The Battle of Sydney’s Central Station

The Battle of Sydney’s Central Station

During World War 1 there was a strong push by the anti-liquor movement and the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement to limit alcohol consumption in Australia. Drunkenness was seen to be the root cause of many social problems, including poverty and domestic violence. Also, because our soldiers in the front line could not drink on duty, it was seen as a form of patriotism to limit alcohol consumption back home. 

These views of the Temperance Union were to receive a considerable boost from the events of 14th February 1916, when a large body of drunken troops who were training at the Casula Army camp near Liverpool in Sydney mutinied. This was triggered by the imposition of a significantly extended training program that meant 27 hours at a stretch for some of the soldiers.

They commandeered a train from Liverpool down the main line to Central Station in Sydney where they continued rioting in front of Toohey’s Brewery in Elizabeth Street, drinking several nearby pubs dry. The incident further developed into ugly scenes involving a drunken rampage by hundreds of disgruntled troops through the city streets, looting hotels and shops, attacking suspected foreigners and driving passers-by into churches for safety.
This infamous event became known as the Battle of Central Station. One soldier was shot dead, many were jailed and about 1000 were later court-martialled. But publicity was muted because it was rightly judged to be detrimental to the war effort and press coverage was generally discouraged.

This event caused considerable outrage amongst the general public who were convinced that alcohol was the root cause of the incident and action was demanded from the Government. Up until then hotel closing in NSW was at 11 pm during weekdays but a referendum, held on 10 June, brought this back to 6pm where it was to remain until 1955.

Image caption: The Casula Army Camp near Liverpool in Sydney – where the rioting began. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.