Cold Beer in the Australian Outback, 1961

Illustration: outback heat.

We’re increasingly convinced that if you pick up most popular novels published between about 1945 and 1970 and start flipping the pages you’ll soon stumble upon an extended passage about beer and/or pubs.

Kenneth Cook’s 1961 novel Wake in Fright gets straight down to business: within the first 10 pages the protagonist, Grant, hits the hotel bar in the desolate outback settlement where he teaches.

“Schooner, Charlie,” he said to the hotel-keeper, who emerged from his dark back room wearing, for some reason, a waistcoat over his drenched shirt.

Charlie pulled the beer.

In the remote towns of the west there are few of the amenities of civilization; there is no sewerage, there are no hospitals, rarely a doctor; the food is dreary and flavourless from long carrying, the water is bad; electricity is for the few who can afford their own plant, roads are mostly non-existent; there are no theatres, no picture shows and few dance halls; and the people are saved from stark insanity by the one strong principle of progress that is ingrained for a thousand miles, east, north, south and west of the Dead Heart – the beer is always cold.

The teacher let his fingers curl around the beaded glass, quelling the little spurt of bitterness that rose when he saw the size of the head of froth on the beer, because, after all, it didn’t matter, and this poor devil of a hotel-keeper had to stay here and he was going east.

He drank quickly at first, swamping the dryness in his throat in a flood of beer; and then, when the glass was half empty, he drank slowly, letting the cold alcohol relax his body.

Wake in Fright has been adapted for the screen twice, mostly recently in 2017, and the most recent edition from Text Classics is a TV tie-in. Our edition is a Penguin paperback from 1967 and cost £2.50.

3 thoughts on “Cold Beer in the Australian Outback, 1961”

  1. I’ve just started reading a 1946 book,”Holy Disorders” by Edmund Crispin. There is a description of the Whale and Coffin, its rooms, landlord, customers and drinks. There could be a hole in the tickerati market for a blog about fictional pubs and real pubs in fiction.

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