Heroin in 1950s Australia – cough, cough

In 1950, cough mixture with heroin as an additive was available from chemists with or without prescription, depending on the state where you lived. This advertisement appeared in the Hobart Mercury on 1 June. The mixture contained two grams of lobelia and a twelfth of a gram of heroin per fluid ounce.

In 1952, on what might perhaps be called slender evidence, a Senator from Western Australia sent the hares running with her claims that teenage girls were getting high on a cough mixture containing heroin.

The Mercury – 15 November 1952

The following day in Perth’s Sunday Times – 16 Nov 1952:

Senator Agnes Robertson said yesterday that the evidence she had that metropolitan school girls were drinking cough mixture to get a “lift” from heroin was provided by a small girl 18 months ago. This girl had told her that she had seen others drinking what she thought was cough mixture.

Sen. Robertson agreed that the girl could have been mistaken in what she saw but her evidence could not be substantiated because she was no longer in WA. Although Sen. Robertson also agreed that her allegations must have caused serious concern to parents of schoolgirls, she refused to name the school concerned. She said that since she had first been told of heroin addiction by Perth school girls 18 months ago, she had made searching inquiries but had failed to uncover any other cases.

When told that the BMA had expressed surprise at her charges Sen. Robertson said that doctors were not in full possession of information relating to the taking of drugs.

Principals of several leading girls’ schools said yesterday that they had never discovered a case of their pupils drinking cough mixture to obtain heroin. Education Director Dr T. L. Robertson said he thought the suggestion was ridiculous.

Pharmaceutical Guild president G. H. Dallimore said there were no patent medicines on sale in WA containing heroin. In 25 years’ experience, as a chemist he had not come in contact with any girls buying cough mixture to get a kick. A BMA spokesman said last night the ordinary citizen could not get mixtures containing heroin without a doctor’s prescription. Even in these cases the other ingredients would probably make a person sick if an overdose were taken to get a heroin reaction.

He added: “There is something about the Australian makeup as far as kids are concerned, which makes it very doubtful whether they would adopt the American teenagers’ practice of getting a lift from such methods.”

Despite the phasing-in of prescription-only medications and mixtures across various states, Australia still led the world in the ‘consumption’ of heroin. The Mail (Adelaide) – 6 December 1952

By 1954, New South Wales was planning to ban heroin use “when existing stocks were almost exhausted” (Premier Cahill). An interesting application of ‘waste not want not’. Sydney Morning Herald – 23 June 1954

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Post-script: In 1956 after her re-election to the Senate, The Australian Women’s Weekly of 14 March ran a feature article on Senator Agnes Robertson.


Hoadley’s Violet Crumble bar

Hoadley’s began its life as a jam and preserve-making business.  In 1910, Hoadley’s sold the jam component of their business to Henry Jones and began the path to establish Hoadley’s Chocolates Limited in 1913, the year the Violet Crumble bar was born.  Abel Hoadley’s story is outlined in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

The Argus – 28 February 1911

HOADLEY’S NEW WORKS.

The foundation-stone of the new confectionery and cocoa works of Messrs. A. Hoadley and Sons was laid on Saturday by Mr. Abel Hoadley, the founder of the firm. The works, when completed will consist of two floors and a basement, and the area of floor space will be over 10,000 square feet.

Mr. Hoadley, when laying the stone said that the builidng would be an entirely new departure as far as Australia was concerned, the material used being silicate bricks. Each floor would be supplied with hot and cold water services, and provision had been made for dressing-rooms for the employees, each of whom would have a separate locker. There would also be a dining room, from which, access could be gained to the roof, a portion of which would be laid out as a roof garden. ……. St Kilda Road

In 1923, the Violet Crumble bar was 10 years old and cost 3d : The Advertiser – 28 July 1923. In 1950, Hoadley’s raised the price from 4d to 5d : Sunday Herald – 10 September 1950.  The price rose by about a penny a year and was 8d by 1954.

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In 1956, Hoadley’s was advertising their range of confectionery products on radio.  The Australian Women’s Weekly – 22 August 1956.

Rowntree bought Hoadley’s in 1971.  In 1989, Nestle bought Rowntree.  The Violet Crumble is still with us nearly 100 years on.  And these days you’ll need around $2.00 to buy yourself a 50 gram bar.