National Archives of Australia

Issue 10 April 2013

What a gem! Don’t drink six middies an hour and drive

Archives staff often unearth exciting or unusual records from among the millions of items held in the collection. The ‘What a gem!’ series showcases these finds. In this issue, Melanie Harwood introduces Aussie ‘slobs’ who featured in the first major Australian campaign against drink-driving.

To most Australians, ‘slob’ is slang word for someone who is lazy, slovenly or stupid. However, in 1974, the NSW Government redefined this colloquial term in a campaign against drink-driving. For the purposes of public information, health and safety, a slob was now ‘a man who drinks 6 middies or more in an hour and then attempts to drive’.

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‘Slob’ advertisement, 1974. NAA: A6180, 1/10/74/11

Stop a slob from driving…

In 1969, the NSW Government took a serious step forward in addressing the issue of drink-driving and implemented a breathalyser system. Drivers suspected of drink driving could now have their blood alcohol level read on the spot, rather than through time-consuming blood tests – although this breathalyser unit was a far cry from the small hand-held devices of today.

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Traffic scientist Dr Michael Henderson with Australia’s first breathalyser, 1974. Dr Henderson was also the man behind the ‘Slob’ campaign. NAA: A6180, 1/10/74/6

Five years after the invention of the breathalyser, the NSW Government released the ‘Slob’ campaign, creating a series of mass media advertisements around the tagline ‘stop a slob from driving’. The attention-grabbing ads were designed to create social sanctions and peer group pressure around driving under the influence of alcohol. The ‘Slob’ campaign focused on personal humiliation, such as, ‘having your belt, tie and shoelaces taken away, and being held in a cell like a common criminal’.

Some of your best friends are Slobs

The key message of the campaign was later revealed to be touched with irony. The strong use of Aussie colloquialisms such as ‘chicks’, ‘grog’ and ‘middies’ spoke directly to the Australian drinker, but, it seems, so did ‘the slob’. The campaign, developed on the premise that the word ‘slob’ was an offensive term, attempted to create social sanctions against drink drivers.

However, according to critics of the campaign, there was one major flaw: the Australian public’s attitude at the time. Australians rather liked ‘Mr Slob’, who they found to be ‘a funny attractive person’ that they ‘wouldn’t mind being like’. Despite this, the NSW Bureau of Crime claimed a decrease in drink-driving after the campaign.

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‘Slob rule’ advertisement, 1974. NAA: A6180, 1/10/74/8

No more ‘slob rule’

The key message of the ‘Slob’ campaign was to stay under ‘6 middies in an hour’. Although this is excessive by today’s standards, the ‘Slob’ campaign marked a pivotal point in societal and institutional views on drinking and driving.

By the mid-1970s, all Australian states and territories had passed laws that introduced penalties for drink-driving offences. Late in that decade, the legal blood alcohol limit for drivers was 0.08 per cent. It wasn’t until the 1980s that governments implemented random breath testing, where anyone, whether they appeared affected by alcohol or not, could be tested.

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Critics of the ‘Slob’ campaign argued that many Australians liked ‘Mr Slob’. NAA: A6180, 1/10/74/9

Want more?

View the ‘Slob’ advertisements on PhotoSearch – type ‘Slob campaign’ in the Search box

See other road safety posters and advertisements from the 1940s to 1970s on Flickr

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