Six O’Clock Swill

Before the Torquay Coffee Palace, built-in 1888, held a liqueur licence the following year, Felix Rosser and James Follett were two cheeky fellows who were often prosecuted for sly grog. These ‘sly grog’ ventures would sometimes result in disagreements involving police, but their antics were nothing compared to the six o’clock swill, an Australian slang term for the last-minute rush to buy drinks at a hotel bar before it closed.

Six o’clock closing was introduced during the First World War, partly as an austerity measure and partly due to pressure from Temperance Society groups. Before this reform, pubs closed at 11 or 11:30 pm. A heavy drinking culture developed between finishing work at 5 pm and the mandatory closing time only an hour later. Patrons would often save their glasses and have them refilled when the last call for drinks was made. They then attempted to drink them all in the time left.

Although the reduced hours were introduced as a temporary measure, it was made permanent in Victoria in 1919.

On 1 February 1966, Victorian hotel hours were extended to 10 pm – the end of six o’clock closing. Judge Archibald McDonald Fraser, who was chairman of the Victorian Licensing Court from 1954 to 1968, recommended the extension of opening hours until 10 o’clock. He had toured Europe and the US to look at licensing laws and was critical of what he termed “perpendicular drinking” in Australia.

More on James Follett and the Coffee Palace Hotel which over time became the Torquay Pub can be found in our History Matters magazine

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