Book Review: The Brewery and The Australian Pub

Those with an interest in the history of the making and drinking of beer in Australia will be delighted to know of the recent publication of these two significant books. Although both are welcome additions to the growing literature on beer in this country, they are quite different in their subject matter and scope. One is a detailed account of the establishment and early progress of a single, well-known Melbourne brewery, whereas the other is an ambitious nationwide overview of the origins and evolution of an institution—the pub—across more than two centuries.

The Australian Pub is a collaborative effort by three Melbourne-based historians, two of whom have already published substantial bodies of work on the subject matter of the book. Kirkby is well known for her feminist and gender-relations angles on Australian pub history, and Luckins for hers on aspects of drinking in pubs, especially the notorious six o’clock swill.

The team has tackled a difficult topic. The history of Australian pubs, as the authors are well aware, cannot be told without close reference to the liquor licensing legislation which throughout most of our history has defined and controlled them.

During the Colonial period, six different jurisdictions administered the ‘Australian pub’, and since Federation it has been the pawn of eight States and Territories, with occasional interference by the Federal sphere. Although there are many common aspects to the history of the pub across these numerous jurisdictions, there are also many differences, and I am sorry that in their effort to portray and analyse a unified ‘Australian pub’, the authors have unfortunately missed some of the interesting contrasts between the histories of pubs in the different colonies and states. These remain for another historian and another time.

My other major disappointment with The Australian Pub is its almost total disregard of the brewing industry. The authors acknowledge that dispensing beer was one of the pub’s fundamental roles, and that brewing companies came to own or otherwise control most of the country’s pubs, and yet the industry and its beverage are given little attention, especially compared to some of the pub’s other traditional functions—the provision of food, accommodation and entertainment, and the sponsorship of sport and gambling. Nevertheless, this is an important book, and the most significant to appear on the topic since J. M. Freeland’s work of the same title in 1966.

Bailey’s history of the Carlton Brewery, by contrast, is narrowly focussed, both in time and space. It is a minutely detailed account of the origins of Melbourne’s Carlton Brewery, and its progress until its 1907 amalgamation with five other Melbourne brewing companies to form Carlton and United Breweries Pty Ltd.

the-brewery-bookThe Brewery is a copiously illustrated, sumptuously produced, large format, hardcover book, which, even if you are not deeply interested in its topic, will sit well on any coffee table.

Although admitting to a lack of formal training in history, Bailey is clearly an enthusiast when it comes to the history of beer and brewing, and he has delved long and hard to elucidate the first half century of this prominent Australian brewery. My only major gripe is that the author discloses very few of his sources within the book.

One can apparently obtain them from a website whose address is given in the book, but this may not be convenient for all readers (indeed, I have not been able to access them), nor will it always be possible for readers in the future.

The Australian Pub
Diane Kirkby, Tanja Luckins and Chris McConville.
University of New South Wales Press, Sydney, 2010
ISBN 9780868408750

The Brewery
by Andrew T. T. Bailey.
Wilkinson Publishing, Melbourne, 2010
ISBN 9781921667589,

Back to Historical