A Draught Drought

Every beer lover’s worst nightmare came true in November 1967 when a draught beer drought impacted upon the vast majority of NSW. Wagga Wagga and the Riverina were heavily affected.

The severe shortages stemmed from a brewery workers strike in Sydney which began on 8 November 1967. The workers were striking in support of a 35 hour working week, a $10 per week industry allowance and an additional week’s annual leave each year. A total of more than 2,000 workers went on strike in Sydney.

By Monday, 13 November, many of the clubs and pubs in and around Wagga Wagga, who had already begun to experience shortages of draught beer kegs, were forced to start switching to bottled and canned beer supplies.

Men drinking beer from a bottle at Ganmain, c.1955.
Beer drinkers gather at Ganmain for a novel experience – beer in a bottle [from the Wagga Evening News collection, RW1574/255].
Despite the shortages, all of the licensed premised in Wagga were adamant that they would not be closing their doors, and that they would remain open even if they ran out of beer completely.

Experienced publicans, such as Mr Jack Andrea from Romano’s Hotel, knew that in all likelihood those “seasoned beer drinkers were unlikely to switch to spirits no matter how short supplies of beer became.”

In Sydney, the “drought” had already worsened and six of the city’s biggest clubs had restricted entry to members only. Some of the smaller clubs in the metropolitan area put rules in place to allow each member only one visit throughout the duration of the strike.

Locally, the weather also began to exacerbate the issue. The temperature on Tuesday, 14 November, reached the century mark (37 degrees celsius) which resulted in the few existing keg supplies being completely drained.

A man propping up a Wagga hotel bar, c. 1960s.
Mr Tom Carmichael contemplates the beer situation… [from the Tom Lennon collection RW1574/630].
Interestingly, according to the newspapers, the decision had already been made by the brewery companies that when the strike was broken and beer supply resumed again, the country and rural areas of NSW would receive supplies before their city counterparts.

14 November 1967 was also the date that had been chosen to open Wagga’s newest pub – the Kooringal Hotel-Motel. Understandably, the official opening of the Hotel was delayed by the ongoing strike. And by Wednesday, 15 November, only two of Wagga’s hotels had any beer on tap, with the other 19 already out of kegs.

Mr Barry Torr, the Manager of the John Macarthur Hotel, told The Daily Advertiser of his predicament:

“We had half a gallon left at the end of Monday’s trading, so I called in a few of the fellows and we polished it off. Today they have had to drink canned or bottled beer, at 17 cents a middy or 44 cents a bottle.”

The seriousness of the situation really began to take hold in Sydney on 16 November when clubs and pubs began to lay off staff members as a direct result of the downturn in trade. The State’s biggest club at the time, the St George Leagues Club, had completely run out of draught beer, as had the NSW Leagues Club. Somehow, the South Sydney Leagues Club had managed to secure 1000 bottles of Victorian beer to keep supplies coming.

Finally, on 21 November, the striking brewery workers voted to return to work after it was learnt that their log of claims would be referred to the Commonwealth Arbitration and Conciliation Commissioner for settlement.

Tapping the kegs at a Wagga hotel c.1960s.
Mr Bob Ray hard at work, tapping the kegs in the cellar of one of Wagga’s licensed premises [from the Lennon Collection RW1574/630]
The “drought” was broken in Wagga on 22 November, fourteen days after the strike had commenced, when the “beer train” arrived in Wagga in the early hours of the morning. Whilst not containing the quantity of beer that had been requested, the train carried enough beer to ensure that all of Wagga and the surrounding district clubs and pubs had draught beer on tap again for their 10am opening times.

And, despite being a week later than planned, the new Kooringal Hotel-Motel was able to finally open its doors for the first time.

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