Friday, May 22, 2009

1 December 1917 – Introduction of six o’clock closing

Nearly 42 years ago, it was illegal to buy a beer in a pub after six o’clock. If you wanted the beer, you had to get your order in before six o’clock, and drink it all by 6.15pm, when the pub had to close. This started on 1 December 1917, a temporary measure as part of wartime restrictions, but made permanent in 1918. It even prohibited the consumption of liquor after hours in restaurants and “oyster saloons”. It meant the start also of a new phrase for Aucklanders: the “six o’clock swill”

A referendum in 1949 voted for the regulations to continue, with many in the liquor industry ironically not promoting a change. A move back to 10 o’clock closing would have meant huge investment in bar and dining facility upgrades, as well as increased wages costs.

Ten o’clock closing was endorsed by a vote of almost 2 to 1 on 23 September 1967. Brewery managers and hotel operators immediately predicted increases in liquor prices due to longer staff hours and alterations. On Monday 9 October that year, the first day the new regulations came into effect, many hotels locked their doors and turned customers away because staff refused to work past 7 pm until night pay rates had been negotiated. Eventually the new hours were accepted, and the “six o’clock swill” became part of our past.

My mother, to her dying day, said she was proud to have voted in the end of the "swill". This meant that "six o'clock swill" was one of those historic terms I basically cut my teeth on, in a way. That, and knowing the list of the Kings and Queens of England.

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