Six O’clock Swill

May 26, 2017
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When American journalists arrived in Australia, they had an opportunity to share their own observations of Australian cultural life. None fascinated them more than the “six o’clock swill”, which New York journalist Red Smith described as “the charming folk custom sired by law requires saloons to stop serving by 6 P.M. this creates a challenge which are no Aussie worth is malt will take lying down, or as long as he can stand.”

After 6 PM, customers had 15 minutes to finish their drinks before the bartender said, “Time, gentlemen!” So, many of the customers would order several beers just before 6 PM—as many as eight or ten — and then proceed to polish them off in 15 minutes. For the wives of these men, the law was a mixed blessing. While at least their husbands would be home for dinner, they would often be drunk and sometimes violent.

Red Smith was not much concerned with the social impact of 6 o’clock closing, but more interested on how it fed male mateship. “There’s bound to be jostling and you’re to s’op some beer on another bloke. You say ‘sorry.’ When you’ve spilled enough beer on him you’re friends for life.”

Red Smith concluded his report: ”Take a bottle-scarred researcher’s word for it,” Red Smith ended his report for the New York Times, ”the Olympic marathon will produce no gamer competitors or plucky stayers in the legions who rush the growler six evenings a week in Melbourne’s pub.”


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