LATER bar closing times in New South Wales’ pubs were put to voters in a referendum in 1947, but it did not achieve the required number of votes to pass. A second referendum held in 1954 narrowly passed, and closing hours were extended from 6pm to 10pm the following year, effectively ending the infamous ‘six o’clock swill’.
Six o’clock closing was introduced during the First World War, partly as an attempt to improve public morality and partly as a war austerity measure. Before this reform, most hotels and public houses in Australia had closed at 11 or 11.30 pm
Six o’clock closing of hotels was put to the vote in New South Wales in June 1916. The 1916 vote was influenced by a recent riot of drunken 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.
Six o’clock closing 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”. Men stood six deep at the bar, passing glasses over each others head, spilling large amounts of beer, onto a cigerette butt covered floor.
The later closing of 10pm was introduced into NSW on February 1 1955, Victoria in 1966, and South Australia was the last state to abolish six o’clock closing in 1967.
TO get the lowdown on the possible effects of 10 o’clock closing of hotels, I decided to go to the source — Jimmy Carruthers* — mine host of the Bells Hotel in the ‘Loo [Woolloomooloo, Sydney]. I chose a bad time to invade — had ’em all on, and those darlings, the wharfies, gave me the lot— cat calls and wolf whistles followed me into the pub.
I found Jimmy and his pretty Myra were out for the afternoon. So I made a date for the next a.m. When I arrived at the Bells next morning, I was greeted by ‘Lady Jane,’ an adorable three-years-old moppet, a relative of the Carruthers. She sang me all the nursery rhymes on the calendar and danced.
Jimmy was in the bar! When the smiling little bantam appeared, shining; like a door nob, he couldn’t have been more friendly.
The reason he’s so popular is very obvious.
“How do you feel about 10 o’clock closing Jimmy?” I asked. “It’s the proper and civilized way to drink” was the young publican’s answer.
Carruthers has already built a posh beer garden —Mexican in influence — to meet the new era. He believes in service — Is going to introduce music and light entertainment and perhaps small “chow.” If energy, sweat and a fascinating wife go to make success then Jimmy can’t miss. But the ‘Loo, even with the lure of meeting the ex- world bantamweight champ, will be a tough proposition. It doesnt normally spell a night out, even for the denizens. They want the bright lights of the Cross. But if curiosity continues to kill the cat, then Jimmy’s future is assured.
Nowadays, people come from as far away as Western Australia just to say they’ve had a beer with the little fightin’ man. Today, the ring holds no fascination for the great little pug. He has turned his back on the Marquess of Queensberry. For exercise he swims at the Domain Baths to keep his weight in check.
“I’m a member of the Sydney League Swimming Club,” he said. “Look!” and he showed me his membership card, on the back of which was: “For all excellent modern drinking facilities, visit Bell’s Hotel, where you will meet Jimmy Carruthers, famous Bantam Champion of the World.”
-Truth (Sydney), Sunday 28 November 1954.
* Jimmy Carruthers (James William Carruthers) was born in Paddington NSW on July 25 1929. He was an Australian boxer, who became world champion in the bantamweight division. He died on August 15 1990 at Narrabeen, Sydney. More on Carruthers.