Queensland’s ‘sedated swill’ at 8pm

Drinking at the bar of the Quilpie Hotel ca

Drinking at the bar of the Quilpie Hotel, Quilpie, Queensland, C.1921. Picture: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

By MICK ROBERTS ©

UNLIKE most of Australia, Queensland and Western Australia had a ‘watered-down’ version of the infamous ‘six-o’clock swill’.

The ‘swill’ was a nickname given to the frenzied rush by Australians and New Zealanders to buy drinks from the pub before closing time of 6pm last century.

While NSW endured the infamous ‘swill’ for over 35 years, Queenslanders had their later closing time of 8pm in place for just 18 years.

NSW, Victoria and Tasmania adopted 6pm closing of hotels in 1916, while Western Australian pubs shut shop at 9pm. Queensland, however, introduced 8pm closing of hotels to replace 11pm closing, in 1923.

The introduction of early closing though did not seem to reduce the amount of beer Queenslanders consumed. The Queensland Times reported on November 21 1923 that the 8pm legislation had not decreased the amount of beer consumed.

“The lower consumption of draught ale in October was counter-balanced by the increased bottle trade. Bottled, beer to the extent of 107,000 gallons was manufactured in October, 1922, while in October 1923 the figure had risen to 122,882 gallons – an increase of 15,878 gallons, while beer in bulk (barrels) showed a decrease of 14,731 gallons.”

Interestingly the figures showed Queenslanders simply did their drinking at home, instead of at the pub. Shortly after the introduction of the earlier closing time, the Courier Mail reported “an extra busy time was already being experienced just prior to closing” by publicans.

early closing queensland pubs 1927

HOW EARLY CLOSING AFFECTED HIM. Bung: “One good thing about this 8 o’clock closing is that a man can generally count on gettin’ to bed by midnight.” The Rockhampton Capricornian April 14 1927

Lessons seem to have not been learnt from NSW, Victoria and Tasmania, and besides Queensland pubs experiencing a ‘sedated swill’, there was also a reported increase in the black market trade. The Toowoomba Chronicle reported on January 3 1924:

EIGHT O’CLOCK CLOSING

A couple of months’ experience of 8 o’clock closing of hotels has apparently popularised the system. It is, however, only right to add that there are exceptions. For instance, a Tote taken amongst the licensed victuallers would undoubtedly favour a later closing hour, though ‘ not necessarily as late as 11 o’clock or even 10 o’clock. Eight o’clock closing has not seriously affected the big licensed houses right in the centre of the city, but the suburban hotels and those right on the outskirts of the metropolis, with which can be included country hotels, have been, more or less hard hit. Eight o ‘closing closing has, however, undoubtedly decreased drinking, though it has boomed what are known as the “home supply” department of the big hotels, and largely increased the bottle trade. Sly grog selling also threatens to increase, including street sales during prohibited hours, but the police are keeping a very close eye on this class of illicit traffic, and as culprits are being severely dealt with, It Is not likely to make any great headway. So far as the principal hotels are concerned, at least the law is being honourably observed. Quite an unusual feature on Xmas Eve was after 8 o’clock the darkened and closed hotels, and the brilliantly lighted and open shops, a complete variation of the condition of affairs but a few short years ago.

On the 13th anniversary of the introduction of 8pm closing of Queensland pubs, the Rockhampton Evening News reported on September 5 1936 how railway worker, Fred Scott recalled a sketch made in chalk on a wall of the Mount Garnet Hotel, North Queensland in 1923 by an unknown artist. Mr Scott copied the sketch, which was published in the story (pictured).

8pm closing hotels queensland

Queensland was the second state, behind Tasmania, to relax pub closing times in 1941. Trading hours were extended from 6pm 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.

gresham hotel bar 1935 queensland Brisbane Sunday Mail February 10 1935

Gresham Hotel bar 1935 during the early closing era. Gresham Hotel was located at the corner of Adelaide and Creek Streets, Brisbane. Picture: Queensland Brisbane Sunday Mail February 10 1935

Unlike NSW where a referendum was needed to restore civil drinking in pubs, the Queensland Parliament passed a Liquor Act amendment to change hotel closing hours from 8pm to 10pm in December 1941.

The Courier Mail reported on November 22 1954 that since the introduction of the later closing time of 10pm, drinkers had not abused the allowance.

Though Brisbane’s main street sometimes sees at 10pm men who are certainly not better for the liquor they have consumed, gross drunkenness is rare. Many hotels in suburban areas and some in the heart of Brisbane still close their doors about mid-day on Saturdays, and some shut early on week nights. Queensland’s liquor licensing law does not oblige licensees to serve the public from, 10am to 10pm. It merely prohibits liquor trading outside those hours. It evidently pays some hotels to sell all the beer they have on tap as quickly as possible so that they can close their bars early in the evening and save the cost of wages and lighting. Queensland hotel keepers were also long allowed to please themselves about providing accommodation and meals. The Licensing Commission has lately tightened up this laxity of service to the public. It is to be hoped that the new Liquor Bill will enable it to be even more exacting. If well-conducted restaurants were allowed to serve beer or wines with meals, but only with meals, hotel bars might lose many customers until they, too, provided food with drink, as they do in many other countries. It should not be the purpose of licensing laws to help the liquor trade to sell more liquor. The liquor trade should be made to serve people who want to drink moderately and in a civilised manner.

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2020

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Categories: Queensland hotels, six o'clock swill

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