The (sort of) 1922 Australian Ban on Absinthe.

It is true to say that absinthe has never been nationally banned in Australia under federal law. That is not to say however that absinthe has never been banned in Australia in any capacity.

A recent review of government gazette notices published in 1922 in the Northern Territory has revealed that a specific prohibition to the possession of absinthe was in fact enacted. Curiously however, the prohibition was legislated under South Australian law in context to its application in the Northern Territory only.

While this might appear confusing, it is important to understand that up until 1911, the Northern Territory was part of the jurisdiction of South Australia, when it then came under Commonwealth control.  However, all South Australian laws remained in continued effect until specifically amended by the Commonwealth, such as in the following gazette notice presented to us.

Northern Territory Times and Gazette, Saturday 21 January, 1922 (page 5).


No: l6 of 1921.  AN ORDINANCE.

To amend “The Food and Drugs Act, 1908 of the State of South Australia in its application to the Northern Territory, and for other purposes.”

BE it ordained by the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, with the advice of the Federal (Executive Council, in pursuance of the powers conferred by the Northern Territory Acceptance Act 1910-1919 and the Northern Territory (Administration) Act 1910 as follows :

Short Title.

1.         This Ordinance may be cited as the Food and Drugs Ordinance, 1921.

Dilution of Spirits Amendment of Act 968 of 1908, sec. 22, S.A. (No. 1252, s. 3)

2.         Section twenty-two of the Food and Drugs Act 1908 of the State of South Australia, in its application to the Northern Territory, is amended by omitting paragraph (5) of the proviso thereto and inserting in it’s stead the following paragraph:

(5) “Where spirit’s are not adulterated otherwise than by being diluted’ with water, and such dilution being estimated by Sykes’ hydrometer has not reduced the spirits more than thirty-five degrees under proof for brandy, whisky, rum, schnapps, unsweetened gin, or other unsweetened spirits, or forty five degrees under proof for sweetened gin or other sweetened spirits.”

Dealing in Absinthe Prohibited.

3 (1.) Any person who sells, or in any manner disposes of, delivers, or supplies, to any other person, or deals or trafficks in, or has in his possession, order, or disposition, any of the liquor known as absinthe shall be liable to a penalty for the first offence of not more than Twenty pounds, and for a second or any subsequent offence, of not more than Fifty pounds.

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(2.) In this section, without restricting the meaning of the word “possession,” absinthe shall be deemed to be in the possession of any person so long as it remains or is upon any land or premises occupied by him, or is enjoyed or controlled by him in any place whatever, un;ess it is shown that he had no knowledge thereof.

Dated the fourteenth day of December. 1921.

FORSTER, Governor-General.

By His Excellency’s Command,

Minister of State for Home and Territories.

The penalty of twenty pound would have been the equivalent of about one months average wages in the 1920’s, the fifty pound penalty being over two months average wages. In modern context we could equate these penalty ranges to between $4000 – $8000 AUS (based on 2008 Australian nationally average wages).

This landmark find with regard to the control of absinthe in Australia does raise more questions.  Why the Northern Territory only?  What was it about absinthe in the top end that prompted legislative change? Why was there not any other legislative controls enacted in any other State or Territory?

The ongoing history, and mystery, of absinthe down under continues to unfold…….

Jonathan Sep 28th 2008 09:19 pm History,Huh?,News,Regulations No Comments yet Trackback URI

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