The Most Successful Government Program in History

Originally posted 11 April 2013

The question I posted about the Australian pistol-shaped rum bottles has been solved! Troy of Bundaberg Showcase followed up on my supposition that VE might be an abbreviation for “vetreria”, the Italian word for glass works, and he found that the maker’s mark matches Vetreria Etruscana of Northern Italy. We still don’t know precisely how the bottles got to Australia, but we know the maker.

In honor of the solution of that question, it’s worth going into another historical fact about rum in Australia – namely, that the stuff was wildly popular in the early years of the colony, and had a reputation nearly as vile as gin when it comes to wrecking people’s lives. Around 1800, the governor of the colony came up with a brilliant solution, which was convincing Australians to drink something less alcoholic like beer. The problem was that beer wasn’t widely available, so the government actually built a brewery at Paramatta and subsidized its operation. Once beer was available, a public relations campaign was instituted to convince people to switch from rum to beer. Though the message was not initially well received, the aim was eventually achieved; I can state from personal experience that Australians now will drink beer without coercion. Though rum was greatly eclipsed in popularity, it is still made there, and made very well. Some classic brands like Inner Circle and Bundaberg have been bought by conglomerates and much of their history lost – as far as I can tell, there isn’t a single rum museum in the country, which is surprising in a place where it was once both popular and a mainstay of the economy.