Six o'clock swill

Six o'clock swill

The Six o'clock swill was the last-minute rush to buy drinks at a hotel bar before it closed. During a significant part of the 20th century, Australian and New Zealand hotels shut their public bars at 6 p.m.; between finishing work (5 p.m.) and this early closing hour, men drank heavily.

The rush to drink

Six o'clock closing time was introduced partly in an attempt to improve public morals and get men home to their wives earlier. Instead, it often fuelled an hour-long speed-drinking session, as men raced to get as drunk as possible in the limited time available. An unintended consequence was that glasses were saved during the hour after quitting time until the last call came for drinks. Then the emptied glasses could be refilled. "The bartender didn't carry your glass to the tap. He carried a pistol-shaped spigot hitched to a long tube and squirted your glass full where you stood." [cite web | last = Peluso, Jr. | first = A. J. | year = 2001 | url = | title = Saloon Nudes | publisher = Maine Antique Digest | accessdate = 2007-12-22 quoting Red Smith's coverage of the 1956 Olympics at Melbourne]

Introduction of early closing

Six o'clock closing was introduced during World War I. The Woman's Christian Temperance Union and the Rechabites campaigned successfully for limits on the sale of alcohol and beer. Although the temperance movement had been active since the late 1870s, they mounted the successful argument in 1915 and onwards that a "well-ordered, self-disciplined and morally upright home front was a precondition for the successful prosecution of the war." [cite book | year =1995 | title = Australia's War 1914-18 | editor = Joan Beaumont (ed.) | location= Sydney, Australia | publisher=Allen & Unwin | id = ISBN 1-86373-461-9 , page 81.]

The first state to introduce early closing was South Australia in 1915 where the rationale was a war austerity measure. Six o'clock closing was adopted in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania in 1916. It was introduced in New Zealand in 1917. Queensland introduced eight o'clock closing in 1923.The question of closing hours was put to New South Wales voters in June 1916. The question had previously been put to the vote in December, 1913 when the results of the "Local Option Poll" were in favour of 11 o'clock closing. The 1916 vote was influenced by a recent riot involving soldiers. In February 1916, troops mutinied against conditions at the Casula Camp. They raided hotels in Liverpool before travelling by train to Sydney, where one soldier was shot dead in a riot at Central Railway station. [cite book | first =LL | last =Robson | year =1969 | title = Australia & the Great War: 1914-1918 | location= Australia | publisher=Macmillan | id = ISBN 0-333-11921-5, pages 12 and 63-65.]

Although it was introduced as a temporary measure, in 1919 it was made a permanent measure in Victoria and South Australia. The New South Wales Government brought in temporary extensions and discussed putting the matter to a referendum. In 1923, however, without testing the matter by a popular vote, 6 p.m. was enacted in NSW as a closing time.cite book | first =JM | last =Freeland| year =1966 | title = The Australian Pub | location= Australia | publisher=Melbourne University Press , page 175.]

Hotels catered for a short heavy drinking period after work before the early evening closing by extending their bars and tiling walls for easy cleaning. The phenomenon changed Australian pubs as rooms in the building were converted to bar space; billiard rooms disappeared and bars were knocked together.

Western Australia remains the only Australian state to have never adopted the early closing times.

Extension of closing time

Closing time was extended to 10 o'clock in Tasmania from 1937. The issue of ending early closing was voted on in New South Wales in 1947 but the proposal was voted down, however a vote in 1954 narrowly won and closing hours were extended to 10 p.m. in 1955. Hours were extended in Victoria in 1966, and South Australia was the last state to abolish six o'clock closing with legislation introduced by Don Dunstan in 1967 and the first legal after 6 p.m. beer being drunk on 28 September. [cite paper | first = Peter | last = Strawhan | title = The Importance of Food and Drink in the Political and Private Life of Don Dunstan | version = | publisher = | date = 2004 | url = | format = pdf (342 pages) | accessdate = 2002-12-22 - see page 61 (page 71 of the pdf)]

Ten o'clock closing was introduced in New Zealand in October 1967 after a referendum. [cite web | last = Phillips | first = Jock | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = 1967 | url = | title = The ‘six o’clock swill’ | format = image plus caption | work = New Zealand in brief: Sports and leisure | publisher = Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand (New Zealand Government: Ministry for Culture and Heritage) | accessdate = 2007-12-22] An earlier referendum, in 1949, had voted three to one to retain six o'clock closing.

References in culture

"The Bar" (1954), a painting by John Brack which was based on the Six o'clock swill was sold for a record price for an Australian painting of $3.17 million. Another painting by Brack, "Collins St, 5 p.m." (1955) held by the National Gallery of Victoria is also based on the 5-o'clock rush to get to the bar. [cite news |first= Jonathon |last= Green |authorlink= |coauthors= |title= The freat art robbery
url= |work= Arts Reviews |publisher= The Age|date= 15 April 2006 |accessdate= 2007-12-22 |quote = John Brack's The Bar, that brown-suited, hard-faced, hard-drinking, wryly ironic take on Edouard Manet's "A Bar at the Folies-Bergère"... the central figure of the barmaid had been modelled on a milk bar attendant, ... the artist's [has inserted a] self-portrait on the far right of the canvas, ... the appearance of the painter's army friend, John Stephens, who also features in the "Collins St, 5pm" crowd.

Caddie, the Story of a Barmaid, an autobiography of a depression era barmaid, describes the six o'clock swill, at a time (1952) when it was presumed that the reader would be familiar with the concept.


See also

* Public house
* Longest bar in Australia
* Extended alcohol sales
* Binge drinking

External links

* ['clock%20Swill.htm Dinkum Aussies: Events: The Six O'Clock Swill]
* [ Literary quotes about six o'clock closing]
* [ University of Technology Sydney: Journalism: Pubs and People]
* [,I State Library of New South Wales: Picture of patrons at the "Northern Club Hotel" toasting the introduction of 10 p.m. closing, 1 February 1955]
* [ The Political Economy of Six O’Clock Closing (in New Zealand) Tim Mulcare. (Rich Text Format)]

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