Friday, May 13, 2005

6 PM

A time which, for most of us, means the approach if not the actual onset of the night. Late afternoon, early evening, peak hour traffic, dinner and maybe the news on TV.

In my home state, Victoria, Australia, between 1915 and 1966 it also meant the closing of pubs. Yep, the forces of Prohibition were alive and well in Australia in those days. In fact, to this day there's a dry city within Melbourne.

It seems that the needs of war originally led to the adoption of a war-time emergency closing of pubs at 6PM. It was a temporary World War 1 measure that lasted until 1966. We Australians are not unfamiliar with temporary solutions. Our 'temporary' Parliament House in Canberra was constructed in 1926, first used for it's purpose in 1927 and wasn't closed until 1988!

Thus the tradition of the '6 O'clock swill.' I've witnessed this. It was legal to order any amount of alcohol before 6PM and it was legal to keep the pub open until 7PM as long as no alcohol was served after 6PM. Of course we're talking beer but I have no doubt it would have extended to my preffered drink, wine, had I been a drinker in those days. Oh, and had it been available :-)

So the dedicated drinker would order as many as 12 beers before 6PM. I saw my father order that many one night in June 1960. They were lined up before him like so many tombstones. He had one hour to drink them. Which he did. Much burping and lurching afterward.

Of course, my father had a gladstone bag full of bottles hidden up a back-lane for later. The bags were named after a British Prime Minister. By amazing coincidence they were exactly the right height for an Australian bottle of beer and they could hold 12.

If you had a paper round that included a pub you were made! Hit the pub about 5:30 PM hawking your papers and if you could distract the drinkers from the ordering process they'd pay sixpence for a thruppeny paper. Good money. But after 6 PM? Better money. By that time they were far enough into their cups and so glad of the 6 beers still lined up that they'd pay a shilling for a thruppeny paper. 400% profit and a slap on the back, perhaps somewhat more vigorous than necessary. We smiled tolerantly, kept the ninepence and moved on!

My paper round had 3 pubs! It was a frantic yet profitable hour making sure I covered them all.

I can remember to this day the smell outside a pub not longer after 6 PM. The smell of beer as one would expect. And the smell of vomit. The sight of drunken men with vomit down their coat fronts making their uncertain way toward the tram stop.

I'm glad those days are gone!

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