Six O'Clock Swill Era

As you look around most Adelaide pubs, you'll notice large tiles covering up most walls from the ground to around should height. Largely added from the 1920s onwards, these tiles are a lasting reminder of a period that drastically changed South Australia's drinking culture.

In the 20th century, restrictions on the sale of liquor gave rise to the era of the ‘Six O’Clock Swill’ and an uncomfortable reputation as a ‘wowser’ state.
Following years of campaigning by religious groups and the Temperance movement, restricted trading hours were first introduced following a referendum in 1916.

Appealing to people's morality by linking alcohol to crime and family breakdown, the arrival of World War One and a spirit of home front moderation also helped the 'Yes' vote succeed.

The result had a significant affect on how people drank in South Australia, giving rise to the dreaded "six o'clock swill" phenomenon as men would cram into bars between their knockoff time and last drinks being called at 6pm, hoping to imbibe as much as they could before the last bell.

As a result, the decor of pubs subtly changed as they became less a site of relaxed social gathering, and more a destination for intense, concentrated periods of binge drinking. Being ably to swiftly clean a pub after each swill session - and be rid of the multitude of spilled beer and other liquids - became paramount, aided by the addition of tiles which could be easy hosed or mopped down. Some hoteliers would even lay sawdust down before each session to soak up their patrons' mess!

By the 1960s these laws which had initially inspired imitation around the country had gone out of fashion everywhere but South Australia, where they were kept on the books despite being openly flouted with impunity by football clubs and hotels as police and government turned a blind eye. It all finally came to an end at 6.01pm on September 29, 1967 when Dunstan raised a pint at the Challa Gardens Hotel , a very literal toast to a new era.

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