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Six O'Clock Swill

This phrase was coined to describe Australian drinking customs in the middle of the 20th century. Liquor licensing laws introduced in 1916 forced public bars to close at 6 p.m., leaving just an hour in which to have a drink at the end of the working day. This created a huge crush at the bar as workers rushed to share a beer before going home for tea. The resulting noise, crush of bodies, and slops, as beer was spilt in the melee, led observers to describe it as a pig swill and the term stuck. In postwar Melbourne it became a tourist spectacle as men in business suits and hats jostled and shouted to get served, a sight of great amusement for visitors during the 1956 Olympic Games.

This drinking ritual was a gendered experience as women were excluded from public bars. Excessive drinking in this all-male environment became a way of defining and performing masculinity. 'The Australian way of life' celebrated a suburban ideal that positioned wives at home cooking the tea. Six o'clock closing and its rush hour existed in other States but lasted longest in Victoria, where it was not repealed until 1966.

Diane Kirkby