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Illicit Booze And A Pair of Budget Smugglers

Alcohol smuggling has always been a part of early Australian history, and a good deal of it centred the arrival of ships into major ports such as Sydney Harbour. Absinthe smuggling was no exception.

Sydney Morning Herald 7 July 1902

The following excerpts from Reinhardt & Steel (2006) A Brief History of Australia’s Tax System (22nd APEC Finance Ministers’ Technical Working Group), gives us the historical context that often promoted smuggling.

At the end of the eighteenth century, colonial administrators raised small amounts of revenue through wharfage fees and port entry and exit fees (effectively taxing imports), with additional duties on alcohol.


The main appeal of customs duties was that they were readily collected at the limited number of wharves where goods entered the colonies. Levying customs duties and excises on necessities also ensured a relatively secure source of revenue. Revenues were generally hypothecated in an attempt to draw support from the public, for example funding an orphanage, gaol, hospital equipment and building works around Sydney.


Early customs and excises duties on goods such as tobacco and alcohol were intended not only to raise revenue, but were also introduced as ‘sin taxes’, for example in response to concern over the level of alcohol consumption in the colonies.


The states gave up customs and excise duties to secure interstate free trade and ensuring adequate protection for Australian industry. Uniform federal tariff and excise duties were introduced in 1901. They largely applied to the goods that had been taxed by the former colonies — tobacco products, beer and spirits and some basic food and clothing.

Sydney Morning Herald 17 March 1906

Posted by Jonathan on Apr 22nd 2011 | Filed in History,News,Regulations | Comments (0)

The Smoking Gun

As promised last month, have finally uncovered the evidence to demonstrate that Australia did implement a formal ban of absinthe.

A small, almost easily missed notice in the Sydney Morning Herald, Friday 6 November 1925

Importation of Absinthe – Melbourne, Thursday

It is notified in the Commonwealth “Gazette” this week that absinthe has been added to the list of goods of which the importation into Australia is prohibited under the provenance <?> of the Customs Act.

So there you have it – the pieces now fall into place. Although, as with the current Customs requirements for an import permit for absinthe due to the listing of Wormwood as a Restricted ingredient – this legislative move would not have prevented the manufacture of Absinthe within Australia, it only prevents the unrestricted importation.  Alas, by this time the wind had probably been taken out of the sails of domestic absinthe consumption in any case.

Speaking of Smoking Guns – crime writer, administrator of Crimespace and absinthe tragic, Daniel Hatadi is formally joining the team.  Watch out for his reviews and views on anything that may take his fancy.

Posted by Jonathan on Jan 26th 2011 | Filed in Culture,History,News,People,Regulations | Comments (0)

The Historical Maze of Australian Absinthe Prohibition

The Team were recently contacted by a legend from the Australian wine industry, Peter Wall AM, a former Wine & Vineyard Director of the famed Yalumba winery.  Peter was able to provide some additional history into the machinations behind the legal status of Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) in the old versions Australian New Zealand Food Code.

In the versions of the Code from the mid 1980’s onwards, Wormwood was a controlled –  rather than a prohibited – herb and controlled by thujone content.  How it came to this status is a key part of Peters tale.

You may be interested to know how the lifting of the Australian ban on the use of wormwood was initiated.

30 years ago I was deeply involved in the manufacture of Martini & Rossi (M&R) Vermouth here in Australia for the great vermouth maker in Turin. At this time there was a general ban on the use of wormwood in alcoholic beverages in the English speaking world, although its use in many European countries had gradually relaxed from the 1920’s.

I was also a member (later chair) of the wine industry’s Technical Committee.

With the help of the late, but legendary, Dr. Giorgio Rampone (the then M&R Technical director) we began a campaign here in Australia to rationalise the regulations for use in wine of GRAS (Generally Recognised As Safe) botanicals, among them Artemisia absinthium. I was also involved in the technical negotiations for the EU Australian Bilateral Wine Agreement and served as an Australian delegate to the Office International de la Vigne et du Vin in Paris. These positions allowed me to pursue the opening-up of these ‘strange’ bans on many fronts. Gradually the opposition relaxed and finally we came to the present more rational regulation of all the botanicals which contain alkaloids, not only in wine, but alcoholic beverages generally. I’m not claiming a unique place in the history of this rationalisation, however, I do recall I was a very lone voice when I first raised the issue in the late 1970’s. Whenever I now have a sip of absinthe in Australia, I recall my early efforts with added pleasure.

Peter has kindly provided correspondence from the period to government, arguing how Italian wine law dictated that, by definition, Vermouth must contain wormwood, and argued for a position of international harmonisation on managing the risk rather than arbitrary prohibition.

These were much the same arguments we made (or rather re-made taking into account Peter’s precedent) when FSANZ sought to later prohibit wormwood a second time in later amendments to the Code in 2000-2002.

You will notice dear Absintheur, I make reference to a potential second prohibition of absinthe in Australia – and Peter’s historical recollection confirming an existing prohibition during the 1970-1980’s (and prior) during his period of lobbying.  This is seemingly at odds with a belief we previously held, and have documented in Wikipedia, that absinthe as an alcoholic drink was never specifically prohibited in Australia, only the import of ‘absinthe essence’ based on the legislative orders of the early 20th century. We were wrong.

New documentary evidence has emerged that confirms Australia did indeed specifically prohibit Absinthe, that led to the necessity of Peter Walls’ original efforts to lift the ban on the use of wormwood and will be the subject of a follow up article.

Posted by Jonathan on Dec 26th 2010 | Filed in Culture,Food,History,Interviews,News,People,Regulations | Comments (0)

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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Posted by Jonathan on Sep 28th 2008 | Filed in History,Huh?,News,Regulations | Comments (0)

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