War time pub drinking: A glass by candlelight and beer shortages

Pubs were often closed as a consequence of beer shortages. This picture shows a disappointed sailor at the door of the Criterion Hotel, Sydney in 1942.

Limits were placed on beer production by the Australian Government in March 1942, requiring breweries to reduce their output to two-thirds of previous levels.

The resulting beer shortages led to widespread profiteering and black-marketing in some parts of Australia, including Sydney and Melbourne.

Although wartime restrictions on beer production were lifted in March 1946, it took well into the 1950s before the breweries recovered.

Beer shortages persisted as a result of delays in repairing or replacing inadequate equipment, and a lack of raw materials and shortages in labour.

The Illawarra Mercury reported ” a beer joke” at Wollongong on July 1 1948:

Members of the S.C. Branch of the U.L.V.A. have been chuckling amongst themselves over a neat joke played on a well known licensee a couple of weeks ago. Beer is generally short on Monday mornings — in fact, is non-existent at most hotels. On Monday morning, this particular licensee received a phone message to the effect there was an eighteen gallon keg of beer at the Showground. It was a ‘left-over’ from a footballers’ do, he was told. Post-haste, a truck was despatched to collect the keg. It was delivered, placed in the cellar and connected. ‘The beer’s on,’ the licensee told some thirsty souls at the bar. He drew a schooner, but it appeared mostly froth, so he drew another. Still puzzled, he tasted it — It was Ginger Beer.

bar candles 2
DURING the second world war in Sydney many drinkers were left to enjoy their beer by candlelight at their regular watering holes – how romantic!


Because of the electricity rationing in Sydney, a new use was found for empty bottles and glasses at this hotel bar. The barmaids used them to hold candles.

Newcastle Morning Herald Thursday 18 October 1945.


Power failed in the King’s Cross area last night. Here a barmaid is serving beer by the light of two candles at the Gladstone Hotel, William Street.

– The Sydney Morning Herald Tuesday 17 May 1949.

bar candles

womenb bar

WOMEN ARE allowed to drink in the public bar of the Regent Hotel, Sydney, when men are not claiming bar space. Regent is probably the only city hotel in Australia where public bar is open to women. They come in off-peak hours – 10am until about 4pm – but not on Saturday. So far no trouble has been reported in the bar. Women seem to drink less paying their way at the bar than they do when trying to keep up with men folk it lounge two and foursomes. Men behave better when women are present, keep their language under control and don’t get tipsy.

Northern Times (Carnarvon, WA) Friday 15 November 1946.

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Categories: Illawarra Hotels, Publicans

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4 replies

  1. As you know, the profiteering and other poor practices led to the Royal Commission into the liquor industry in 1951. My grandmother, Hilda Gertrude Condon of the Hotel Illawarra, was a witness for Tooth’s Brewery because she was one of the few ‘honest’ publicans. Her quota was 50-70 dozen bottles of beer a month from Tooths and 2 dozen from Tooheys. This was kept for regular customers “naturally” and the Public Bar was never closed, even when there was no beer. Justice Dovey complimented her on her forthright evidence.

    • Thanks for your comment Penelope… Would be great to post a picture of your grandmother, Hilda Condon, here…. I am planning to write a little bit more on the Royal Conmission on the Time Gents site in the future….

      • Hilda Gertrude Condon of the Illawarra Hotel, Wollongong was an imposing figure and a formidable character – very stylish and divorced (tricky in the 1930s!) She also played a part in getting the Owen gun into production during World War II. It was initially rejected by the army, but Evelyn Owen (the inventor) was a friend of my aunt’€™s and persuaded Hilda to hand the prototype to Vincent Wardell, manager of Lysaght’s at Port Kembla, who drank in the public bar on a Friday evening. She handed it over the counter in a sugar bag and suggested he might look at it. Wardell was impressed with its simplicity so eventually persuaded the army to have it produced (by Lysaghts) where it was successfully used in New Guinea, and also Korea and Vietnam. Few people refused Hilda.
        Following her older daughter’€™s early death in 1952, and worn down with grief and hard work, she travelled overseas for a year or so in 1954. My parents (my mother, Pam, was Hild’€™s younger daughter) then took over the Illawarra so I grew up there from 1954 until it was sold in 1962 following Hilda’€™s death. We all lived together, so I came to know Hilda (I was 15 when she died).
        I have a copy of the Royal Commission Report which lists the witnesses in the Appendix and provides a reference to their transcripts of evidence. I went to the State Archives to retrieve Hilda’s three pages of transcript. However, of the more than 2,500 pages in 20 or so volumes of transcript, there was one volume missing. Of course this contained Hilda’s pages 432-435!!
        The family story is that Selby Burt of Tooth’s Brewery asked Hilda to testify on behalf of the brewery because of her honesty. Burt was grateful and they remained business friends until her death. I recall going to the brewery on Broadway as a child with my mother on her weekly trips to Sydney (when home from boarding school) to be left in the car while she called in on ‘Mr Burt’€™.

  2. Thanks Penelope. I have sent you an email.

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