[ilds] Wowsers, wine and LD

Denise Tart & David Green dtart at bigpond.net.au
Wed Oct 3 23:45:13 PDT 2007

have been looking up some details on the infamous six o'clock swill that became a unique feature of Australian drinking culture during and after World War One.

The swill had its origins in the temperance movement's efforts to reduce drinking hours in Australian hotels, pubs and inns. These people were known as Wowsers, an acronym made from the words We Only Want Social Evils Remedied. In fact they were a bunch of middle class protestant kill joy do- gooders who wanted alcohol and many other 'social evils' banned entirely. Unlike in the United States which got prohibition up for a while, the Wowsers failed to get booze banned as the upper classes in Australia, thirsty souls themselves, did not support it. However, they did get legislation passed to close pubs at six o'clock in the false belief that this would reduce drunkeness

Before World War One, Australian hotels open until 11.30 p.m. Temperance organisations had campaigned enthusiastically for reduced trading hours. The was enabled them to make a patriotic issue of early closing when in 1915 king George V banned alcoholic drinks from the royal household for the duration of the war and British hotels were closed in the afternoon to prevent drunkenness amongst munitions workers. However, the war ended in 1918 and the early closing remained.

For many years after the Great War, the six o'clock swill in Australian hotels was an antipodean phenomenon that disbelieving tourist talked about, wrote about and even filmed to show skeptics back home:

"the average Englishman, accustomed to his friendly and civilized inns and pubs, possesses an almost pathological interest in the riotous wildness of Australian drinking" - George Johnston, 1953

"It is a most interesting sight" - J. Lyngham Bingham, US Olympic Games Committee, 1956

"all around the bar a heaving mass of men elbowing, pushing, trampling each other's feet, and shouting orders. Reaching over shoulders, waving pound notes, dropping irretrievable coins. The one time when even the most pugnacious of Australians had no time to pick a quarrel, intent only on attracting the attention of those floating goddesses, the pink bosomed pneumatic barmaids..."

  a.. Jack Lindsay, circa 1920s

the result was the consumption of medically impossible amounts of beer between knock off time at the factories, wharves and warehouses at 3.30 - 4p.m and closing time at 6p.m after which time men staggered out reeling, vomiting, fighting and collapsing in the streets; many of them in no fit state to go home and embrace domestic bliss as envisaged by the Wowsers.

Tasmania changed to 10p.m. Closing in 1937. New South Wales in 1955, Victoria in 1966 and South Australia in 1967.

The efforts of the Wowsers were a terrible failure and it is a blight on our nations history that such an uncivilized restriction lasted so long. Again, the ruling classes drank in their private homes and clubs and so did not care that much until Australia's international reputation began to be compromised especially after the 1956 Olympic Games.

Australian's drink almost as much booze now as they did 1n 1920, but it is pretty much available 24/7 and, guess what, there is far less drunkenness. The French model as triumphed as the Wowsers have retreated to remote areas of the Hills District to drink orange juice and sing contemporary hymns to their/our saviour.

I wish them well. I go to mass occasionally and the local ale houses far more frequently.

Australian wine is now a huge seller in the UK and the USA and there are so many vineyards and olive groves around the place one often feels a Mediterranean moment coming on. LD would have loved it; that along with the cerulean skies, clean blue surf and foam born bikini clad goddesses clutching copies of Justine.... 

Denise Tart & David Green
16 William Street, Marrickville NSW 2204

+61 2 9564 6165
0412 707 625
dtart at bigpond.net.au
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