A dangerous habit


In 1938, a savage drug was menacing Perth. The side effects were terrifying:

Within a minute or two after taking on an empty stomach, sensations of the most pronounced kind occurred. The partaker became exhilarated, light-headed, bright and talkative, their face was flushed, their pupils dilated, heart and respiration both quickened.

Under the influence, you would become giddy and ungainly with wild involuntary movements. Finally, the drug could so excite the central nervous system it would produce epileptic convulsions.

With dangers like that, it was difficult to understand why Perth’s fashionable set kept drinking cocktails.

Yes, that’s right. The scourge sweeping Western Australia in 1938 was a cocktail on a weekday after work.

Once the preserve of the privileged wealthy, the cocktail party, like golf, had taken off among Perth’s bright young things. And that would never do. For one, it is unseemly for a man to enjoy a mixed drink. Beer and whisky alone were masculine beverages.

The parties would begin after 5 p.m. and end before 7.30 p.m., although the truly dissolute could continue much later. Usually hosted by a young woman, cocktails were made with a gin base, to which some vermouth was added, along with quantities of fruit juice and water.

Without the water (presumably added to keep costs down), this sounds very much like a Bronx, one of the most fashionable cocktails of the 1930s.

Although this also seems like a relevant occasion to listen to the (NSFW) ‘Gin & Juice’ by Snoop Doggy Dogg:

If drinking cocktails wasn’t bad enough, some people were serving cocktail sausages, oyster patties, and sausage rolls. The scoundrels!

Fortunately, there were socially-concerned citizens ready to stand up and be counted and declare that cocktails were “utterly bad for the young”. Karl O’Callaghan, Mike Daube, take heart. Your wowserism has good historical precedent.

Let us listen to some good advice and stay well clear of the evil mixed drink:

Cocktail taking is a novel form of self-indulgence and social entertainment. It particularly appeals to young people, hence parties for the express purpose of cocktail drinking by young men and women are common, especially, it is said, among those persons who are or would like to be in the ‘smart set.’

The Housewives’ League appeals to society hostesses to give passion fruit parties instead of cocktails, saying that young women only drank evil mixtures of strong liquids because it was cool.


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