Beer rationing cartoon, The Bulletin, 1944

The Bulletin, 1944

Wartime beer rationing took the form of limits  imposed on production. In March 1942 breweries were required to cut their output by one third to conserve grain supplies.  Pubs were supplied with beer on a quota system and sometimes ran out altogether. In New South Wales, to help control consumption, pint glasses were eliminated from pubs. Later the same year, publicans were allowed to refuse to serve beer in schooners (16-oz glasses) except in the peak hours leading up to 6pm closing.

There were other restrictions on hotel owners. The amount of beer that could be sold to an individual, either in bulk or in bottles, was restricted. Deliveries of beer to other premises was prohibited – even delivering a bottle of beer to someone waiting outside in a car was illegal.

Beer rationing provoked protests from various sections of the community. In the Newcastle area, where workers knocked off well before 4pm, there were objections to the restrictions on schooners. The “Schooner wars” even involved industrial action.  In Cairns, the local paper lamented that “Rigid steps have been taken to discontinue the sale of beer for certain times of the day in order to meet the demand at rush periods. Some hotels have only sufficient beer to last for a few days, and they will not have beer until Tuesday next,when the April supply will be available.”

Even the church got involved. The Rector of St Mark’s Church of England in Casino called beer rationing a “criminally stupid and callous measure”, particularly because of its impact on the AIF. Beer was seen as the working and serving soldier’s right, and a better alternative than stronger drinks.  The Rector protested that “In spite of the fact that there is actually no beer shortage, these men are denied a wholesome, refreshing drink of beer and have to turn.. to ‘hard stuff’—cheap wine, whisky and spirits generally.” 

The restrictions on legally available beer led to an increase in home brewing – illegal at that time. There was also a degree of profiteering and black marketing. >Beer and war in Australia, Australian Brews News