The Origins Of The 21st Birthday

While it’s tempting to think “any excuse will do” when it comes to having a party, have you ever wondered what the origin and significance of the 21st birthday is?

It’s wildly celebrated all over the world and often an extravagant affair, but in Australia it’s the age of 18 that many things finally become legal, like buying alcohol and the ability to vote, not 21 like the USA. So where did 21sts come from, and why do they hold significance in Australia? Let’s find out!


Betcha didn’t see that coming! The origin of the 21st birthday actually came from a boy being groomed for knighthood. In medieval times, there were 3 stages to becoming a knight, all of which were 7 years apart;

  • 7 years old – The boy’s training begins as he becomes a page. Essentially a Knight’s servant, the boy would learn what was required to become a Knight while acting as a messenger and performing other basic servant duties.
  • 14 years old – The boy would become a Squire. The Squire’s primary duties would be as an armour and shield carrier, caretaker of the weapons and armour, and tasks like saddling the Knight’s horse. This was also the first time that the boy would be taken into battle with the Knight. Often acting as a flagbearer, the Squire would be given a chance to prove himself in battle. A Squire’s role would also involve ensuring the Knight had an honourable burial should he be felled in one of these battles.
  • 21 years old – Providing the boy succeeding in his two previous posts, he was officially dubbed a Knight at the age of 21. The Knight was a form of lower nobility and a trusted agent of a Monarch and a skilled fighter bound by a code of chivalric conduct.


While going to numerous battles doesn’t sound like much fun, what about all the parties? Well they’re a more modern invention. In the U.S. the legal age for drinking, smoking, and entering nightclubs is 21.

So the 21st birthday is a significant turning point for a young adult as they’re now able to partake in more adult activities, legally. Given Australia has inherited much from American culture, it’s no surprise we’ve adopted this as well.

That aside, Australia’s legal drinking age wasn’t always 18 for all states. New South Wales adopted the age of 18 in 1905, previously being 21. Queensland adopted it in 1974 as did Tasmania, with South Australia adopting it in 1971 and Western Australia in 1970.

The Northern Territory, ACT, and Victoria all adopted the age of 18 when a legal age was classified – meaning it was only ever 18. So with many Australians seeing 21 the same way Americans do, added with the huge integration of cultures, we’ve likely found the cause of our party mentalities.


We all know what a 21st entails nowadays. Even in Australia where you’ve been legally allowed to drink for a few years prior, it doesn’t seem to have stemmed the spirit of drinking yourself stupid.

But instead of losing all memory of this momentous occasion, why not take part in something unique and awesome with all your mates? Great Race offers a huge range of specially planned activities for your 21st celebrations. Go on, ‘Let’s Fun’!.