THE six o’clock swill was an Australian and New Zealand slang term for the rush to buy drinks at the pub before closing time.
During a significant part of the 20th century, most Australian pubs turned off the beer at 6pm, which resulted in a culture of heavy drinking between ‘knock-off’ time at 5pm and mandatory closing an hour later. Six o’clock closing generated an hour-long drinking session, as men stood shoulder to shoulder, packing bars to get as many drinks as possible before the “time gents” call.
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 the ‘swill’, most Australian pubs closed at 11 or 11.30pm.
The first state to introduce early closing was South Australia in March 1916, where the law had been approved in the previous year in a referendum. Six o’clock closing was subsequently adopted in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania later in 1916. Western Australia adopted a 9pm closing time, while Queensland retained the old closing times until it introduced 8pm closing in 1923.
Bar closing times were extended to 10pm in Tasmania in 1937, NSW in 1955, Victoria in 1966, and South Australia was the last state to abolish ‘the swill’ in 1967.