass. Males were best left on their own when they were betting. But the haven of havens was the pub, the one place where males could escape from their wives.
Until the mid-1960s the Australian pub was a monastic institution. There were female lounges usually with spartan tables and chairs, the ladies sat down to be served and paid extra money. The public and saloon bars were all male and no female was allowed in. There was always an air of wickedness about a licensed premise. It sold "Drink", spelt with a capital D. Menzies Hotel at the corner of Bourke and William Streets was Melbourne's most illustrious hotel. It had an entrance on the side, the Governor's entrance, the Governor and his lady always entered through there. It was not done for them to be seen passing through the front door of a licensed premise. So drinking beer was essentially male and there was a public reluctance to increase hours beyond six o'clock because there was the fear the Australian male, after finishing work, would go straight to the beer and booze until closing time whether it be six, eight or eleven to the neglect of his poor, suffering wife and children.
We even frowned on barmaids in our hotels. Victoria did not go as far as the South Australians who banned them by law until 1967. In Victoria only the licensee's wife, daughter or sister was allowed behind the bar. Other women, no.
Most of the hotels had no female lavatories and it was social ruin for a lady even to be seen entering a hotel. Slowly this stain disappeared and we acquired the "Ladies Lounge". Here a woman, properly escorted, could be taken for a drink, which would be paid for at a higher price than in the public bar. Even as late as 1969 the unescorted lady was something to be feared. When granting a licence for a new St Kilda cabaret, Judge O'Driscoll warned the nominee: "The commission will not tolerate women attending without an escort."
In 1970 the Licensing Commission granted a number of tavern licences. The Hotel Australia in Melbourne had one, a new tavern called Matilda's was another. Glory be, they had carpet on the floor, pictures on the wall, leather and wood panelling and another, called the Eureka Stockade, had gorgeous male-female lavatories. The doors were labelled "Gentlemen" and "Gentlewomen" Young & Jackson's which sported Melbourne's number one icon, the nude painting of Chloe also applied for a tavern licence. This was an event so extraordinary I thought it important to interview Chloe herself on the subject. Chloe you must understand was a lovely French girl, painted by the celebrated artist Jules LeFebvre in 1875. The painting came to Australia for the great International Exhibition of 1880-81. I had heard that she was not a bit pleased about the proposed tavern licence.
D: I've always liked you, but tell me, why do you object to this tavern licence?
Chloe: Because zis place 'as character. Eet don't need carpet on ze floor. Eet has ze history of a building zat 'as served a million billion beers. Ze men zey 'ave come from all over ze world to see me 'ere. Zey still do. I remembair even ze American servicemen who threw a glass of beer at me during ze war. Zey very nearly killed him for zat.
D: Do you realise though, that if this becomes a tavern it will become a place for ladies too.
D: If this becomes a fancy joint with carpet and all there'll be women in the bar.
Chloe: Zey wouldn't DARE!
D: Why would you object? I mean, golly. Nearly 100 years of standing there with nothing on.
Chloe: Don't you understand anything you ignorant leetle peg. Ze women zey compete, zey fight, zey vie with one anuzzer, not because of what they zey haven't got on, but because what zey 'ave. Ze naked woman before women 'as nuzzing. Before men she has everything.
D: Oh no, I'm sure it will be all right.
Chloe: All right! Pfui. Zey will be in here in zair horrid mini skirts, zair maxis, zair immoral hot pants. Nevair. I shall tear ze place down. Get out. Get out of here.
Indeed the Australian with his rich tradition for being a drinking man also acquired a special language. The various words used to cover boozing is amazing. Sidney J. Baker in his remarkable book: The Australian Language gave some of them:
Session, rort, beer-up, booze-up, break-out, drink-up, grog-up, jamberoo, jollo, perisher, shivaroo, to go on the scoot, to tip the little finger, to swamp and to get on the turps.
As for a drunk he was said to be blithered, blue, on his ear, plonked up, grogged up, rotten, molo, molly, stinko, full as a goog, full as a fart, full as a bull's bum, tick or state schools: half-rinsed, half-cut, nockered, inked, out of it, paralytic, pinko, shick, shickered, stung, shot full of holes, drunk as a bastard, drunk as Chloe, drunk as an owl, unable to scratch himself, drunk as a piss ant.
Pissed is the more modern generic term and the Macquarie Dictionary of Colloquial Language tells us you can be pissed as a parrot, pissed to the eyeballs, pissed from arsehole to breakfast time, piss elegant and, if decidedly disgruntled, even pissed off. But being pissed, molo, stink or drunk was always very decidedly a male activity. Although why they picked on Chloe, the picture of that virginal nude in Young & Jackson's Hotel, is hard to imagine. Standing there in the saloon bar of that Melburnian hotel she was the one creature that remained virtuous and sober while all were pissed around her.
Yet despite the deep cultural importance of beer, I had the feeling Australians knew little about it. In 1961 the Belgian Brewers' Association released a survey on the world's best beer drinkers. Luxembourg came in at number one with 32 gallons a head a year, Belgium number two, 26 gallons, and Australia third with 24 gallons. It surprised a little that we were second to anyone because we did have isolated pockets that did awfully well. According to the Guinness Book of Records the folk in the Northern Territory drank 53 gallons a year and had no peer anywhere.
So in a country that had made beer its national drink surely there would be a superb refinement in taste. I knew Melburnians who shrank at the thought of drinking Sydney beer and when they went interstate they would take their own beer with them, even if they had to use a semi trailer. I knew Queenslanders who would walk two suburbs to drink at a Castlemaine pub rather than sample Bulimba Gold Top and vice versa. I knew exiled West Australians who would pay fantastic prices far from home just so they could drink once again their beloved Swan Lager.
So I organised a beer tasting, seeking out the most experienced beer drinkers I knew. Could any of them really pick one beer from another. For tasters we chose Tom Ford, licensee of the Gresham Hotel; "Curly" Rourke the militant Vigilance Officer of the Waterside Workers' Federation; Osmar White, author and journalist and Norm Brown, a Sun News Pictorial photographer. No creature knew beer better than Sun photographers. The experiment took place in that vital beer temple, the Phoenix Hotel.
We masked eleven popular brands of beer and brought them on, one by one, a fresh glass every time. We provided buckets of sawdust so that in the best traditions the beer had to be tasted only not drunk. However some members of the panel made the selfless decision that in the interest of correct tasting they would swallow the lot.
Tom Ford said he had given up cigarettes for the week so that his taste buds would not be impaired in the slightest degree. However Osmar White said this was entirely the wrong approach. We were running a beer tasting, not a wine tasting. Therefore to get the subtle nuances of the taste of beer we should reproduce the conditions where beer is normally drunk. The room should be filled with smoke, all the chairs should be taken away, a radio should be turned on to a race broadcast and we should crowd into a tight little knot in the corner of the room.
Despite all their vast experience the panel proved to be hopeless. They picked Reschs beer as Foster's Lager, they thought Castlemaine Fourex was Victoria Bitter, they even thought an English Charrington's Toby Ale was a Foster's.
There was one resounding success, Curly Rorke immediately identified a South Australian beer. Cooper's to my mind make some of the best beer in the world. It is fermented in the bottle. However Curly Rourke looked at his glass in disgust: "Geez, I know what this is. It's been through the horse twice. I'm not going to drink that, it's bloody Cooper's. It's got half the garden in it."
The exercise was a chastening experience. It proved that all the stories about Sydney beer versus Melbourne beer, Melbourne beer versus Tasmanian and Queensland beers was just a myth. We were all hopeless as tasters. The most successful taster and his success was not high, was Norm Brown. As we left the Phoenix he made the wise observation: "It all goes to prove that the finest beer of all is one that, wherever you may be, is in the glass that happens to be beside your elbow."
I repeated this test many times with the same result, with one exception. In 1984 when Carlton United was trying to Fosterise Queensland I made a test at Brisbane's Breakfast Creek Hotel. Now the Breakfast Creek is a bizarre, wonderful old hotel, the best beer selling well in Queensland. I asked the licensee to select a panel of his toughest, most experienced drinkers. I tried to fool them with masked bottles but they could pick Foster's from Fourex and Bulimba every time.
"The exercise was a chastening experience."
In 1975 I tried my most serious tasting of all and it was conducted for the Bulletin magazine. The editor of the Bulletin pointed out that Australians drank 13 times as much beer a head as wine, but wine always got the space in the newspapers, with erudite columns from wine writers. Nobody ever passed comment on beer.
Our object for the Bulletin was to find Australia's best beer. Over a period of weeks we gathered every Australian beer we could find, 38 of them. We organised a panel of four tasters: Dr Carl Resch, who had just retired as head brewer of Carlton & United Breweries; Ernie Crane, beer importer, manager, Burns Philp wine and spirit division; Doug Crittenden, gourmet, large scale wine and beer seller, director O. R. Crittenden Pty Ltd, and myself, described as as a foundation member of the Beer Appreciation Society of Australia. We appointed Dr Resch as chairman.
Of course, it had to be conceded that beer could suffer in travelling, that tastes were different. Some preferred their beer almost frozen, others liked it at room temperature. Dr Resch remarked that in the old days beer drinkers loved nothing better than a good head of froth. Indeed there was a saying that you should be able to sit a shilling on the top of the froth. But in Queensland, he said, beer drinkers insisted on getting all beer right to the top of the glass, no head at all. Yet, he said, it was his belief good beer should have at least an inch of head on the glass.
The tasting took place in the Hopetoun Room at the Melbourne Hilton in most clinical conditions. All the beers were masked. Unlike the Phoenix the tasters actually did use tasting buckets. The score at the finish on points was:
Swan Lager 25.75 Crown Lager 25.75 Abbots Lager 25.0 Foster's Lager 25.0 Courage Tankard Beer 24.0 Melbourne Bitter 23.75 Gold Top Draught 23.75 Queensland Pilsener 23.5 Coopers DB 23.25 Resch's Special Export 23.0 Ballarat Bitter 23.0
There had to be a countback on points amongst the judges and Swan Lager won the crown as Australia's champion beer. Dr Carl Resch, the dedicated Carlton man, was devastated at the result. He gave me a frigid stare and said: "Dunstan, you have just ruined me."
The survey was published in the Bulletin on 28 Tune 1975. The next day I received an ecstatic telegram from the Swan Brewery:
DUNSTAN, WE WILL KEEP YOU IN BEER FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE.
Indeed they did for a time. For almost a year every week a carton of Swan Lager would arrive on my doorstep.
My devotion to beer was not just a passing interest. Almost every day of my life, before dinner I have enjoyed a stubby of beer while Marie has a glass of whisky. Beer has done so much for Australia, indeed it has been a major arm of the Department of Taxation. Governments when short of money have turned to those things which are so convenient for taxation. Inevitably it has been the big three, liquor, tobacco and gambling. Often I have wondered whether the non drinkers, the non smokers and the non gamblers have ever had a twinge of conscience regarding the tax they do not pay. If they do not smoke drink or gamble they are doing very little to help the nation with its problems.
On the other hand every time I raise a glass of beer to my lips I know I am doing my bit for my country, helping pay for an F111 fighter, or paying the salary of some needy public servant in Canberra. It is remarkable how its adds up. Over 40 years of selfless public service with my beer drinking I believe I have very nearly paid for a guided missile frigate.
There were occasions when the nobility of one's intentions drifted and almost always it happened at Federal Budget time. My Uncle Jim, for example, was a passionate home brewer. He did it all through the war years. The Government considered it a monstrous sin, tax evasion, highly illegal, and the fines against home brewers were heavy. Uncle Jim did it for this very reason. Just because it was a monstrous sin, made the brewing all the more enjoyable.
Brewing kits were available all through the 60s, and there was the message on every packet that it was illegal to make your brew with more than two per cent alcohol. This was a joke, no matter what happened it was inevitable that the brew would end up with better than four percent.
Gough Whitlam was a great reformer, but one of his little remembered reforms was the lifting of restrictions on home brewing which came about in February 1973. Home brewers from then on could brew their beer to any strength. Home brewing went so well the breweries became alarmed. The greatest boost for the amateurs was the Budget of 1975. That was the year when Treasurer Bill Hayden put another impost on beer and it was known as the Home Brew Budget. The newspapers all ran home brew recipes and the National Times even had a special home brew supplement. The Hayden Budget put the cost of living up to 70 cents a glass. On the other hand the amateur beer drinker, drinking his untaxed home brew, could reduce his costs to two or three cents a glass.
Of course beer making was never as easy as it looked. The old time beer makers who first attempted to make beer in the colonies back in the 1850s, 60s and 70s, found it the very devil. The climate was against them. Brewing yeast performs best under ideal conditions, say, 20 to 25 degrees celsius. In Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and even Sydney, it was no trouble for temperatures to soar to over 40 degrees. So the old time brewers often were in a ferment of trouble. They would be up all night, hosing, putting wet sacks on fermenters, and some terrible brews were inflicted on the public. Until the first ice machines went into action in the 1880s Australian beer had a bad reputation.
For home brewers life has not been easy either. On a number of occasions I have demanded the ultimate sacrifice, that everything be taken out of the kitchen refrigerator to make way for the home brew kit. Or, alternately, in the depth of winter the home brew, like our poodle, has been given pride of place near the fire. Only the most devoted of wives will put up with this.
Yes, disasters are not infrequent. The society of amateur brewers reported on one character who decided to make his own draught beer. He fitted his fermenter with soda siphon sparklets. There was a shortage of space in his house so he had his brew in the living room. Now the beer fermenters sold in the home brew shops are made of heavy plastic, but they are not meant to cope with abnormal pressures. You have guessed correctly, it exploded and it blew out all over the carpet, the curtains, the living room, the chairs...
Good beer demands good water. We had a 100-year-old cottage at Walhalla, a gold mining ghost town, north of Moe in Gippsland. Walhalla had a number of advantages, it was the only town in Victoria which did not have its own electricity supply, and it had no reticulated water. We lit our place with gas and the most beautiful water flowed off the roof into tanks. It was a great place to make beer and back in its palmy days Walhalla actually had two brewers and they won prizes at Melbourne's 1880 International Exhibition. So I used the Walhalla water. Admittedly on occasions it produced a few tadpoles and we called our brew Tadpole Lager.
We used to go to Walhalla every weekend and timing was a matter of utmost delicacy. I would brew the beer on Saturday, leave it to ferment and the following Saturday it would be ready for bottling. Walhalla was capable of a remarkable range of temperature. In winter it could even snow. One year I went through my usual routine, brewing one Saturday, bottling the next, and I stored my 80 bottles, all with crown seals, in the outhouse. Then we did not return for a month.
The return was most interesting. The first thing we noticed was the swarm of blowflies around the outhouse coupler with a strange odour. The scene inside was awful. Every one of the 80 bottles had exploded. The fermentation had not gone through when I first bottled, but later when the temperature rose, the yeast was more comfortable so the bacteria went into action. You would be surprised at the mess provided by 80 exploded bottles of home brew.
Wallhalla was and still is an enchanting place, a valley, almost a ravine, into which the sun enters only at the most amazing angles. It was the home for the Long Tunnel Mine, in the golden era, the richest single mine in Victoria. In the boom year Walhalla's population was 5000 and the sound of the poppet heads crushing the quartz reverberated with thundering echoes through the valley 24 hours a day. Legend has it that when they stopped work on Sundays and silence prevailed, all the babies began to cry.
Walhalla was so important every year there was a cricket match between Walhalla and District and the powerful Melbourne Cricket Club. The valley was so congested, so narrow, the only place for a cricket ground was on a nearby mountain top, 600 feet above the main road. It was a very arduous climb up there and the Walhalla team always made a point of getting the visitors to sweat their way up. It helped wear them out before the game started.
The gargantuan 18 stone, W.W. Armstrong, later the illustrious captain of Australia, led the MCC team there in 1909. Armstrong made a bet that he could belt a six out of the ground and land it on the roof of the Star Hotel down below. The truth is the great man never made it, he was clean bowled for only 11 runs.
I was desperate to repeat this great event so I contacted lan Johnson, secretary of the Melbourne Cricket Club and he agreed to send a team. Carlton & United Breweries and Ralph Johnson, managing director of Four'n'Twenty Pies, agreed to be sponsors.
How to get them there? Peter Janson, famous man about town, who lived in a penthouse suite at the Hotel Windsor, offered his bus, an old London double decker, which looked as if it had taken a wrong turn out of Piccadilly Circus. However he had made some alterations. There was not only carpet on the floor, but carpet on the walls. There were tables, chairs, refrigeration for drinks and a telephone. My organisation was superb. An extraordinary quantity of Foster's Lager and cases of Four'n'Twenty pies were delivered to the bus, which was scheduled to leave the Melbourne Cricket Ground at 7.45 am for Walhalla.
The bus was due in Walhalla at 11 am with match start at 11.30. There is a gorgeous band rotunda by Stringer's Creek in the centre of Walhalla. As leader of the welcoming party I took up my position in the rotunda at 11 am waiting for the first visit by an MCC team for 67 years. Half an hour went by, no bus. An hour went by, no bus. Ninety minutes went by, no bus. I was desperate, the match had been heavily advertised, a team was waiting, lunch was waiting, spectators were waiting nothing was happening.
Actually there was an unusual sideshow. We had a miniature poodle named Claude, very beautiful, impeccable breeding and nicely clipped. There was a small dung colored grey bitch who lived in Walhalla, the sort of bitch any correctly brought up poodle would ignore. At 11.55 am on the centre of the Walhalla bridge Claude finally nailed her. He straddled her from behind in full view of the reception party. All would have been well had he done his business quickly and expertly, but something went wrong.
It was not a case of coitus interruptus, but rather coitus permanents. Claude was stuck, and the two irretrievably interlocked were wobbling awkwardly all around the bridge.
Thit them, I tried pouring water over them. Nothing worked It was very embarrassing. These two will be locked together for ever, I thought. Just then a bus came around the bend. Alas, it was not Mr Janson's bus, but a school bus. It stopped at the approach to the bridge because Claude and the mong were blocking its patch. All the school children piled out of the bus to observe. They found it funnier than a Laurel and Hardy movie. My misery was complete.
Eventually, after a full 25 minutes, Claude, without a trace of embarrassment, managed to extract himself and the Janson bus actually arrived over two hours late. Of course, they had been in awful strife. London buses are not used to climbing mountains and the last climb up from the Thomson River had been too much, the radiator boiled. Then there was the splendid supply of ice cold Foster's. The team felt it had a duty to pay tribute to the sponsor, so apart from overheating stops, there was also a considerable number of irrigation stops. I had a valuable lesson in team management that day.
There was a huge crowd at the Walhalla Cricket Ground. The permanent population of Walhalla was 17, the crowd for the Walhalla and District match was 600, plus a cocker spaniel, a labrador, a pointer, an Australian terrier, two corgis, a poodle, and a mong of indeterminate origin. Most of them occupied the ground at various times.
As for the ground, the outfield was in fair order, but for the occasional wombat hole. There were no seagulls, but large quantities of crows and galahs. Walhalla, represented by the powerful Erica team, won the toss and two hours were allotted for each team.
The Walhalla men were magnificent. There were complaints at one stage when the ball went down a wombat hole and the occasional curious bounce caused by an anthill. However the home-side captain, Lindsay George, made a superb 53 even though the MCC used seven bowlers. They were all out for 110.
The Melbourne Cricket Club then took over. The star was Jeff Moss, a batsman with a moustache so menacing he made Merv Hughes look as kindly as Ronald Colman. He hit six sixes, three in one over. He reached his 50 in 20 minutes and it took him 31 minutes to get to 88. There was one problem. The ground was surrounded by some very fine Aussie bush. A simple six or even an aggressive four meant that a ball was lost for ever. We lost more than 20 balls during the afternoon. After each six, another ball was thrown on the ground, regardless of quality. Hans Ebeling, the umpire, and a former Test fast bowler, very kindly overlooked the formality of carefully matching balls.
The MCC was not short of famous names. Paul Sheahan hit four consecutive sixes, a four, then a single, allowing the player at the other end to have a go. Altogether 34 runs were hit off that over.
Ian Johnson, former captain of Australia, and a star for the South Melbourne Cricket Club, made a return to big time cricket. He bowled two overs of slow off spin, lofting the ball high in the style of Doug Ring. His batting, alas, was brief, he made one hit which should have had him caught behind and then he was out the next ball. Eventually the MCC was out for 221, so after being District premiers for 1976 they were also premier of the mountains.
There were many attempts to outdazzle W.W. Armstrong with a six on to the hotel down below. They had no luck. For one thing that Star Hotel no longer was there, and a hit on to the roof of the Walhalla Lodge Hotel would have called for a trench mortar. Anyway the sixes were all being belted in the wrong direction.
The Melbourne Cricket Club left for Melbourne in Mr Janson's bus at 6.30 pm. There was still a good supply of Foster's on board. I never did actually find out whether they got back home. I learned a great deal about the Demon beer that day. My education concerning wine was a more serious matter.
Follow onto the next chapter, Finding the wine demon