Your shout! The 6 o'clock swill in full swing in just about any boozer you could name.

Your shout! The 6 o'clock swill in full swing in just about any boozer you could name.

When Kevin McNamee was a kid, knee-high to the hordes in his dad's inner-city pub, getting drunk was a sprint, not a marathon.

The men - and they were all men, with women confined to a ladies' lounge - were racing the clock to belt down the beers before being turfed onto the street.

''Blokes used to knock off at 5 o'clock, the pubs shut at six, and there was a buzzer,'' Mr McNamee recalls. ''At five-to-six or so the buzzer would ring. Blokes would order five or six pots and drink them all, and they had to be off the premises by 6.15.

Kevin McNamee.

Kevin McNamee. Photo: James Boddington

''I can remember as a kid distinctly walking around picking up all the pots. That's why they had all the benches along the walls in the pubs in those days. The guys would line the glasses up there.'' They called it the 6 o'clock swill, and it had been a signal part of Australian culture since its introduction during World War 1. Then came the summer of 1966, the summer when this key plank in the strict governance of social behaviour was abolished. That year, the January drinkers were the last of Victoria's 6 o'clock swillers.

At month's end, 50 years after it was introduced, the law finally changed and pubs could open until 10pm.

As hard as it is today to imagine a world of 6 o'clock closing and bars segregated by gender, there are echoes of the time in our modern debates - about the place of alcohol in the culture, about its effect on men, its links to violence and in the persistent celebration of the art of the skol. And then there are the more serious and tragic stories around pub violence, the highly publicised deaths of young male drinkers - the king hit - or ''coward's punch'' - culture.

Keith Dunstan, the late, great chronicler of Melbourne's fashions and foibles, recalled the swill as his ''most vivid memory'' of the city in those conservative days.

''Beer rains,'' he wrote of the manic minutes before closing. Then, at 6.15, ''we are all out on the footpath. Two characters over yonder are chundering … constitutions that have not known food for five hours need to be strong to handle five beers in 20 minutes''.

There were brawls aplenty. Mr McNamee's father, Jack - a former Australian welterweight boxing champion - would sort them out himself.

When Kevin went into the pub trade himself - he ran the Clare Castle Hotel in Port Melbourne for 27 years, and still owns it - he continued the tradition of resolving blues without resort to the law.

''You didn't have security in those days,'' he said. ''The publican was security, and he had to handle any trouble.We had some brawls, trust me.''

But the most civilising advance was women going into bars, Mr McNamee says. Until the 1970s, the only women who ventured outside the ladies' lounges were the occasional female publican or, mostly, the spouse of the publican.

A lot has changed since 1966, and the summer of that year marked a turning point in more ways than just a shift in drinking culture.

Two weeks after the swill ended on February 1 came another landmark: decimal currency. A pot of beer went from a shilling to 10 cents - 10 beers for a dollar, but at last you didn't have to drink them all at once.