1947 Greymouth beer boycott

Page 2 – Pub culture

Between 1919 and 1967 all public hotels in New Zealand officially closed at 6 p.m., but these hours were only nominally observed on the West Coast. The front door would be closed and the curtains pulled, but a coded knock would allow entry through the back door. Ignoring rules made in Wellington that had little local support was part of the frontier tradition of the Coast.

The breweries

There were a number of breweries on the West Coast in the early 20th century, but most were taken over in 1927 by the new Westland Breweries. Although it had its head office and bottling plant in Greymouth, in the 1940s most of the beer sold in the town was brewed in Hokitika and transported to local hotels in kegs. Morley’s Brewery in Westport remained independent until 1969, when it too was taken over by Westland. Later the same year, Westland was absorbed into DB Breweries.

Most West Coast hotels served ‘counter lunch' - a range of snacks left on the counter for patrons to nibble. The quality of these snacks (usually produced by the pub-keeper's wife) was one of the attractions of some hotels. The counter lunch was always salty, encouraging the patrons to drink more.

Rising prices

Memories of the Second World War were still fresh in 1947. To avoid profiteering and concentrate energies on the war effort, the government introduced a range of price controls in 1939-40. These applied to almost everything, from eggs to houses. Prices could only be increased by application to a price stabilisation authority.

At the end of the war the government was grappling with the problem of how to remove price controls without causing runaway inflation. All prices were increasing, accompanied by strong demands for wage increases.

Beer was an interesting case. In 1940 the price of a 10-ounce beer was set at sixpence (6d) throughout New Zealand. In 1942 the price control authority increased this to 7d, but this was not applied on the West Coast, perhaps because the hotel keepers feared protest from drinkers. By 1947, though, they wanted to increase prices to match what was charged elsewhere.