Liquor licensing has regulated and restricted the drinking habits of Melburnians. Between the mid-19th and early 20th centuries the temperance movement was the most potent participant in liquor licensing debates. During the 1840s temperance organisations, including the Melbourne Total Abstinence Society and the Father Mathew Association, merely sought to 'morally' persuade people to abstain from liquor. In the following decade temperance activists, encouraged by the successful enactment of prohibition in 1851 in the State of Maine in the USA, began campaigning for the implementation of similar legislation in Victoria. Although temperance groups were unable to convince legislators and the bulk of the public about the 'virtues' of eliminating the drink trade, they successfully campaigned for a number of stringent licensing restrictions. These included early closing and Sunday closing legislation, and 'local option' or 'local prohibition' (which enabled ratepayers to restrain the granting and renewing of liquor licences in their individual locality or district). Local Option endured late into the 20th century. Box Hill, for example, continued to enforce 'dry restrictions', despite a Dry Area Poll held in 1999 which allowed licensed restaurants (but not hotels) to be established more easily in the suburb. The six o'clock closing of hotels, the most sweeping and conspicuous licensing restriction, was introduced in 1916. Despite being passed as a patriotic measure during World War I, the law was not changed until 1966.
Liquor licensing restrictions have not been applied equally to all segments of society. In 1869 the Victorian Aborigines Protection Act prohibited Aboriginal people from consuming, buying and receiving alcohol. The Act was based on the erroneous and racist assumption that Aboriginal people were racially inferior to whites, and that they were congenitally more prone to abuse alcohol. So acceptable to whites was this discriminatory prohibition that it was not repealed until 1957.