The birth of New Zealand's binge drinking

We take a look back our drinking roots here in Aotearoa (File)
We take a look back our drinking roots here in Aotearoa (File)

We hear a lot in New Zealand about our issues with drinking, but, we've got two minds in our country-- we both hate drinking and love it. And, in fact those warring stances may have helped create one of our biggest problems.

To explain that, we have to take a look back our drinking roots here in Aotearoa.

Early European settlers here - mostly single men - drank a lot. In the 1870s the number of arrests for public drunkenness was more than double that in Britain.

Naturally, that freaked a lot of people out. So much so, half of the New Zealand population wanted alcohol completely banned in the early 1900s.

That didn't happen, but other anti-drinking laws were passed. They mandated that pubs would close far earlier: at six o'clock in the evening. But instead of drinking less, workers just drank faster, consuming an entire night's worth of booze between 5pm and 6pm.

One hour of speed drinking, where bar staff used hoses to serve drinks to customers four and five deep.

This was called the 'six o'clock swill'.

If you consider it, this new law to curb drinking had just helped create binge drinking in our country. And just when we got used to all that sculling, we made it a whole lot easier.

In 1967, the law was changed, allowing pubs to stay open to 10pm. By 1999, bars were permitted to stay open all night, supermarkets sold sell beer and wine, and the drinking age was lowered to 18.

That last law change made it a whole lot easier for a whole bunch of new, younger drinkers, who learned their alcohol consumption habits - like binge drinking - from the older crowd.

These days, even many employers get in on the game. At the end of the week, in workplaces across New Zealand, bosses become bartenders serving up Friday night drinks.

Drinking is so ingrained into our everyday lives - at work, at home, on the town - that it's become part of nearly everything we do. And, clearly, we've got our issues with booze, beer and wine.

So, we're going to have to come up with smart solutions because, as we've seen, the hangover from bad ideas like the laws that inspired "the six o'clock swill" can last for generations.