Think Binge Drinking Is Bad Over Here? Check Out Australia’s Goon Bag Culture

Forget the kangaroo, Uluru, or Kylie’s derriere, extremely cheap and toxic-tasting box ‘wine’ Goon is fast becoming the national emblem of Australia


by Kara Byers |
Published on

Earlier this week the British Council published a report into how 5,000 young adults view Britains – think of it as a global report card, if you will – and the answers weren't great. Ignorant, intolerant, over-nationalistic and... wait for it... a nation of binge drinkers. 27% of those surveyed said we drink too much alcohol, a figure that rose to 34% if they’d visited the UK. Not ideal, obviously. But if you think us Brits are bad, we ain’t got nothing on Australia.

Delightfully named ‘goon’ is box ‘wine’, but more specifically, it’s the silver bag that contains the ‘wine’ itself. However, it’s nothing like what we have in the UK. It comes in massive four litre boxes, costs around $9 to $15 dollars a pop (approx £5 to £8), and packs around 10% alcohol. It tastes far worse than even the cheapest supermarket own-brand crap you can get over here (yes, even Lambrini) with varieties ranging from the eye-wateringly acidic white, to the claggy red, to the best-selling sickeningly sweet ‘fruity lexia’. And it gets you absolutely smashed.

Which is probably why young Australians just cannot get enough of it.


When I first arrived in Oz as a cash-strapped backpacker, I quickly became acquainted with goon drinking culture. Three years later, I find myself with a group of 20-25 year olds on a Saturday night and nothing has changed. Now, goonbags are so entrenched within Australian culture that nearly 4,00 goonbag related pictures were posted on Instagram yesterday alone.

‘Goon’s the first choice to get the party started,’ says Hannah, a finance student. ‘I definitely can’t afford to be out knocking back $8 beers all night at a bar or nightclub. So we pre-drink. Why would I buy $16 cocktails from the pub near my house when I can get 40 standard drinks from a goon sack for less than $12?’

Why would I buy $16 cocktails from the pub near my house when I can get 40 standard drinks from a goon sack for less than $12?

To sustain enough enthusiasm for three hours of dancing the pre-drinking is enhanced with goon-centred games. As Kirsty, a junior PR account executive, explains. ‘Even better is the number from a Hills Hoist [rotary washing line] and whoever it lands on has to drink. If there are some boys joining us we sometimes add a bit of pashing in. As they say, “Fruity Lexia makes you sexier!”’

It’s all fun and games now but goon is a nasty adversary of the social drinker. You can drink it quickly and it doesn’t seem to affect you, making it easy to forget that you’re consuming wine by the pint. Then boom. It hits you. You’ve gone from zero to wasted in an extra cup and you find yourself with the impulse to strip, vomit or pass out. Then there are the hangovers…

‘Goon hangovers are the worst, there’s nothing like the headache you get,’ says Paul, a media sales exec. ‘I’ve woken up feeling like my eyes were going to pop out of my head from the throbbing before now.’

I’ve woken up feeling like my eyes were going to pop out of my head from the throbbing before now

When I ask he why, as someone on a good wage compared to his friends, he doesn’t trade up to a higher quality drink, he explains that it’s the side effects that keep him reaching for the little silver bag. ‘Being drunk on goon is like entering a different plane, everyone’s just so excitable, silly, and giddy – it’s brilliant.’

PhD student Rachel Mason, also a regular goon drinker, disagrees with Paul and doesn’t think the wine has any special qualities but rather offers that it’s the volume of goon consumed that produces these effects. ‘It’s just binge drinking. You have to get pretty loose to have the confidence to talk to new people. It’s how people meet each other, it’s just what goes on,’ she says.


Another student, Corey M, agrees. ‘I guess we feel like alcohol makes it easier to make new friends,’ he says. ‘Goon is the most affordable. I used to drink a box to myself most nights. It made me feel more outgoing and confident. I’ve cut down now as I was getting way too wasted, but I still drink it. I can’t give it up because everyone’s doing it, I don’t want to miss out.’*

Aside from being perhaps one of the most disgusting ‘wines’ you’ll ever taste, goon also has some very suspicious labelling with every box proclaiming it ‘may contain fish and egg products’. Which begs the question: how the hell do you get fish and eggs in wine? And what kind of fish?

Goon also has some very suspicious labelling with every box proclaiming it ‘may contain fish and egg products’

Unable to get a definitive list of the ingredients present in goon or its percentage grape content, I asked a doctor if this was anything to worry about. ‘When you're drinking alcohol in this kind of volume, the quality of the ingredients makes little difference,’ says Ruth Hearn, GP. ‘Binge drinking carries with it a huge risk of multi-system bodily harm. Drunk people lose the ability to sink into “deep wave sleep”, which is the part of sleep that allows you to feel refreshed, hence feeling tired even if you manage to get enough sleep. A lack of deep wave sleep is now thought to be potentially more carcinogenic than smoking. Then there’s the thumping headache caused by dehydration that actually shrinks your brain and causes your meninges (the tissue that attaches your brain to your skull) to stretch. Chronic drinking leads to gastritis, which is an inflammation of the stomach lining that can make you feel sick and cause abdominal pain. It can also cause your liver to become fatty or in worse case scenarios, cirrhotic.’

But the goon enthusiasts I’m with know the risks and justify their excessiveness with the notion that once university or their twenties end, so will their binge drinking habits. ‘It’s only a couple of years of your life, I guess,’ says Charlotte W, a first year student. ‘It won’t be the same in a few years because there wouldn’t be as many people wanting to drink.’


In the meantime there are parties and games to be had. As the pre-drinks get into full flight, the crowd gets looser. Some slinking off in couples, others shedding various bits of clothing as part of games. Everyone looks like they’re having the time of their lives, and they haven’t even gone out yet. Then one girl, dressed only in her underwear and socks, gets up on a swivelling kitchen stool, goon bag in hand. She begins to pour it into her mouth while everyone claps. And then, amping up the sexual tension she does a ‘goon layback’ – lying on her back while a boy stands over her and pours from the bag directly into her mouths. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, I take this as my cue to leave.

Follow Kara on Twitter @KaraByerswriter

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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