A Taste of Progress: The Temperance Movement and its influence on Food and Drink and the Urban Landscape at the time of the International Exhibitions in the Australian Colonies


  • Diana Noyce


food and drink, coffee palaces, temperance movement, international exhibitions, urban landscape


International Exhibitions were very much part of the cultural scene in the second half of the nineteenth century. They provided nations with opportunities to demonstrate their artistic, industrial and agricultural innovations and ingenuity and to encourage trade relations. The Australian colonies joined the fray and staged eight International Exhibitions in the latter half of the nineteenth century, three of which were significant—Sydney in 1879 and two in Melbourne in 1880 and 1888. 

Food and drink played a crucial role in the lived experience for visitors to the Exhibitions and warrants more attention. In particular, the exhibitions in the Australian colonies occurred at a time when the prohibition of alcohol was seriously debated in Australia. To accommodate and feed inter-colonial and international visitors to the Exhibitions, wealthy members of the temperance movement (a worldwide lobby group) that reached a highpoint in the latter part of the nineteenth century, constructed ‘coffee palaces’ on a grand scale. These majestic alcohol-free hotels were seen as an alternative to licensed hotels. They became an integral part of Australia’s urban, social and cultural landscape as the push to control alcohol consumption gathered momentum. However, at the same time as the temperance movement gained momentum so too did Australia’s burgeoning wine industry.Some commentators such as the Reverend John Ignatius Bleasedale (1822-84), encouraged Victorians to be “a healthy, sober, jolly, wine-drinking population”, and in New South Wales, the colonial government in an attempt to wean people away from spirits enabled the establishment of many a “Colonial Wine Shop” (Walsh). At the Exhibitions, the Australian wine industry was to be accommodated and encouraged at all costs. The apparent contradiction between the ideology of temperance and the economics of intemperance appears to have been bridged quite successfully at the time of the Exhibitions.

Food and drink served at the Exhibitions and coffee palaces stood as a powerful semiotic device for communicating and maintaining conceptions of identity, history, traditions and progress, and of inclusion and exclusion—it served to bind individuals to society as well as expressing power relations and struggles.


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