In 1915/6, under wartime and temperance pressure, licensing laws in Australia* were changed to move pub closing time from midnight to 6pm. Alcohol consumption steadily went up in the years after the shortening of drinking hours, even through a glass shortage during and after World War Two and rationing of sugar** around the same time. A booming criminal trade in “sly grog” went on, and the hour between work finishing and the pubs closing became a riot of binge drinking in crowded male-only barns, where blokes vomited and urinated where they stood rather than give up their chance of another schooner. This orgy of consumption became known as The Six O’Clock Swill.
Wowsers managed to keep six o’clock closing on the books until 1937 in Tasmania, 1956 in NSW, 1966 in Victoria and 1967 in South Australia. It still informs Australian drinking culture today, despite the introduction of 24-hour licences. Some do-gooder is always about to take the Aussie’s beer away, and he’s buggered if he’ll let them.
An exile from a country that also knows a thing or two about binge drinking, our man in Sydney is learning about Australian beer, pubs and drinking culture, one schooner at a time.