23 January, 2020

the drinks association celebrates 120th anniversary

the drinks association celebrates 120th anniversary

What an amazing journey it has been for the drinks association since it was established in mid-1897.

As we celebrate our 120th anniversary with our members, associate members and corporate partners, it's a time of growth and renewal for the association.

But one thing remains constant: our commitment to working together for the benefit of our vibrant and dynamic industry.

As we look ahead to a new CEO joining the drinks association, let's look back on how far we've come ...

Birth of the association

It all began with a young man named Francis Bligh, who moved to Sydney from Melbourne in 1894 to take up a role with the respected wine and spirit merchants, Harbottle, Alsop & Co. Sydney was considered the centre of the liquor trade, as Phil Jarratt stated in the Liquor Merchants Association of Australia Centenary History, published in 1997, “Sydney was a town founded in the currency of rum.”

In 1889, there were 3829 hotels in NSW, with 500 in the city itself. By 1896, Bligh had become disillusioned by some of the more underhand practices of those in the liquor trade. Bligh missed the camaraderie of the smaller group of Melbourne liquor merchants and felt there needed to be an opportunity for respected firms to come together to discuss self-regulation of the industry.

Bligh had the support of Mr Keigwin of Orme, Keigwin & Co; E.H Rogers and G.H Wyld of Brown & Co; and Charles Churchill Tucker of Tucker & Co. The small group first met in 1897 to form the Wine and Spirit Association and Rogers was elected inaugural president.

The archives for those early years are scarce because a fire in the association’s Bond Street offices destroyed all records. It is known that in 1904, the breweries pulled out of the association to form the Brewers Association of New South Wales – with some 23 breweries operating in Sydney alone at that time. Yet Bligh worked hard to ensure the two associations would complement each other.

In the early 1900s, the main focus of the association was the threat of prohibition, which had been implemented in 17 US states, with fears it would spread across the pacific. In response, the Liquor Trades Defence Union in January 1908 sponsored the publication of a weekly trade paper called ‘Fairplay’ which was a trade journal with accounts of the business of the liquor industry. In its launch issue in 1908, the publisher wrote: “The liquor traders of this Commonwealth have determined that their side will be heard. They have too long maintained the attitude as an adjunct to other efforts now being made

to place the case before the public. Our readers may judge of us by the promise of the first number. This admission may safely be made, that promise rather than performance may be taken as the test in judging this first issue… we repeat the observation that every succeeding issue will be better than this – if the support we expect is accorded us. On our part, we will endeavour to ‘make good’ with each subsequent number.”

And this statement in the publisher’s foreword would still resonate today: “The vital principles of our Commonwealth taxation are involved. Take away the enormous revenues which the Trade pours into the Federal coffers – revenues which percolate through to the State Treasuries – and you revolutionise taxation. For the burdens must be placed elsewhere. When the public realise this, they will perhaps give the liquor question a little more consideration than they have done up to now.”

The motto of Fairplay was, “Men have a right to the fruits of their industry; and to the means of making their industry fruitful” and, “Often has a man lost his all because he would not submit to hazard all in defending it.”

In 2007, 99 years later, the Liquor Merchants Association of Australia launched Drinks Trade, which is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary.

Association weathers Royal Commission

The association survived through the war years but by the 1950s, a Royal Commission was conducted into the liquor trade and black market supply. Long-serving secretary of the association, John Lindsay, viewed the commission as a long-overdue process to eliminate the corrupt players in the industry. After three years of sittings, the Maxwell Royal Commission helped set the foundations for a new and more civilized approach to what, where and how people drank liquor. The report was released in March 1954.

In all, 26 of the 68 full members of the association were called to give evidence to the Commission and counts of serious malpractice was found against 10 of them. Changes were also made to the 1946 Liquor Act which restricted trading hours. The ‘six o’clock swill’, reports Phil Jarratt, “had become something of a bad joke and in the more civilized states like Queensland (10pm closing), Tasmania (10pm) and Western Australia (9pm). There was no evidence to suggest that consumption or drunkenness had increased as a result; in fact in Tasmania, where the hours had been extended since 1937, there had been a significant decline in drunkenness and alcohol-related crime.”

In February 1955, hotel trading hours were changed to a 10pm closing time by the NSW Parliament. “The stage was set for a new more civilized approach to the selling and consuming of liquor products,” wrote Jarratt.

In 1966, introduction of single bottle licenses was introduced, with much thanks to the lobbying of Jack Jarman, who had opened Sydney’s first liquor bottle shop, Jarman Liquor Supplies, at 163 New South Head Road, Edgecliff. Jarman had successfully lobbied influential women’s groups who saw the family benefits in having dad pick up his liquor at the shop on his way home, rather than spending the evening in the pub.

Tackling social responsibility

Random Breath Testing (RBT) was introduced in 1969. In 1977, the number of people convicted in NSW for drink-driving began to decline for the first time.

“The message was finally getting through and it was felt nowhere more keenly than in the liquor trade,” wrote Jarratt. “The era of social responsibility had arrived, and it had to begin within the trade itself. Since the arrival of the motor car, it had been standard practice for liquor merchant sales reps to do their daily rounds by car, stopping perhaps 20 times to take an order and shout the publican or club manager a round, which was usually reciprocated.”

But after RBT was introduced, there was a major rethink. Association president Ron Hamilton issued warnings to members on the need for an education program for sales reps. In 1971, more than 200 liquor industry workers met in Melbourne to hear reports from police and industry leaders. Sales reps were told they should not be obligated to drink on the job, it was not a requirement of their employment but rather a matter for their own decision.

A new obsession with health and fitness was also beginning to emerge in the 70s and the association had to monitor trends and develop an official industry position on social and public health issues, such as under-age drinking and the increasing marketing to youth. Much of this fell to Ross Burns, who was appointed as assistant secretary to Ron Hamilton of the association in December 1976.

By the 1980s, Ross Burns was leading the association, then called the Wholesale Wine and Spirit Merchants Association of NSW. In 1981, Ross tabled a report on the challenges of the 80s which detailed how the association was in danger of becoming redundant unless it changed its charter to match the changing needs of members. The members and trade reacted favourably and by February 1985, the call was made for the rationalisation of the association and Bureau Limited which saw the beginning of a more services-driven association.

A time to restructure

 To match the changing needs of its member companies, the Liquor Merchants Association of Australia restructured in 1991.

The association nationalised to become a services driven organisation to meet the industry's basic needs for credit information, licensing, industrial representation and information on governance.

It now exists to build knowledge and positively impact on businesses within the drinks industry under its four pillars: Promotes, Connects, Informs and Strengthens.

It gathers data and presents this information as meaningful insights for users to enable better decision making and market understanding.

By focussing on the development of commonly required services, it aims to build a sustainable, financially sound business. 

Farewelling the association's first female CEO, Sandra Przibilla

After 30 years of service to the association, Ross Burns retired in 2006. Sandra Przibilla was appointed as managing director of the association in November 2006 and has spent the past 11 years reinvigorate the association, increasing membership and create further services for the industry, as well as rebranding it as the drinks association.

Among the progressive innovations during her tenure have been the establishment of the Australian drinks Awards, now in their fifth successful year, the Women in drinks Council and Diversity & Inclusion Council.

"Together we have the ability to achieve great things," Przibilla said. "I am truly proud of how our industry can come together to support each other and appreciate the hard work we do and also strive to make the drinks business an attractive and inclusive place for people to work."

Sandra will retire from her role on September 8, 2017, with her successor to be announced in late July.

And a new chapter in the drinks association's story will begin. We can't wait to share it with you.

In the meantime, cheers to 120 successful years!