Goon is felt by the Australian nation to be a possession which is its very own, just like its many varieties of Bunnings cordless drills and Mrs Mac’s sausage roll (that compact, sweaty, encrusted re-envisioning of the banger-in-bun classic). Sealed in a shimmering bladder, encased in a fibre-board box, goon is oddly cosmic in its undulations and its crumpled silver sheen; for no intents or purposes like a space-man’s plumbing. Or, perhaps a more apt (yet equally pat) comparison can be drawn with a celestial slea-slug—slowly shrivelling under successive squeezes, carried ashore by a rogue, dissolute tide slapping itself over the bulwark of civility.
Yet there is nothing more down-to-earth (nor down-under) than the endearingly grotty goon bag. So true-blue is it in its practicality; so larrikin in its multi-purpose functions. Not only does it perform a means to intoxication through a 10%+ alcohol content, but it is an event and a play-thing in itself. Often remarked upon for its astonishing breadth of utility amidst phrases like ‘Bazza ya farkin drongo stop pissing in my mum’s pot plant’ and ‘is my head bleeding?’, if one composed a ‘Guide to Goon’ handbook, it would most likely have to be released in several volumes. Students, backpackers and Tom Rossiter have known it as inflatable pillow, football, makeshift clothing, porch ornament, hanging goon-tern, Hills-hoist game bait, recycled fashion accessory (Perth Now reports how police mistakenly waylaid a young woman sporting a goon bag clutch bag), and even—though this would require at least several days of drinking or a large, Aguirre-skilled gathering—a raft. The Pelican crew themselves trialled the goon bag as a flotation device in the Swan River in late February. Resulting buoyancy issues have been put to poor drainage and insufficient inflation, such that the whole experiment merely begs for a retrial.
Today goon floaties; tomorrow goon zeppelin.
Invented by Thomas Angove of South Australia fifty years ago, the product name is thought to be a contraction and then bovine widening of its suspected etymological origin ‘flagon’. In form and function, the goon-bag recalls a bushman’s water pouch or Italian shepherd’s goatskin— albeit with an inverted purity of these receptacles. With its tragi-comic-heroic qualities, goon at once renounces the traditional dignity of wine and at the same time recovers it, by way of earnestness, irony, and humble exuberance. Insistently, it celebrates the fact that drunkenness shall be got at minimal coin; plastic cups shall be the vessels for quaffment; and all the weird scatterment of night shall be played out in a scuzzy shadowplay of slackaroonis cutting up their aces and barnacle-bleeding their legs, moaning and mischieving and staggering out their madnesses in the oily glitter of turbid goony youth.
The most praiseworthy and political aspect of goon, however, is its egalitarianism. The cask is a leveller. Whereas Roland Barthes expounds his nation’s wine as a Last-Supper essence—‘the old hypostasis’— goon is the blood a costume-party Christ spilled when he got drunk at that party that one time and tried to feel up Mary Magdalene in the olive grove only to fall over an ill-placed urn upon touch of boob. Anti-posh, communal, goon sloshes proudly around the cells of Australia’s BWS-based identity.
At around ten bucks for a 4 litre cask, you can’t expect too much from the goon-grape when it comes to refined taste (although there are signs and rumours some brands are militating for a bourgeois box). A potent liquid, it is cheap, sometimes vile, and may (tiny side-box writing whispers) contain ‘traces of fish, eggs and milk’. Yet goon is—pragmatically, chemically, environmentally— in many ways the superior to its glass-sheathed and slender-shouldered counterpart. It does not break like the bottle because of its resilient plasticity; its cardboard shell enables easy transport and storage; its air-tight seal and vacuum engineering bequeaths it an anti-oxidation endurance, so that it can be plied for weeks after opening (in the unlikely event it outlasts the night).
But most importantly, goon can always depended upon to fulfil its promise of conversion. Under its influence, a strong man may become silent, a silent man may become strong, and a strong silent man may start shouting Lenny Kravitz lyrics to passing Holden Tritons on Guildford Road.
Tacky, bloated, billowing and proud, there will never be a more magnificent sculpture to grace our shores than the giant goon bag of ‘14. Nor one which better bespeaks our bogan heart. At the sale price of $20 000, I leave off by condemning this university for disdaining the opportunity to purchase the piece for installation in the Winthrop Hall reflection pond. Graduation photos would never be more symbolic, nostalgic, or— for Arts students— premonitory.
Words by Kate Prendergast