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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 November 2005, 10:41 GMT
Aussies mixed on 24-hour drinking
Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

Round-the-clock drinking in England and Wales is now a reality after new licensing laws came in force.

Liberal drinking laws have been a part of Australian society for many years. How do they cope?

Kings Cross, Sydney
Liberal licensing laws are a part of Australian life

Pubs routinely close here at midnight or 1am and a few are open all day and all night.

As England and Wales usher in an alcohol revolution, opinion in Australia is mixed over the benefits of 24-hour drinking.

In the popular entertainment district of Kings Cross in Sydney 21-year-old Joshua Brown said the alcohol free-for-all was a bad idea.

"I don't think it's suitable," he told the BBC. "Drinking should be stopped at a certain hour so that you don't get all the brawls, the punching and the fighting."

Thirty-three-year-old Natalie, who lives nearby, disagrees. "People aren't drinking heavily in a short period of time because they've got a deadline to meet," she explained.

"I think it's more relaxed and a lot friendlier and, you know, people... just drink at their own leisure."

'Six-o'clock swill'

It's all a long way from Australia's infamous 'six o'clock swill.' Pubs (also known here as hotels) were once forced to shut at 6pm.

I was super-frustrated when I lived in England. The laws over there were mad
Steven Jacobs

Those precious minutes before closing time were often full of frenzied consumption.

It was usually a very messy affair and floor tiles were favoured above carpet for obvious reasons.

The tiles still exist in some older bars as a reminder of those restricted and frantic times.

The 'six o'clock swill' was abandoned amid a gradual relaxation of licensing laws that began more than 40 years ago.

John Thorpe, the President of the Australian Hotels Association, believes that the legislation needs to keep up with new trends.

"There's been a major cultural change in Australia in that young people don't go out until eleven o'clock at night," he told the BBC News Website.

"The historical position of having a few beers after work at five o'clock has changed dramatically."

Drunken brawls

Australian towns and cities are reasonably safe late at night. Drinking is generally a civilised past-time but alcohol-related violence is common.

Kay Elson
24-hour licensing does not have a huge impact (on alcoholics) but it certainly impacts on their journey to that addiction
Kay Elson
Mission Australia

For example celebrations in Darwin after this year's Melbourne Cup race day were marred by ugly brawls in the heart of the city's night-life quarter on Mitchell Street.

However, John Thorpe says that flexible opening hours have made the streets safer.

"Those staggered hours are much better than shifting people out at midnight or 3 am all onto the street at once," he stressed.

The vast majority of drinkers are responsible. Back at Kings Cross mid-week revellers, appeared to have just one thing on their minds - drinking and lots of it.

Steven Jacobs from New Zealand said: "I've just moved here (to Sydney) and I love the fact that I'm not getting kicked out of the pub at eleven o'clock in the evening or 2 am."

"I was super-frustrated when I lived in England. The laws over there were mad."

Charity workers say the changes in England and Wales should come with a health warning.

Kay Elson from Mission Australia has spent 25 years helping homeless people, many of whom are alcoholics.

She believes that this country's relaxed attitude to alcohol has been corrosive. "24-hour licensing does not have a huge impact (on alcoholics) but it certainly impacts on their journey to that addiction," she explained to the BBC.

"When they're able to access alcohol 24 hours a day, it makes their addiction easier to feed and I think the slide is much more steep."

There are calls for Australia to tighten up its alcohol laws to curb binge drinking and domestic violence.

"I guess it is probably na´ve to say if we had shorter drinking hours we'd have less people with alcohol addictions," said Kay Elson.

"But I think that pubs should shut at midnight. There needs to be an eight-hour break at least where people can't obtain alcohol."

That's unlikely to happen anytime soon. The hospitality trade is a lucrative industry serving an insatiable army of willing patrons.



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