The Six O'Clock Swill 

When I arrived in 1981 'shouts' were still very much the name of the game and the culture of the 6 o'clock swill remained

Australian-American Brewing Guru Chuck Hahn, Chief Brewer of the Lion Nathan Group

The evidence of all three crew members reminds me of the former legendary "6 O'clock Swill" days when many rounds of beer were ordered and drunk just before the hotel was forced to close at 6.00 pm. Since then there has been a substantial change in the attitude of the community towards the consumption of alcohol.

Justice McIlwaine of the Industrial Relations Court of Australia in Garside v Hazelton Air Services Pty Ltd (970119)

The long puritanical tradition of early closing also remains in the minds of many who cannot shake off the mentality of the six o'clock swill. 

Jonathan King, Waltzing Materialism, 1976

Until the middle of the twentieth century, most Australian pubs were required to close at 6:00pm. This naturally led to development the phenomenon known as the "six o’clock swill". Towards closing time, patrons would rush to guzzle as much beer as they could before the possibility of drinking anything was snatched away from them. The atmosphere and action is beautifully summed up by Keith Dunstan in the novel Wowsers:

"[The pub is] a large room, with a cold lavatory-like atmosphere, but filled with pushing men. There are no seats, no tables, no stools, no clutter that might interfere with the high-speed action. … There are special men and ladies on for the peak panic, eight or even ten immensely skilled barmen and barmaids, all equipped with the latest pluto taps on plastic hoses, an invention designed for dispensing beer at frightening speed, but they cannot cope. It is ten to six, now five to six, the bar is ten deep with pushing bodies, all thrusting handfuls of glasses towards the barmaids: "Here" – "Here" – "For Chrissake here". Well, you know this barmaid pretty well, she serves you first, but then you have to get your five glasses back to your mates against the wall. … But now it is two minutes to six, the mob is getting desperate, like the last few fighting for the lifeboats on a sinking ship.

Yet among the canny there was an alternative to this. Immediately upon entering the bar at 5:30pm one lined up one’s small platoon of five and all approached the bar at once and bought five beers each. There was one difficulty in this: under the no-ornament-no-seat-no-comfort-all-action-policy there were no tables, and while there were often ledges or windowsills, one had to get in early to make use of them. So the only choice was for each member of the school to put his five beers between his feet on the ground, and then demolish one by one before six. Great care had to be taken not to move one’s feet and to resist all bumps, but one learned by experience. At six the publican would ring bells, make announcements over an amplifier, he would go round almost with tears in his eyes urging everyone to finish their drinks: "Come on, fellers, fair go, drink up, fair go". The rules were very real. and he knew the penalties.

At 6:15pm the crowd, after their 30 minutes or so of tension, would be out on the footpath, many reeling. Constitutions that have not known food for five hours or more need to be strong to take five beers in 30 minutes on an empty stomach."

Thankfully, the "six o’clock swill" is no more, although perhaps some of the culture remains. The last state to abolish the ludicrous closing time of 6pm was South Australia in 1967.

Take a break from drinking like the author of this article did - Read why and how in his book Between Drinks: Escape the Routine, Take Control and Join the Clear Thinkers