1923 Eight o’clock closing in Queensland

Surfers Paradise Hotel, late 1920s. State Library of Queensland

As other Australian states had done in the previous decade, Queensland introduced earlier closing times for pubs but chose slightly more civilised eight o’clock closing, rather than six o’clock. Western Australia had a nine o’clock closing time.  Queensland hotel trading hours were extended to 10pm in December 1941.

When Queensland became a state in its own right in 1859, it inherited the New South Wales liquor legislation which put no restrictions on drinking hours. The first liquor law passed by the Queensland Parliament in 1863 gave drinkers considerable leeway. Alcohol could be purchased from a publican between 4am and midnight, Monday to Saturday. On Sundays, however, the hours were from 1pm to 3pm.

In 1885, drinking time was reduced somewhat. The new hours were 6am to 11pm, except on Sundays when liquor sales were banned completely. This situation continued until 1923 when changes to the Liquor Act set new trading hours of 8am to 8pm.

The issue had been debated in the community and in Parliament for years, with pressure from temperance organisations who advocated total prohibition of liquor sales.  Others maintained that the restriction of hours would affect, in particular, small towns where “the hotels provide the only bit of light and life in the town.”

Two referendums were taken on the subject of prohibition, in 1920 and 1923. Both failed. Even after the amendments to the Act and the restriction of hours, agitation for prohibition continued. The referendum held in Queensland a month after eight o’clock closing began found 113,433 votes in favour of prohibition and 179,729 in favour of continuing the current arrangements. A smaller number of 13,338 endorsed State control of the liquor trade.

From its early years, enforcement of the new eight o’clock closing time was inconsistent.  After a crackdown in 1940, an infamous ‘beer riot‘ by soldiers in Brisbane was one of the factors that induced the government to extend drinking hours to 10 o’clock in 1941.

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