Male identity crises and other truths

The world has changed.

Back in the good old days, if you’d forgotten where you were, or who you were, all you needed to do was buy a beer and listen to the sports conversation around the bar.

If the bloke behind the jump poured you a XXXX you knew you could look outside to see the poincianas and philodendrons. You could engage him in chat Johnny Lang and Sam Trimble not getting picked for Australia, and Brothers and the Dolphins.

If the bloke behind the jump handed you a Tooheys or a Resch’s you were in New South Wales. And if he wanted to talk about Ian Thorpe you were probably in Sydney.

A Swan Lager put you in Western Australia where you could talk about the Fremantles, George Grljusich and Burley footballs.

And if you couldn’t get the beer past your nose you were in South Australia (until Coopers came along).

If you fell in to a river and came out looking like Alvin Purple you were in Tasmania (and glad to be there) which divides itself in to even smaller beer parishes of Boags and Cascade. And you could also tell from the conversation. If the age-old philosophical question surfaced about whether an axe with a new blade and a new handle is the same axe (a very good question that is too, when drinking), then you really were in Tassie.

Victorians named their beers after themselves: Victoria Bitter, Melbourne Bitter and Carlton. And if they were telling you how good their football was, and asking you who you barracked for you knew that’s where you were, and that you would spend the evening doing a lot of listening.

If you were given a stubby-holder (even for your pot) you were in the Northern Territory. And if it was three hours before knock-off time and the bloke next to you was wearing (shamelessly) a lanyard, you were in Canberra.

In Queensland there were people who did not know that there were other states in the Federation until the great beer drought of `84, when the workers downed tools at Castlemaine-Perkins brewery, a Darren Lockyer torpedo up Milton Road from Lang Park, and Queensland ran out of beer. That had a complex impact on Queenslanders. The importing of southern ales – Cascade, KB and Southwark in particular – made Queenslanders feel sorry for people in other parts of Australia. And it affirmed their belief that they lived in the best state.

Beer was a key part of a state’s identity. Queenslanders knew they were Queenslanders because they drank XXXX. And they were glad no-one else in Australia drank XXXX because southerners didn’t deserve XXXX.

So as late as the 1990s you were far more likely to get a XXXX in Yorkshire than in Yankalilla or Yallourn.

Now you walk into a pub and there are a dozen beers on tap. Designer beers. Micro-brewey beers. International beers. And drinkers are talking Australian Football League, rugby league, A-League, Premier League, Super 15 league.

Blokes no longer know who they are or where they are. It’s got little to do with nappy-changing and how much fish sauce for the Thai chicken curry, hair product and pedicures.

The problem lies with beer and football.

And if you don’t believe me, you should have been in the All Nations Hotel in Richmond, with the collection of AFL-loving blokes on Wednesday night. They were trying to find their inner-Raudonikis, while drinking Toohey’s Old.

When New South Wales ran out, Rowdy spat his mouthful out in shock, and pointed to the big VB logo on the New South Wales jumper.

“What’s that all about?” he grimaced.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I just don’t know.”




About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears (appeared?) on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three school-age kids - Theo, Anna, Evie. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst four. His ambition was to lunch for Australia but it clashed with his other ambition - to shoot his age.


  1. It’s a global village JTH. The same thing has been happening in the world of whiskey. I know a big round Protestant Scot (he calls me “The Fenian”) whose single malt collection is probably the best one in the Southern Hemisphere (at least that’s what he claims and no one has challenged him). One day he was sitting at his desk very dejected. After my querying his melancholy state he pointed to a bottle of Japanese whiskey sitting on the table.
    “Ha a luke at tha” he says waving a hand at the Japanese whiskey. “Whiskey made be the Japs – an it’s fu**in’ good too!”

  2. Dave Nadel says

    Excellent piece, John.

    Remember when John Elliott wanted to “Fosterise the World?” Now the only place you see Fosters advertisements is in broadcasts of international sport like F1 racing. Nobody I know drinks Fosters, not even my beer drinking sports students. I don’t myself. I drink Cascade even though I haven’t been to Tassie for some years.

  3. Greg Mallory says

    what was the overall reaction of this Aussie Rules group watching this ‘foreign’ game?

  4. Don’t get me started on the “imported beers” brewed in Laverton and sold at silly markup.

    Just don’t.

  5. Mulcaster says

    The problem does not lie with beer and football, whatever crisis there is in male identity has more to do with the fact that we are all such wimpish law abiders. I bet not one at the blokes at the All Nations Hotel found his true inner Raudonikis or Warne, by lighting up a gasper at the Bar.

  6. Andrew Else says

    VB is the Fosters that Jack envisaged. It’s all over the cricket team, the NSW league team and is the tap beer that tourists drink in Melbourne.

    Always found that the difference in interstate drinking lies in the terminology (schooner, pot, middy etc) and the size you settle on when you’re there. I’ll almost always have a schooner (vic size) when interstate but never at home

    I’m always quick to use the term ‘bum sniffers’ and speak glowingly of the ‘indigenous game’. Always finds me friends quickly

  7. Phil Dimitriadis says


    as a staunch fan of VB since 1984 I can tell you that the taste has changed in the last decade. It is saltier and less drinkable than Melbourne Bitter or Carlton Draught. I quite like the diversity of the boutique beers in the way I like to sample different cheeses. However, I can’t sit on Corona, Becks or Stella Artois. They are devoid of gas and much more suited to the quaint Mediterranean style of drinking.

    Heineken goes alright, but for a long session and avoiding too much Vasbert the next day, Melbourne is my beer of choice. I don’t think it has anything to do with the metamorphosis of blokedom or manhood. When I was in my 20s, XXXX and Power’s Bitter were considered ‘exotic’, or maybe that has something to do with my upbringing? Globalization could be seen as both the death or birth of masculinity. Pick your poison.

  8. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Mul, I was the only ‘gasper’ at the bar. People tell me not to smoke. I tell them that if I stopped It would increase stress and add another 10 kilos to my pudgy frame, therefore increasing the risk of diabetes, heart disease and assorted cancers. I’m not saying that smoking ain’t a health hazard, but I’m prepared to enjoy my chosen habit and take my chances. Got a feeling that mortality might be overrated anyway :)

  9. Mulcaster says

    I love a cigar about oince every six months. I havetried durries a few times but my lungs pack it in and I come down with bronchitits after a couple of days. In one sense I am lucky, as for a pudgy frame …it would be a charitible description. I agree that longevityhas nothing to comend itself to anyone other than the elderly.

  10. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Mul, if I ‘m to smoke cigars it would be illegal Cuban’s! I’ve had the pleasure 4 times and they were moments to savour! Good company and Metaxa 12 Brandy do not go astray in such moments. Under the ‘serious moonlight’ many of the world’s problems were solved.

  11. Phil Dimitriadis says
  12. Mulcaster says

    I am particularly fond of Montecristo number 2s, a damn fine durrie. I was once given a box of cuban cigars which were bought duty free in Vietnam they should have been on the schedule, damn near blew my head off, I have never come across them again. There is something utterly civilised about the first third of a Montecristo, second third is for open company but the last third is charecter building. We keep a regular supply of remy martin congac at my house, When I smoke more regularly I liked an American Cigar “King Edwards”, they are smoother than the the dutch cigars which are more readily available. I liked the clip….i am absolutely not the outdoors type.

  13. Rick Kane says

    If male identity is correlated with mass produced piss, that was made with little account for taste, aesthetics, choice or the basics of evolutionary theory then I think that was the crisis.

    Emu Bitter, XXXX, VB, no thank you. I’ll have a 3 Ravens and drink it down like a true post crisis man :)

  14. Not only a VB logo on their shirts, but the slogan “The Real Beer of the Blues”.

    When I noticed this as they were running out in Game 1, I switched off.

    It just about sums up Rugby League to me. Too stupid to even notice that the V stands for Victoria.

    And, I wouldn’t drink that crap even if it was free.

  15. Oi, don’t knock the Southwark!!

  16. johnharms says

    Southwark kept us alive for a few months.

  17. Celtic and Cascade Pale Ale(?) Dave. We might be twins seperated at birth.

  18. VB = Very Bad

  19. Southwark has kept me alive for a few years ;-)

  20. Corona is Mexico’s joke on the world. They see coiffed skiiny legged jean wearing $50 T-shirt emblazoned metrosexuals drinking it by the crystal, lime flavoured bucketload and have a chuckle.

    I remember attempting to expand my narrow Emu Expiort supping horizons by taking a six pack of XXXX to a teenage party in the late 80’s only to have it hurled into the garden by an irate parochial Sandgroper who called me a ‘banana-bending pooftah’

    Most mass produced Australian beer is average at best, and at worst can be astonishlingly bad. the aforementioned Emu Export, so popular in the 80’s is sickly, syrupy and cannot be consumed unless it has iced over and the taste has been removed. Thank god for the good people at Coopers, Little Creatures and and James Squire.

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