09 October 2013

"There was no rioting when the bars were closed at six o'clock"

Today is the 46th anniversary of the abolition of mandatory six o'clock closing for pubs in New Zealand:
Six p.m. closing for pubs was introduced as a ‘temporary’ wartime measure in December 1917. It was made permanent the following year, ushering in what became know as the ‘six o'clock swill’, as patrons aimed to drink their fill before closing time. 
Six o’clock closing has been seen by many commentators as teaching two generations of Kiwi men to drink as fast as possible, contributing to a binge-drinking culture. While early closing was promoted as a way of ensuring that men got home to their families at a respectable hour, critics questioned the state they were in when they did so. 
- 'The end of the "six o'clock swill"', NZHistory.net.nz
New Zealand's early closing regulations followed those implemented in South Australia (1915), and Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania (1916). They were later joined by Queensland in 1923. The duration of early closing policies in Australasia varied considerably. Conservative South Australia topped the charts with 52 years of the six o'clock swill, while Tasmania abolished it even before the Second World War. It would be interesting to investigate whether Tasmania developed a different drinking culture to the rest of Australia and New Zealand as a result.  

Place Adopted Abolished In force
SA 1915 1967 52
Vic 1916 1966 50
NZ 1917 1967 50
QLD 1923 1966 43
NSW 1916 1955 39
Tas 1916 1937 21

(Table adapted from Wikipedia)


Newspaper reports around New Zealand in December 1917 chart the relatively quiet implementation of the War Regulations closing public houses at six o'clock. Many of the stories seem concerned with the reaction of Wellington drinkers, because there were a large number of hard-drinking soldiers on hand in the capital at the time. The stories also show the nature of news services at the time, which often involved wire service articles or reprints of local publications' reports of events in other towns around the nation - remember, New Zealand provinces were still very isolated from each other at the time by poor transportation links. And in the Wanganui Chronicle article from 3 December, note how language and usage changes so drastically over time - can you imagine a club with that name today?

Wanganui Chronicle, 1 December 1917
A six o'clock closing rally will be held at the Central Hall at 7.30 this evening, under the auspices of the International Order of Good Templars. The speakers will include the Hon. Gilbert Carson, M.L.C., the Rev. M. Blair, and Mr. Geo. McCaul. [n.b. Carson owned and edited the Chronicle]

Wanganui Chronicle, 3 December 1917
Six o'clock closing of hotel bars came into force on Saturday without any undue excitement, the thirsty portion of the public addicted to strong waters accepting the new order of things philosophically. During the evening a good many parcels were in evidence, but in the majority of instances they probably contained prizes won by pudchasing [sic.], the Swankers' Club coupons.

Auckland Star, 4 December 1917
Wellington, this day - So far none of the particularly evil or specially good things that were predicted as the result of early closing has come to pass. There was no rioting when the bars were closed at six o'clock on Saturday evening, and there was neither less nor more drunkenness in the streets than is noticeable at any week-end. The city, indeed, behaved itself just as usual. The "free and easy" social in the Town Hall promoted by the Mayor [John Luke] and Mayoress did not attract a great many soldiers, who apparently preferred finding their entertainment in the streets and in private homes, but probably the "jollies" will grow in popularity as their character becomes better known. Altogether early closing was inaugurated very quietly, and, so far as the public could observe, very effectively.

North Otago Times, 5 December 1917
Six o'clock closing was inaugurated in Wellington most peacefully. Some 3000 soldiers were on leave, in the city, and there were rumours during the early part of the day that the men in uniform were going to show their disapproval of the new order of things after 6 p.m., but nothing happened, and the hotels closed quietly. Some of them did an unusually big dinner trade, and found that they had thirsty diners, who remembered that the Act makes provision for liquor with bona fide evening meals. What one judges to be a big increase in the number of brief bags brought to town also was observed. Some of the "brief bags" were suit cases, and few who noticed the absence of case with which they were lugged along imagined that they contained kapoc. The police reported that for the first time within the memory of many constables there had been no arrests for drunkenness on Saturday night.

Evening Post, 5 December 1917
AUCKLAND, 4th December - The first prosecution of sly grog-selling since the early closing of hotel bars came into force was heard to-day, when seven charges of having sold liquor without being licensed were preferred against a middle-aged man named George Ebberlie. Accused pleaded guilty on all the charges—five in respect to offences committed on Sunday, and two in respect to offences after 6 p.m. on Monday, Accused accosted a constable in the street on Sunday and supplied him with liquor from his private house. Sentences were imposed of three and six months' imprisonment, to run concurrently. The Magistrate said he expected a crop of such cases would follow the inauguration of six o'clock closing

The Press, 5 December 1917
WELLINGTON - December Six o'clock closing seems to have been accepted by the people of Wellington with as little concern as would be a change of hour for the closing of, say, hairdressers' shops. It was expected that there would be more drinking in the hotel bars in the day hours, or that at least there would be a run of business just prior to the hour of six, but nothing of the kind has occurred yet. At the new closing hour parties of men are to be seen leaving the hotels, but the number of men turned out is very small—not more, generally, than a dozen out of a large hotel. Receipts have gone down in most hotels to one-half, or less than half of the amount commonly taken in the old hours, and it is admitted by the hotel keepers that some of the hotels will have to close down. Nor is the amount of drinking in other parts of hotel premises increasing. An hotelkeeper who does a good residential trade in his house confessed to-day that his bar takings for the previous evening for orders to be taken after six o'clock to other rooms for lodgers had been only twelve and sixpence—not enough, as he said, to make it worth while to keep an attendant in the bar. This experience has been general.

Hawera & Normanby Star, 5 December 1917
(To the Editor.)
Sir, —Jones is the lessee of an hotel. The Government says: "Jones, you must close at six o'clock. You will lose seven hours of good business, and you must be compensated for the loss. Robinson is the owner of the hotel; we will make him reduce your rent." The Government says: "Robinson, you are the owner of Jones' hotel. That hotel must close at six o'clock. Your rent will be reduced, but you will not receive any compensation." Now, sir, if Jones is entitled to compensation, why is Robinson not treated the same? Both these men are British. —I am, etc.,
BRITISH FAIR PLAY 
Hawera, December 4, 1917.

Wanganui Chronicle, 15 December 1917
WELLINGTON, December 14. At the Magistrate's Court, Mr McCarthy, S.M., fined a woman £20 or three months for being in an hotel after 6 p.m. The information was laid under the War Regulation which was brought in before 6 o'clock closing.

See also:
HistoryEach slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds, 23 March 2009
History: The Western Front, 11 December 2007
Documentary: 'Booze Culture' (1994)
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