War-time beer rationing and a thirsty Australia

Soldiers find pub doors closed due to stock shortages in Melbourne pubs in 1942. Picture: Sunday Mail. The Criterion Hotel, Pitt-street, city, was unable to open its doors except for an hour late, because of the shortage of beer. “The position is hopeless,” said the licensee, Mr. A. Horsman. “The extra quota has been exhausted. If we open in the morning, we will have no beer left for our regular customers. What is worrying us is that many of our regular customers, all of whom are men returned from overseas or men of the Allied forces, cannot get their beer. Yesterday we were closed for three hours; today we will not open until 5.15 pm, and the day’s supply of beer will be sold before 6 pm.” Other city hotels reported that their beer supplies would see them through until the next delivery, and that extra rationing would not be necessary. – Sydney Sun Friday 15 May 1942

DURING World War II limits were placed on beer production in Australia, requiring breweries to reduce their output by two-thirds.

Rationing of beer came into force in March 1942, and by January 1943, newspapers were reporting 75 per cent of Sydney’s hotel bars were often closed for business. If the pubs were not altogether shut, they traded for shorter hours, and were usually closed by the afternoon, when their quotas had been exhausted.

The resulting beer shortages led to widespread profiteering and black-marketing by some publicans.

In an effort to take advantage of dwindling stock, some would divert their beer from public bars to lounge bars where it was sold at inflated prices. The Brisbane Worker reported on Monday 8 February 1943: 


A strange thing has happened — Melbournites are at last complaining of a beer shortage; but, worst of all, their drought has coincided with Summer’s first heat wave. It is the most acute beer famine since the introduction of rationing, one newspaper report said. When the Melbourne temperature passed 100 degrees a few days ago beer supplies were almost exhausted. Like Queensland, the workers are the sufferers though thousands of them who crushed into the hotels remaining open between 5 and 6 could buy only gin and whisky. In Queensland, workers have forgotten what even the smell of whisky and gin is like, let alone taste beer. No longer can they get their rum and a chaser — prohibition has been forced on them. Stubborn authority still permits hotels to be closed in Brisbane and other Queensland centres where large bodies of men are working, under the most trying conditions, at the time when men cease work for the day — men accustomed to a refreshing pot of beer after a hard day’s work. The beer supplies are reserved for others. It is guineas to gooseberries that the beer drought will break in Melbourne long before it does in Brisbane and other parched Queensland towns — Melbourne influence will see to that.

Sydney was not fairing much better. The Sydney Daily Telegraph reported on Tuesday 2 February 1943:

City publicans say recent hot weather has vastly increased beer consumption. Among many servicemen unable to buy a drink was Pte. Ron Saville, A J P., who said: “Crossing the Owen Stanley Range has nothing on trying to get a drink in Sydney just now.” Mr. B. W. Power, licensee of the Great Western Hotel, Broadway, said last night: “We ran out of beer on Saturday afternoon and will have no more until Friday.” Mrs. Burke, Tivoli Hotel, Castlereagh Street: “We sold out before noon on Saturday.” Mr. F. Bertram, Australian Hotel, Waterloo: “We opened for an hour and a half, and sold more beer than any previous day in the history of the hotel.” Mr. A. B. Smith, Grand Hotel, Haymarket: “We closed on Saturday and will be lucky if we can open before Thursday.” Mr. M. Ryan, Star Hotel, Redfern: “When we opened at 4.30 there was a wild stampede. You would have thought we were giving away gold.”

Although frowned upon by authorities, publicans would tuck-away stock for their regular customers resulting in raids by Customs officers and police and fines. The Sydney Daily Telegraph reported on Saturday 30 December 1944: 


Hotel rush after visit by Customs

A city hotel was mobbed by more than 1000 people yesterday after Customs officers had ordered the sole of several hundred bottles of beer found on the premises. The hotel licensee called for police protection when members of the crowd began to fight to reach the hotel doorways. Four policemen sent to the hotel made the people form a double queue, which extended 200 yards down the street; Customs officers inspected the hotel earlier, and ordered the licensee to sell a large quantity of bottled beer they had found in the cellar. Each customer was allowed two bottles.

Michael O’Regan, who was licensee of the Hotel Mosman, often would reserve bottles of liquor for his regular customers. The Sydney Daily Telegraph reported on Friday 7 December 1945:


Licensee of Hotel Mosman, Mr. Michael O’Regan (left), issuing Christmas liquor to regular customers yesterday. Each customer receives six bottles of beer, one of gin or rum, one wine. In three days Mr. O’Regan has issued more than 14,000 bottles. Drawing his ration is ex-P.O.W. Grosby, of Clifton Gardens, a regular customer before the war, who returned home yesterday, and made the hotel one of his first calls.

Melbourne wharfies celebrate the easing of beer rationing in 1947. Picture: Supplied

Although wartime restrictions on beer production were lifted in March 1946, it took several years for the breweries to fully recover. Beer shortages persisted well into the 1950s, caused by delays in repairing or replacing equipment, difficulties in obtaining raw materials like barley, and labour shortages.

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Categories: NSW hotels, Sydney hotels

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3 replies

  1. Nice old photos, it’s always interesting to see how things change but stay so much the same. Thanks.


  1. Hotel Mosman – Timeless Wisdoms
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