Pubs in most states of Australia, including New South Wales, had been closing at 6pm since 1916 when temperance advocates had successfully used the outbreak of World War I to argue for curbing the use of liquor on the home front.
In fact, early closing did not lead to a significant reduction in alcohol consumption. One of the results was the infamous six o’clock swill, where drinkers tried to pour as much beer as possible down their throats between the end of work and closing time. Sly grogging – the illegal trade in out-of-hours liquor sales – also became a problem.
Tasmania was the first state to abandon 6 o’clock closing, in 1937. The decision was made without a referendum, provoking outrage in some quarters. South Australia conducted a liquor referendum in 1938 but the majority of voters endorsed the status quo. The state was to be the last to abolish early closing.
In New South Wales, the Liquor Referendum on 15 February 1947 gave voters the options of 6 o’clock, 9 o’clock or 10 o’clock closing. Later closing was supported by the Liquor Trades Council, who paid for an advertisement in the Sydney papers quoting the Premier of Tasmania. He put forward the view that early closing had not provided any moral advantage and that the change to 10 o’clock closing provided people with the most freedom and benefited the State.
In the 1947 New South Wales referendum, of a total of 1,697,230 votes cast, 1,050,260 opted to leave closing time at 6 o’clock. In 1954, another referendum saw 10 o’clock closing approved by a narrow margin of 902,532 votes to 892,740.