Brisbane’s war time ‘swill’


brisbane-swillSCENE 2.— The Kerb Queue for the workers’ hour. Scene 1 was difficult to photograph. In it the players are the door-huddlers. Over the weeks they have managed so to perfect their role that even the patrolling policeman often misses them in the city’s daily melodrama titled…

How Brisbane Drinks Beer

By a Staff Writer

YESTERDAY I went out to see how Brisbane drinks in the workers’ beer ‘hour.’

Making my first mistake, I stood outside a hotel door with several others waiting for 5.15, the opening time. We ignored the crowd of 50 strong standing on the kerb and in the gutter. In a few seconds I was in the gutter myself.

Special traffic police, I learned, patrol the pub fronts to keep some sort of a clearance for passers-by. To get a really picked position for early doors you have to be on the spot at least half an hour before opening and join the “door huddlers”. By crowding on to the hotel doorstep you are immune from the “Stand by the kerb, please”, order of the policeman.


While watching with a superior sneer at other arrivals being cleared off the footpath I forgot we were near the deadline. Suddenly the crowd, which had grown to more than 100, swept towards the doors. I swept with them. I think my feet touched the ground several times on the way to the bar, but I am not sure. But I did get a barside position, and joined in the general cry for a beer. It arrived at once.

Not to be outdone by others who seemed to down their pots in two seconds flat, I took a gulp. It was stale and flat. “Always wait a few minutes and then order,” a regular told me. All the glasses are filled before the doors are opened, he explained, and the poured-out beer stands on the shelf often for half an hour. That was my second mistake.

While swallowing my stale beer I saw pots being ordered four at a time. One enterprising sailor had three pots and three rums lined up. Late comers, they arrived about five minutes after I did, were now struggling on the outer fringe of the three-deep crowd.

Occasionally a lucky one who knew the password, or more likely the barmaid, reached triumphantly over someone’s shoulder and carried away a couple of beers. Watching barmaids grabbing empty glasses from the counter, swirling them through a trough, and holding them under the keg all in one move, often giving the customer a good dash of dirty water with his beer, so amazed me that I forgot to place a bulk order.

In 20 minutes the beer was off. I was left high; but not quite dry because glasses passed to and fro over my shoulder left a distinct drip trail. Declining the chance to have a gin sling or some dark liquid which I was not sure was rum or wine I pushed out through the crowd, which had become an almost solid mass between the double bar.



I looked in at some other hotels just in case I had made another mistake and chosen a too popular pub. They all seemed the same. At one the crowd overflowed into the passage. A few enthusiasts had taken their supply of glasses to comparative quiet behind a brick air raid shelter wall, where they parked their glasses on the floor and squatted on their haunches while they drank.

Once upon a time in Brisbane you could have a glass of beer in comparative comfort and talk to your friends at the same time. That sounds like a fairy tale now.

-Courier Mail (Brisbane, Qld), Friday 14 April 1944.








Categories: Brisbane hotels, Queensland hotels, six o'clock swill

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