Australian Pub History
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Drunken Sudney

Sydney, early 1880s, was an uncouth seaport of 288,000 people and 3,167 pubs. In spirit it was closer to the 18th century than the 20th, with its brutality, boozing and corruption.

An enormous amount of liquor was consumed, good, bad and indifferent. Mat Gould wrote in 1896: "The bad quality of the liquor sold has a good deal to do with the drunkenness seen there".
Another observer, Douglas Gare blamed the Australian habit of 'shouting'.

"It's a common thing to see in the streets of Sydney old men talking to themselves and occasionally in wild and unintelligible words harassing the passer-by. They are victims to the effect of this disastrous habit (of shouting)."

But the Sydney of the early 1880s was an even boozier town. In 1886 the Victorian Government statist Mr Hayter was able to reassure his countrymen that "in the matter of drunkenness" NSW far outstripped all the other colonies. Statistics say arrests for drunkenness are not conclusive but the comparison is interesting. In 1885 arrests were 27 per 1000 of population in NSW and11.6 per 1000 in Victoria.

A Commission of Inquiry sat in 1887 to discuss the situation. It reported gloomily - that compared to towns of similar populations and conditions - Sydney is unquestionably more statistically "drunken" than most cities in the United Kingdom. "Quite as drunken as Liverpool", or nearly so "drunken as Limerick". Among the witnesses were publicans who told the Commission that at least 100 of the cities 500 hotels should be closed. Eleven o'clock closing had been introduced in 1882 but all night drinking went on in cafes, oyster shops and brothels. Brandy was a popular drink (or a popular name for a drink), much of it was raw spirit crudely coloured and flavoured and sold to distributors for 4/6 gallon. Hamburg supplied some local chemist the rest.

"While real French brandy and Jamaican Rum from Waterloo on ponderous lorries come" wrote a bulletin poet in 1884. Real cognac retailed 4/6 a bottle, Scotch whiskey from 3/6 to 4/6 and beer 1/6 a gallon.

For the family man useful hampers of grog were available. In 1884 Mr PR Larkin, of George Street Haymarket, advertised a 瞿3 parcel. It contained 5 quarts of Pale Brandy, one quart of whiskey, 5 quarts of West Indian Rum, one quart of Superior Port, one quart of Superior Sherry.

A Brief History of the Licensing Laws

The history of hotels in New South Wales are closely tied to the laws that successive governments legislated to control the trade. Hotels were built, rebuilt, renovated and even closed according to those laws. Three important time periods are 1882-3, 1905 and 1919-23.

The first licensed hotels occurred in 1796, and laws of 1825, 1830, 1833, 1844, 1849 and 1862, addressed the opening hours and minimum number of bedrooms the hotel had to provide for public accomodation.

The closing hours of hotels was addressed by acts in
1825 - a closing hour of 9pm, six fays a week with all day Sunday closing.
1849 - the closing hour was extended to 10pm.
1862 - hotels were allowed to open from 4am to midnight six days a week and from 1pm to 3pm on Sundays.
1882 and 83 - these Acts were a reaction to this largesse, reducing opening hours to 6am to 11pm six days a week and re-introducing Sunday closing.
1916 - Six o'clock closing was carried by referendum, extended by Parliament in 1919, retained by referendum in 1947, and finally repealed, also by referendum in 1954.

That hotels should also provide public accomodation was emphised in 1830, 1833, 1835, 1844 and 1882/83. The earlier laws laid laws down that a hotel should have a least two sitting rooms and two bedrooms for public use, the 1882/83 Acts increased this to two sitting rooms and four bedrooms, each not less than 1200 cubic feet in size. The result was that many hotels doubled in size in the 1880s, thus making this the first major period of architectural change for hotels.

From 1882/83 hotels were under seige from both the economy and the public at the ballot box. The 1882/83 Liquor Acts introduced municipal Local Option allowing ratepayers to decide the fate of their beighbourhood hotels. They could vote to either increase the number of licenses in their municipality or to continue the existing number, but not to decrease them

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A Brief History of the Licensing Laws... Con.

The emphasis on accomodation overrode the power of the ballot box. Hotels with twenty-six rooms or more were not affected by the vote. Thus if you wanted to make certain your new hotel would be built you made certain it had enough rooms. Also as the vote was based on local government area, non-ratepayers in local government areas and those in areas without local government had no say. Despite this hotel licenses did decline in the 1890s largely as a result of the depressed economy.

The power to close hotels was given to all electors in 1905, when Local Option based on electorates rather than municipalities and using parliamentry franchise was legalised. Polls were held in 1907, 1910 and 1913.

Year No. of electorates votes cut hotels

1907 65
1910 13
1913 16

After the Reduction or Local Option Courts were set up to decide which hotels would close. The criteria used included the condition of the building and the number of convictions against the licence under the Liquor Act. The poorly built and poorly run would be the target. The sittings of these courts are often reported in local newspapers and in 1908 give details of all hotels while in later years give details only of those to be closed.

293 hotels were closed from the first Poll and 50 from the second and third Polls combined. The hotels were given time compensation in lieu of money. So some hotels closed by the 1907 vote did not cease trading till 1912. But hotels could only be closed in areas that voted for reduction and many of the worst hotels were in areas that voted to keep their licenses.

House on the Hill

"The Little House on top of the Hill,
Is kept by Orvad still.
Who serves his customers with a will.
A matter of consequence to his till.
The best of liquors he determines to fill,
For his friends and patrons he don't like to kill.
Which would cause a terrible shudder and shrill.
And damage the Little House on the Hill."

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