The Family Of Alternative Brands

My father drank Crest Lager (“Brewed for MEN! A taste that is crisp and VIGOROUS!”, baritoned the 1970 TV advertisement)  and Courage Draught rather than the dominant Carlton beers: Fosters Lager, Melbourne Bitter, Victoria Bitter, and Carlton Draught.

Remember Abbots Lager? At the time of writing I came across a reference to it in Barry Humphries’ ‘biography’ of Edna Everidge. The cardiganed old Sandy Stone is standing in the hallway with a glass of Abbots. His glass would have been the now extinct 200ml standard or perhaps even the 140ml ‘pony’ filled from a 750ml bottle – stubbies and (meshed steel) cans were rarer, perhaps deemed too expensive in those economic recessive times, or less sociable.  Sandy’s beer would have turned flat the instant it slid down into his Sunlight Dishwashing Liquid – lined glass.

Mother chose Vita Brits over Weet Bix; AktaVite and Ovaltine over Milo and Quik. I’m not exactly sure why this preference for obscure brands. A bit of an outsider himself, dad, I think, relished the idea of a company attempting to break a monopoly and the consumer narrow-mindedness that it relied upon.

I remember him  pawing over the catalogue for the newly released Leyland P76 and telling everyone who’d listen about its features and the advantages it had over the already iconic Holden Kingswood and Ford Falcon. I can’t remember him harping on about the Chrysler Valiant though which, with its more stylised (albeit American) look, was probably deemed a little too ethnic. The Valiant was popular with the recently arrived Greek and Italian immigrants. Its pointed ends and exotic grilles seemed to match the owners balustraded palatial homes.

Later, when choosing a company car dad requested a Mitsubishi Magna -rather than the more expensive Commodore and Falcon. And lying on the back floor was his UBD street directory, not the standard Melways.

I wasn’t immune. After a camping trip as a teenager I developed a penchant for jeeps – real tin jeeps, not the luxurious AWD SUVs driving around suburbs today. Not being able to afford one as a first car I bought a Mini Moke. I also carried around a brochure. It was faintly patronising, mentioning several times that it only had lap seat belts in what was essentially an ash tray on wheels. No doors and a canvas canopy for a roof, its fuel tank was in the side chassis; luckily the passenger’s side. There was no need for a fuel gauge. I would simply lean across, open the metal lid and peer inside.

Dad’s Crest Lager was my first beer – at four years of age. I can still remember seeing the bottle sitting on the mantlepiece as my parents were farewelling their guests. The golden hue and thick white head of beer had always fascinated me. Expecting it to taste of honey and mock cream the metallic bitter taste was a nasty shock. Wanting it to taste how it looked I took another slug. Anyway, my parents found the empty bottle under my younger brother’s cot and me hiding/slouching behind the door (could a near full 750ml bottle of beer cause brain damage in a 4 year old?).

I was a big fan of Abbots Lager. Its white label was less crass than its lolly coloured brothers: Fosters (blue), Melbourne (red), and VB (green). The charcoal sketch of the CUB brewery in Abbotsford (from which it got its name) gave it a monastic credibility. Looking at it’s label today it just looks like a  a factory. And it was no Rochefort 10, of course. It had the same bitter metallic taste of all the CUB “brews”. The powerful aroma of malt wafting from that common orange-red  brick ‘monastery’ promised so much more.

Mum’s brand choices were most likely based on a belief, spawned by the words “nutritious” and “essential vitamins and minerals” on the labels, in their health benefits. AktaVite must have been healthy because it looked like tapeworm and had the cloying aftertaste of all  “pleasant tasting” medicines.

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