Bex Powders

Made by Beckers Pty Ltd in Crown Street, Sydney, 1965-1975

Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences.
Photo: Ryan Hernandez

Bex was a popular Australian painkiller advertised as a cure for headaches, nerve pains and a range of other conditions. Bought over the counter in shops and pharmacies, it contained individual sachets of powder which were taken by dissolving them in a glass of water or a cup of tea. Each dose contained phenacetin (a fever and pain reliever), aspirin and caffeine. There is a warning that the medication is harmful if taken in large doses or for long periods of time.


 

The use of Bex is most often associated with Australian housewives and the phrase ‘a cup of tea, a Bex and a good lie down’. But oral histories conducted with migrant women who worked in Australian factories in the 1960 and 1970s reveal that taking powders as stimulants to get through long shifts was a common practice. In the mid-1960s, doctors linked the habitual use of painkillers containing phenacetin to kidney disease, but it took another decade for the government to regulate their production.