Those who align Broken Hill with a Wild West reputation for hard drinking would be surprised to learn that the “six o’clock swill” - when men recklessly primed themselves with alcohol before hotel bars closed – never existed here ... local watering holes simply ignored the law.
Six o’clock closing for hotels was introduced in Australia during World War I in an attempt to lift public morals and get men home to their wives earlier. But while Sydney pubs were crawling with disgraceful scenes of men speed-drinking to get as drunk as possible, there were scarcely a handful of drinkers in Broken Hill pubs at the same time.
After calling in to the pub after work to quench their thirst, it was usual for Broken Hill drinkers to be home enjoying their evening meal at around 6pm, knowing they could return without fuss to enjoy a drink in comfort thanks to a “relaxed attitude” to closing times where many pubs remained open until at least 10.30pm.
When, in 1953, the national media exposed Broken Hill’s nonchalant disposition to liquor laws the then NSW Premier, Joseph Cahill, dispatched a hand-picked division of Sydney police to the city with a brief to help their local colleagues “tighten up” the administration of drinking and gambling laws in Broken Hill.
Despite months of fierce political debate, Broken Hill stuck to her guns and the matter reached a laughable impasse when Premier Cahill reported to the media it was “strictly a matter for the police”, while Police Commissioner Colin Delaney responded that it was his duty to administer the law “subject to the direction of the state government”.
Broken Hill kept on drinking, her recalcitrance playing no small part in the referendum of 1954 that led to six o’clock closing being abolished in NSW the following year.