Back in February we chatted about the Liverpool Soldiers Riot in 1916. The riot, which started as a protest against camp conditions, caught the military and many officials by surprise.
The boozy rampage by AIF recruits was picked up by the temperance movement and used to serve their cause. The drunken behaviour of “Black Monday” was condemned as unpatriotic and made NSW “the shame of Australia”. The temperance movement, supported by the conservative Sydney Morning Herald, demanded the closing of all bars until the war was over.
The state government agreed to put to the people of Sydney and NSW the question of the closing hour of pubs in NSW. They scheduled a referendum for the 10th June 1916. It was described at the time as the Liquor Referendum, and later many referred to it as the Early Closing Referendum.
In the early 20th century, publicans had liberal regulation of the hours for the sale of alcohol, liquor and spirits. Many pubs opened at 6am in the morning, and closed 17 hours later at 11pm at night.
Voters were asked if they wanted pubs to close at which time between 6pm and 11pm. Campaigning was fierce. And it divided into two main options:
Close the pubs at 6pm
Close the pubs at 9pm.
Many pubs affixed banners to their balconies lobbying for moderation and a 9pm closing hour.
Temperance movements, the “six oclockers”, rallied at town halls and churches and women’s pages in the newspapers were bombarded with appeals for the women’s vote. By May early closing had become a patriotic and a strategic question.
Four months after the riot, the citizens of NSW voted to close all pubs at 6 o’clock for the duration of the war. Of 579,106 votes cast 347,0494 votes supported 6 o’Clock. A further 178,842 voted for 9pm.
Results of the Liquor Referendum 1916:
6.00 p.m. 347,494
7.00 p.m. 4,830
8.00 p.m. 21,134
9.00 p.m. 178,842
10.00 p.m. 1,405
11.00 p.m. 3,193
Total Formal 556,898
Total Votes 579,106
APPROVED – 6.00 p.m. closing time
Source: NSW Electoral Commission
Three years later the legislation was made permanent. This law remained in place until 1955. Similar legislation was introduced in Victoria later in 1916 and it was removed until 1966!
The changing of liquor licensing and the hours that pubs could be open had a dramatic effect on Sydney life and the design of pubs.
Distinct smaller areas such as snugs and parlours and separate rooms for dining and meetings were abandoned. Increasingly, billiard tables, dart boards, quoits and skittles were removed to accommodate large crowds that gathered in the hour before closing time.
Brewers and pub owners took the opportunity to modernise pubs, introducing a sleek new look, often moderne or art deco in style. The pub was opened up into a larger space: walls knocked down, and the serving area of the bar extended, to cope with the influx of male drinkers after work. Interiors were lined with tiles, which were easier to hose down after the frenetic pace of the six o’clock swill.
The early closing transformed hotels from being the social centre for the local community, where sporting club meetings were held and sing-alongs took place, to being the ‘bastion of hard drinking men’. Historian Clare Wright in her book Beyond the Ladies Lounge, describes how the public drinking culture became associated with an “overtly masculine style of social engagement: hard, fast, loud, competitive and gender-exclusive”. (p.115) Whereas once the pub was considered a place of domesticity, it transformed in the 1920s to be the antithesis of feminine world of hearth and home.
You can read all about the transformation of Glebe’s pubs and the impact of six o’clock closing in Max Solling’s entry on Glebe Pubs.