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The 6 O'Clock swill ie Licensing hours in NZ for 50 years.

The following article is an ode to licensing hours in NZ which continued for 50 years, after starting during WW1.

It is interesting to see the groups that wanted it continued, and I have highlighted various parts that made me laugh.

The bold italics are all mine.

This is an extremely accurate article of drinking conditions of the time.


Photo: Dominion Post/Time frames: Ref: PADL-000185
Customers of the Porirua Tavern drinking inside the pub on the last day of 6 o'clock closing, in October 1967.


OPINION: Fifty years ago, on October 9, 1967, New Zealand's bars were once again allowed to open beyond 6pm.

"Six o'clock closing", as it was invariably called, was introduced nearly a century ago in December 1917. As its popular name would suggest, it prohibited alcohol sales after 6pm in most circumstances. Today such a restriction seems decidedly odd.

Why was it introduced and why was the hour of 6pm chosen? And why did a supposedly temporary wartime measure last for 50 years?

The longevity of six o'clock closing is particularly mystifying. Thanks to early closing the expression "six o'clock swill" entered our lexicon; it became common for men to go to the pub at five and cram in as much drinking as possible in the available hour.

READ MORE: Fifty years ago: Ending the 'Six O'Clock Swill'

A royal commission in 1945 heard evidence of some of the effects. "They are three or four deep, and drinking not as human beings, but often like animals, fighting to get it, and passing handles over each other's heads," said one witness.

Returned servicemen and others drew unflattering overseas comparisons and some MPs made similar observations when the royal commission's report was discussed in parliament.

"One will see more drunkenness in New Zealand in one week than one will see in a year in other countries," claimed one National member.

These impressions persisted in later decades. An academic who immigrated in 1958 wrote that the drinking laws and habits of the time were "a manifestation of national brutishness which never failed to astonish and disgust overseas visitors".

One such visitor was psychologist David Ausubel, who compared New Zealand with his native America. "Public drunkenness in bars is more noticeable, and the number of inebriated individuals who pour out of the pubs at closing time and weave through the streets is astonishing. Similar exhibitions in the United States are more typically restricted to the slum areas of large cities."

The origins of the swill

Six o'clock closing was imposed in 1917 after decades of heated debate over alcohol. Anti-alcohol campaigners had significant victories, forcing the government to close hundreds of bars, cut hours of sale, and ban barmaids who might entice weak-willed men into pubs.

Temperance advocates adopted the then-fashionable ideology of "national efficiency", claiming that alcohol diverted labour and other resources from more worthy enterprises, and regular drinking diminished workers' productivity.

The argument that alcohol undermined national efficiency led many businessmen to support further restrictions on liquor.

World War I magnified national efficiency into an obsession and anti-alcohol sentiment was rife, as exemplified by the oft-quoted words of British Prime Minister David Lloyd George: "We are fighting Germany, Austria and drink, and as far as I can see, the greatest of these three deadly foes is drink." The British government forced pubs to close for several hours in the afternoon as a result.

But ultimately it was the Australians who were to blame for six o'clock closing.

Across the ditch the move to cut pub hours was under way well before the war. Strict laws forced most Australian shops to close at 6pm and temperance campaigners argued the same should apply to pubs.

In 1913 the South Australian parliament agreed to a referendum, which was eventually held in 1915. The war led to agitation for similar measures in other Australian states. By October 1916, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania had also banned liquor sales after six.

New Zealand temperance campaigners were emboldened by the Australian events, but New Zealand's more liberal shopping hours made the pub-shop comparison less convincing.

Early closing advocates instead argued that shorter hours would mean less drinking, particularly by soldiers in army camps who many feared would fall victim to the temptation of open bars and the women of questionable virtue who allegedly frequented them.

The government responded by banning women from bars after 6pm but parliament voted down a 1916 bill to introduce six o'clock closing.

In 1917 the government set up a National Efficiency Board of five prominent business people, three of whom were staunch prohibitionists.

In July the Board issued a brief report recommending wartime six o'clock closing. This reinvigorated the early closing movement and a business delegation visited Prime Minister William Massey to demand action. Massey introduced a bill that proposed banning liquor sales after 8pm, but parliament amended the hour to six.

The 1917 Sale of Liquor Restriction Act banned the sale of alcohol after 6 pm for the duration of the war and for six months after it ended.

Eighteen months becomes 50 years

Six o'clock closing might have ended in mid-1919 if not for a cunning move by temperance-minded MPs. About 2am on December 4, 1918, as another Licensing bill neared its final stages, Egmont MP Charles Wilkinson proposed an amendment to make early closing permanent. It passed by just one vote and six o'clock closing thereby became a national institution.

Most in the liquor industry supported early closing, which helped keep down costs but had no effect on profits. The swill was largely confined to urban areas where – thanks to a freeze on new liquor outlets – pubs were scarce. In rural areas, however, workers often worked late in summer and pubs were comparatively common.

"I have seen, on numerous occasions, country hotels where there has not been a customer all day," a former policeman told the 1945 royal commission. As a result, he generally permitted after-hours trading and would regularly share an evening drink with local farmers at the Tinui Hotel in Wairarapa. Many rural and provincial police continued to ignore the early closing law in subsequent decades.

A legal loophole allowed hotel guests to be served at all hours, which proved a useful front for after-hours trading. According to Gordon McLauchlan, fellow journalists would frequently ask him to sign them in as guests for after-six drinking when he stayed in hotels.

Leslie Hobbs in his 1959 book The Wild West Coast recounts how a police raiding party found a local magistrate among evening drinkers in a bar. "All boarders I see," said the sergeant before leading his men in a dignified exit.

Despite widespread legal and illegal after-hours drinking, most New Zealanders complied with the law and simply changed their drinking habits. In addition to "the swill", daytime drinking on Saturdays became the norm.

In 1945 an observer in an Invercargill bar counted 87 people at 10.30am and some 250 at 12.15pm, with many patrons "well inebriated". Demand for takeaway liquor grew, leading to the development of the legendary 'half-g' – large flagons that could be filled from a station at the rear of the bar to take home for later consumption.

Because the law prevented bar numbers from increasing with population, the liquor industry made changes to reduce over-crowding and speed up service. Hotel-owners enlarged public bars where possible and removed tables and chairs.

In the late 1940s brewers began replacing traditional beer barrels with motorised tankers from which carbonated beer could be transferred to tanks in hotel cellars. Beer could then be dispensed by hand-squeezed taps.

As one observer commented in 1959: "In many cities the crowd around the bar is so thick that instead of filling glasses from the old-fashioned beer pumps, the hotel staff takes the beer to the glasses by long, flexible plastic hoses – a dreadful sight to those unused to it".


Six o'clock closing heightened gender segregation. Dirty and crowded public bars were unattractive to women who were in any case usually banned because they took up space that could otherwise be filled with beer-swilling males.

In 1967 New Zealand Herald reporter Alison Carter visited eight Auckland public bars. ''I was greeted by stunned silence and suspicious stares from the drinkers and when I asked for a beer an embarrassed barman refused."

Many hotels provided lounge bars for ''ladies and escorts" but, despite the name, lounge bars were often unpleasant and commonly closed to free up staff for the 5pm rush hour. It was only with later closing that lounge bars were modified to attract those drinkers who sought a greater level of comfort.

In 1949 voters rejected a proposal for 10 o'clock closing in a poorly supported referendum. Evidence from the 1945 royal commission shows that many would have backed an extension to eight or nine o'clock if asked, but not a radical shift to 10 o'clock. Many opponents believed that men would not go home for dinner unless the bars closed at six.

Others were appalled at the drinking conditions. In the words of poet A.R.D Fairburn: "It seems probable that many people who would like to enjoy decent conditions were unable to bring themselves to vote for an extension of piggishness until ten o'clock. They can hardly be blamed."

The tide turns

By the late 1950s small-town publicans and their customers were tired of being perpetual law-breakers and lobbied for later closing in rural areas. The tide was turning in urban areas too, boosted by the arrival of new migrants. In the 1960s the government allowed some stand-alone restaurants to serve wine and beer, a privilege previously restricted to hotel restaurants until 8pm.

From 1963 licensed restaurants could serve drinks as late as 11.30pm, an innovation that failed to result in the mayhem feared by many. The conditions in bars improved thanks to greater enforcement of standards.

Barmaids were even readmitted, provided they were aged at least 25. New Zealanders travelled more and the new television service brought images of evening drinking in Coronation St's the 'Rovers Return' into the nation's living rooms.

Support for prohibition declined dramatically in the national poll held every three years and the churches softened their stance on opening hours. Australian states were ditching six o'clock closing, starting with Tasmania in 1938 and New South Wales in 1955. By February 1966 only South Australia and New Zealand held out.

Most MPs favoured extended hours and in 1967 Parliament agreed a referendum in which voters could support "later closing, the actual hours of sale to be determined by local conditions". Parliament avoided specifying a time in order to avoid the pitfalls of the 1949 referendum.

The Hotel Association encouraged people to vote and there was a lively debate in the press. Many claimed that without legal compulsion men would fail to go home for dinner but others showed little sympathy for such views.

"The chorus of protest against extended hours comes from wives who publicly admit the shameful fact that only laws can keep their husbands out of the pubs."

The turnout on September 23, 1967 was a healthy 70 per cent, and two-thirds of voters supported extended hours. The Westland electorate recorded a 77 per cent vote for later closing.

Parliament acted quickly and six o'clock closing ended on October 9, 1967, just seven weeks short of its 50th anniversary.

Six o'clock closing was supposed to curb drunkenness and excessive drinking, but it did neither. On the contrary, per capita alcohol consumption increased by 40 per cent during the 50 years it was in place.

The end of early closing did not lead to increased drinking and had a variety of positive effects. Drinking conditions improved markedly and the return of women to bars did much to help make them more civilised places.

Few will regret the end of six o'clock closing 50 years ago
 

Ripiznutzov

Old-Salt
Which was also where the Returned Services Association came in, as it was a club, they would buy up jugs and then sit around gossiping into the evening and drinking like true gentlemen.

Sort of, not really, absolute bollocks, they got shit faced for longer, and we did too when visiting them years later as currently serving members.

34 years after walking into my first RSA, I still get a tear in my eye when I see the memorabilia behind the bar, oh wait, they are jugs on the wall waiting for me.

The point missing above is it was returning servicemen from WW1 that stopped prohibition, and those from WW2 that helped knock it down altogether.

Simple theory, “we didn’t go through all that over there so you miserable bastards can tell us not to have a drink”

Which is also why for years the legal drinking age was 20, except in the military, where it was 18, “old enough to fight, old enough to drink”.

Now, where did I leave my liver?
 

sumo2

Old-Salt
Didn't know that, but makes sense of something I was told years ago, a chap had been on loan to the RNZ and he said every day they all piled out of work into a pub and went banzai until 6 when their wife's picked them up and took them home?
Can't see a problem would have always been 6 somewhere in the world?
 

UORMan

War Hero
I remember growing up in Nottingham, in the late 70's/early 80's, and the pub on the "City" side of Trent Bridge called Last Orders at 10 pm, so everyone then crossed the river to the pub in the "County" and had another couple of pints before they closed at 10.30 pm.
 
D

Deleted 60082

Guest
I am just old enough to remember my dad returning from 'a drink' with his staff at about 6.30 on a Thursday night, clearly quite p!ssed, having driven home from the Ellerslie Pub in Auckland. Then 10 o'clock closing was introduced, and he would return at the same time, but having consumed probably only a quart bottle of Waikato Green (Swamp water), rather than gallons of DB or Lion Red, dispensed by spray guns. In later years he avoided pubs altogether and would potter off to his club on Saturday afternoons.

At the same time, locally-owned Licencing Trust hotels were set up - modern 'family-oriented' hotels with decent dining rooms, lounge bars (where women were allowed), decent accommodation, perhaps a pool, to encourage more sensible drinking. But there was still the 10 o'clock swill and Sunday closing, well into the 1990s. Alcohol could only be made available at venues if you were either a hotel guest or having a meal. I remember as an officer cadet in Christchurch in the mid 1980s, being given a plated meal (generally a salad) as part of the entry fee as we tried our luck in night clubs - as a way of getting around the licensing laws.

Moreover, large areas of the country remained dry until very recent times (the local authority laws changed only in 2014 and there are still some 'dry' areas), and local authority elections would also have a ballot paper with three options : 'Prohibition', 'State control' and 'National Continuance'; the last being the status quo ante. Those borough areas that were dry meant no pubs, no off-licences ('bottle stores'), no licensed restaurants, no private clubs.

It wasn't until the 1990s that pubs opened after 10 pm and on Sundays; indeed, again, until fairly recently, a visit to a New Zealand city on a weekend would find it closed! Now, of course, there is a vibrant bar and cafe culture with generally fairly relaxed licensing laws. But hard to believe the law changed 50 years ago and hard to believe my dad has been dead for 35 of them.
 
Alcohol could only be made available at venues if you were either a hotel guest or having a meal. I remember as an officer cadet in Christchurch in the mid 1980s, being given a plated meal (generally a salad) as part of the entry fee as we tried our luck in night clubs - as a way of getting around the licensing laws.
Saffer law as well, at the time.
Barman at local hotel - last job on a Saturday night was to get the plate of curry out the deep freeze.

Come Sunday lunchtime, while other guests were tucking in to roast-and-two, the bar starts filling up.
Following pantomime ensues.
"Sorry, sir... we can only serve you if you are having a meal..."
"Oh, and what meals do you have available?"
"We have curry and rice for 50c"
"I'll have one of those, please. And a Castle"
Barman duly right sup a ticket in the little receipt book "Meal, 50c", plonks curry plate onto bar, leaves it for a good 60 seconds, says "Have you finished, sir?" picks it up, puts it under the counter.
Continue ad infinitum
Last job on Sunday night - clingfilm the curry, back into the freezer.

Until, one night, the inevitable happened - yes, some drunken body ate the curry when the barman's attention was elsewhere.
 

endure

GCM
Same in Oz. My Dad became a Freemason so he could drink after 6pm in Melbourne.

In the 70s the only place to get a drink on Sundays in Fremantle was the Stella Maris (the seaman's mission).
 
Growing up in NZ during the 70's was a strange thing, was like passing into a 30 year old time warp.
 
After 1994, all the 'old' laws went out the window.
24 hr a day boozing? No problem!
They tightened em up a few years back, though - hrs now 11am til wee-small hours. Some places licensed til 3am.
When you saw 'happy hour' from 10-11am, you worried. Double brandy and coke, only....
 
From reading arrse, it seems that Oz, NZ and SA had a lot in common.


My Dad welded his way around the southern Empire in the early 70's, SA, Oz and NZ, out of the 3 they liked NZ the best, Dad wanted SA, but Mum was worried about us boys getting conscripted as we got older. Got me 2 passports and another 2 nations with right of permanant residency out of it, so big cheers to th' Ol' Man for giving me great options.

Being a pommy immigrant bastard, I spent most of my time hanging with Maoris :D
 
Being a pommy immigrant bastard, I spent most of my time hanging with Maoris :D
Jake the Muss walt!

The immigration to all three was huge about that time.
Obviously as Britain was in the grip of useless tossers like Edward Heath, then later the 3-day week etc etc etc, opportunities 'in the sun' looked increasingly delightful.
At one stage, at school, 80% of my class were expat Brits.
Certain areas in Cape Town, Durban and Joburg were known as 'little Britain' many years before the TV show.
Unfortunately a lot of immigrants were pretty scummy, lording it over the natives and generally being boorish, moaning a lot and being more racist that the Dutchmen.
 
Aged 13 my dad bought me a pint of pale in a pub in Renfrewshire after a rugby match, coming from Glasgow we were "bona fide " travelers in need of refreshment, otherwise it would have been illegal to serve us. The fact I was 13 must have slipped by my dad and the barman. By the time I was old enough to go under age drinking on my own the licencing act had been reformed in 1976 and Sunday opening for locals was finally allowed, just as it had been in England for more than half a century.
England kept an afternoon close up for pubs for a long time though, that was annoying.
 
D

Deleted 60082

Guest
Jake the Muss walt!
But aren't we all (ex) warriors on this site?

I remember kids at primary school arriving, deathly pale, from the UK, having come out on immigrant ships such as the Rangitoto, and wearing shoes! One mate of mine - Robert - starting primary school with me at 5. His parent were both in their early 20s, having eloped at 16, and the wife getting pregnant straight away. They were from across the religious divide in Liverpool and disowned by both families, which we found difficult to fathom. My parents - who were almost a generation older - took them under their wing and the husband worked for Dad for a while. The husband became a very capable builder and built up a very good business, and as far as I recall, they never returned to the UK. One grandmother visited, but that was it. I've long lost contact with Robert - I must try and track him down.
 
I only arrived in NZ in '92, it was a bit 'time warpy' the experience of walking down the high street on a Sunday afternoon with everything closed was reminiscent of '70s UK.
But I had a great time visiting my future in laws.
Stories of the 6 O'Clock swill were told by the future FiL and his brother both of whom had worked/owned pubs and they were fairly hair raising.
Lock ins were par for the course, local cops usually gifted a few bottles of something to turn a blind eye.
My downfall came on a visit to one of my future wife's uncle's dairy farm.
"Like to help with the milking in the morning, mate?" asked the uncle. "Up at 4.30 but."
"Yeah all right."says I.
Next AM out to the milking shed in borrowed overalls and white abattoir boots. The sons of the farm had been out and got the herd in, so it was just a matter of getting the bovines into the shed.
First 20 cows into the shed, wash teets, affix milking gubbins and stand back and wait for the milking to be over, repeat.
Nope, "Get up here for your pay mate!" yells the farmer.
Up and out of the pit and get a fair sized tumbler of rum thrust into my hand. "Get that inside yer.", he necks his, so I follow suit.
Repeat.
I just about crawled back to the farmhouse 2 hours later.
The city of Invercargill, way down South, has a licensing trust for all its pubs and off sales. It's profits fund a fees free Polytechnic that has a good rep and built sports centres, pools etc.
That's a shed load of beer, wine and spirits sales.
 
After 1994, all the 'old' laws went out the window.
24 hr a day boozing? No problem!
They tightened em up a few years back, though - hrs now 11am til wee-small hours. Some places licensed til 3am.
When you saw 'happy hour' from 10-11am, you worried. Double brandy and coke, only....
I do miss a large 'klip' and coke.
 
In my view, Uk pub opening hours weren't that much more liberal before they were modernised. There were some regional differences. Scotland for example took a more realistic approach to afternoon drinking. I recall going into an Edinburgh pub and thinking I possibly had 20 minutes to get two or three pints down my neck only to find that the pub wasn't closing for the afternoon like it's English equivalents did back across the border.

In London, pub opening hours were 11am until 2.30pm and then they reopened at 6pm until 11pm Monday to Saturday. Sunday hours were even more restrictive with midday until 2pm and 7pm until 10.30pm licensed hours.

People did binge drink. Sunday lunchtimes were almost a national sport to get as much drink consumed before the final bell. Hours in most pubs were rigidly enforced partly because it was the law but also because it was the knocking off time for bar staff who wanted to go home. The arguments I've witnessed between a pissed customer and bar men and bar maids over having an extra minute or two to drink up the last couple of inches of beer still in the glass.

In 1973, I was posted to Germany where bars were mostly open all day and only closed when the last customer had decided at 4am or whenever that they had finally had enough to drink and staggered out of the door. It was a first in a lifetime experience to walk into a bar in daylight, watch darkness set in through the windows as you and your mates were enjoying yourselves and yet when you finally left the bar, it was daylight again. And of course, you quickly discovered that most of Europe was like that.

It was an enormous change when the laws on UK drinking hours were finally liberalised. There were still limits on closing in the evenings but these were set by local authorities who decided on a case by case basis depending on the license application submitted by each pub etc. Most of them were extended until midnight or 1am and of course, nobody was forced to close in the afternoons anymore even on Sundays.

Is the health of the nation any worse off than before? I don't think so! There aren't groups of drunks wandering around our towns causing trouble. Of course you will always get some individuals who will not be able to drink sensibly but the vast majority of people drink responsibly, at least more responsibly than when the law obliged them to have to vacate pubs arbitrarily.

6pm closing does seem pretty draconian but we didn't have it that much better.
 
Last edited:

Blogg

LE
The following article is an ode to licensing hours in NZ which continued for 50 years, after starting during WW1.

It is interesting to see the groups that wanted it continued, and I have highlighted various parts that made me laugh.

The bold italics are all mine.

This is an extremely accurate article of drinking conditions of the time.


Photo: Dominion Post/Time frames: Ref: PADL-000185
Customers of the Porirua Tavern drinking inside the pub on the last day of 6 o'clock closing, in October 1967.


OPINION: Fifty years ago, on October 9, 1967, New Zealand's bars were once again allowed to open beyond 6pm.

"Six o'clock closing", as it was invariably called, was introduced nearly a century ago in December 1917. As its popular name would suggest, it prohibited alcohol sales after 6pm in most circumstances. Today such a restriction seems decidedly odd.

Why was it introduced and why was the hour of 6pm chosen? And why did a supposedly temporary wartime measure last for 50 years?

The longevity of six o'clock closing is particularly mystifying. Thanks to early closing the expression "six o'clock swill" entered our lexicon; it became common for men to go to the pub at five and cram in as much drinking as possible in the available hour.

READ MORE: Fifty years ago: Ending the 'Six O'Clock Swill'

A royal commission in 1945 heard evidence of some of the effects. "They are three or four deep, and drinking not as human beings, but often like animals, fighting to get it, and passing handles over each other's heads," said one witness.

Returned servicemen and others drew unflattering overseas comparisons and some MPs made similar observations when the royal commission's report was discussed in parliament.

"One will see more drunkenness in New Zealand in one week than one will see in a year in other countries," claimed one National member.

These impressions persisted in later decades. An academic who immigrated in 1958 wrote that the drinking laws and habits of the time were "a manifestation of national brutishness which never failed to astonish and disgust overseas visitors".

One such visitor was psychologist David Ausubel, who compared New Zealand with his native America. "Public drunkenness in bars is more noticeable, and the number of inebriated individuals who pour out of the pubs at closing time and weave through the streets is astonishing. Similar exhibitions in the United States are more typically restricted to the slum areas of large cities."

The origins of the swill

Six o'clock closing was imposed in 1917 after decades of heated debate over alcohol. Anti-alcohol campaigners had significant victories, forcing the government to close hundreds of bars, cut hours of sale, and ban barmaids who might entice weak-willed men into pubs.

Temperance advocates adopted the then-fashionable ideology of "national efficiency", claiming that alcohol diverted labour and other resources from more worthy enterprises, and regular drinking diminished workers' productivity.

The argument that alcohol undermined national efficiency led many businessmen to support further restrictions on liquor.

World War I magnified national efficiency into an obsession and anti-alcohol sentiment was rife, as exemplified by the oft-quoted words of British Prime Minister David Lloyd George: "We are fighting Germany, Austria and drink, and as far as I can see, the greatest of these three deadly foes is drink." The British government forced pubs to close for several hours in the afternoon as a result.

But ultimately it was the Australians who were to blame for six o'clock closing.

Across the ditch the move to cut pub hours was under way well before the war. Strict laws forced most Australian shops to close at 6pm and temperance campaigners argued the same should apply to pubs.

In 1913 the South Australian parliament agreed to a referendum, which was eventually held in 1915. The war led to agitation for similar measures in other Australian states. By October 1916, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania had also banned liquor sales after six.

New Zealand temperance campaigners were emboldened by the Australian events, but New Zealand's more liberal shopping hours made the pub-shop comparison less convincing.

Early closing advocates instead argued that shorter hours would mean less drinking, particularly by soldiers in army camps who many feared would fall victim to the temptation of open bars and the women of questionable virtue who allegedly frequented them.

The government responded by banning women from bars after 6pm but parliament voted down a 1916 bill to introduce six o'clock closing.

In 1917 the government set up a National Efficiency Board of five prominent business people, three of whom were staunch prohibitionists.

In July the Board issued a brief report recommending wartime six o'clock closing. This reinvigorated the early closing movement and a business delegation visited Prime Minister William Massey to demand action. Massey introduced a bill that proposed banning liquor sales after 8pm, but parliament amended the hour to six.

The 1917 Sale of Liquor Restriction Act banned the sale of alcohol after 6 pm for the duration of the war and for six months after it ended.

Eighteen months becomes 50 years

Six o'clock closing might have ended in mid-1919 if not for a cunning move by temperance-minded MPs. About 2am on December 4, 1918, as another Licensing bill neared its final stages, Egmont MP Charles Wilkinson proposed an amendment to make early closing permanent. It passed by just one vote and six o'clock closing thereby became a national institution.

Most in the liquor industry supported early closing, which helped keep down costs but had no effect on profits. The swill was largely confined to urban areas where – thanks to a freeze on new liquor outlets – pubs were scarce. In rural areas, however, workers often worked late in summer and pubs were comparatively common.

"I have seen, on numerous occasions, country hotels where there has not been a customer all day," a former policeman told the 1945 royal commission. As a result, he generally permitted after-hours trading and would regularly share an evening drink with local farmers at the Tinui Hotel in Wairarapa. Many rural and provincial police continued to ignore the early closing law in subsequent decades.

A legal loophole allowed hotel guests to be served at all hours, which proved a useful front for after-hours trading. According to Gordon McLauchlan, fellow journalists would frequently ask him to sign them in as guests for after-six drinking when he stayed in hotels.

Leslie Hobbs in his 1959 book The Wild West Coast recounts how a police raiding party found a local magistrate among evening drinkers in a bar. "All boarders I see," said the sergeant before leading his men in a dignified exit.

Despite widespread legal and illegal after-hours drinking, most New Zealanders complied with the law and simply changed their drinking habits. In addition to "the swill", daytime drinking on Saturdays became the norm.

In 1945 an observer in an Invercargill bar counted 87 people at 10.30am and some 250 at 12.15pm, with many patrons "well inebriated". Demand for takeaway liquor grew, leading to the development of the legendary 'half-g' – large flagons that could be filled from a station at the rear of the bar to take home for later consumption.

Because the law prevented bar numbers from increasing with population, the liquor industry made changes to reduce over-crowding and speed up service. Hotel-owners enlarged public bars where possible and removed tables and chairs.

In the late 1940s brewers began replacing traditional beer barrels with motorised tankers from which carbonated beer could be transferred to tanks in hotel cellars. Beer could then be dispensed by hand-squeezed taps.

As one observer commented in 1959: "In many cities the crowd around the bar is so thick that instead of filling glasses from the old-fashioned beer pumps, the hotel staff takes the beer to the glasses by long, flexible plastic hoses – a dreadful sight to those unused to it".


Six o'clock closing heightened gender segregation. Dirty and crowded public bars were unattractive to women who were in any case usually banned because they took up space that could otherwise be filled with beer-swilling males.

In 1967 New Zealand Herald reporter Alison Carter visited eight Auckland public bars. ''I was greeted by stunned silence and suspicious stares from the drinkers and when I asked for a beer an embarrassed barman refused."

Many hotels provided lounge bars for ''ladies and escorts" but, despite the name, lounge bars were often unpleasant and commonly closed to free up staff for the 5pm rush hour. It was only with later closing that lounge bars were modified to attract those drinkers who sought a greater level of comfort.

In 1949 voters rejected a proposal for 10 o'clock closing in a poorly supported referendum. Evidence from the 1945 royal commission shows that many would have backed an extension to eight or nine o'clock if asked, but not a radical shift to 10 o'clock. Many opponents believed that men would not go home for dinner unless the bars closed at six.

Others were appalled at the drinking conditions. In the words of poet A.R.D Fairburn: "It seems probable that many people who would like to enjoy decent conditions were unable to bring themselves to vote for an extension of piggishness until ten o'clock. They can hardly be blamed."

The tide turns

By the late 1950s small-town publicans and their customers were tired of being perpetual law-breakers and lobbied for later closing in rural areas. The tide was turning in urban areas too, boosted by the arrival of new migrants. In the 1960s the government allowed some stand-alone restaurants to serve wine and beer, a privilege previously restricted to hotel restaurants until 8pm.

From 1963 licensed restaurants could serve drinks as late as 11.30pm, an innovation that failed to result in the mayhem feared by many. The conditions in bars improved thanks to greater enforcement of standards.

Barmaids were even readmitted, provided they were aged at least 25. New Zealanders travelled more and the new television service brought images of evening drinking in Coronation St's the 'Rovers Return' into the nation's living rooms.

Support for prohibition declined dramatically in the national poll held every three years and the churches softened their stance on opening hours. Australian states were ditching six o'clock closing, starting with Tasmania in 1938 and New South Wales in 1955. By February 1966 only South Australia and New Zealand held out.

Most MPs favoured extended hours and in 1967 Parliament agreed a referendum in which voters could support "later closing, the actual hours of sale to be determined by local conditions". Parliament avoided specifying a time in order to avoid the pitfalls of the 1949 referendum.

The Hotel Association encouraged people to vote and there was a lively debate in the press. Many claimed that without legal compulsion men would fail to go home for dinner but others showed little sympathy for such views.

"The chorus of protest against extended hours comes from wives who publicly admit the shameful fact that only laws can keep their husbands out of the pubs."

The turnout on September 23, 1967 was a healthy 70 per cent, and two-thirds of voters supported extended hours. The Westland electorate recorded a 77 per cent vote for later closing.

Parliament acted quickly and six o'clock closing ended on October 9, 1967, just seven weeks short of its 50th anniversary.

Six o'clock closing was supposed to curb drunkenness and excessive drinking, but it did neither. On the contrary, per capita alcohol consumption increased by 40 per cent during the 50 years it was in place.

The end of early closing did not lead to increased drinking and had a variety of positive effects. Drinking conditions improved markedly and the return of women to bars did much to help make them more civilised places.

Few will regret the end of six o'clock closing 50 years ago

A passing Kiwi tells me that there was a referendum on this topic with every General Election up to 1987, which really is quite astounding
 

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