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Did you know the Owhango Hotel was the first hotel in the King Country to open after the prohibition on liquor licences was lifted? Lisa McLean tells us more...

Liquor was prohibited in the King Country for more than 70 years, although tales of 'sly groggers' who smuggled alcohol into the district are legendary. 

Prohibition began in 1884 when Maniapoto Chief Wahanui Huatere presented a petition to Parliament to prohibit the sale of liquor in the King Country. Europeans had introduced alcohol to Māori, who were not initially impressed, and called spirits “wai poke” (foul water).

“From the 1800’s there were critics of drink. Many were religious dissenters who saw alcohol as undermining moral behaviour; others pointed to its effects in bringing violence and distress, especially to women.” 

Major raids in the King Country in 1907 uncovered 15 barrels of beer stashed away in the bush near Makatoke and Raurimu. The raids and subsequent fines (up to a staggering 10 pounds) did not deter local brewers and reports of beer and spirits being produced in the King Country continued well into the 1920’s. It is also said that the home brew concocted in the King Country was so potent that when locals travelled out of the area liquor had no effect on them whatsoever.

In 1918 across New Zealand pubs were legally bound to close at 6 PM. Drinkers had one desperate hour of drinking between knocking off work and traipsing home to the dry suburbs.

“The young lads in Te Kuiti would travel to Kihikihi on a Friday night and load up any available cars or motor bikes with kegs and bottles of beer and bring them back to Te Kuiti for the Saturday night party.”

The result was that between 5 and 6 PM conditions in public bars were generally regarded as disgusting. 

There were no chairs and few tables, the floor covered in sawdust, linoleum or sodden carpet. Barmen used hoses to fill jugs, which were handed back over the customers four to five deep. There were allegations that spills and dregs were recycled. Men drank at speed as they took turns to ‘shout’ one another.”

With barmaids not allowed, the public bar became a true ‘man cave’ which hardly improved the atmosphere. 

Prohibition in the King Country ended in 1953 and 60 years later the first legal brewery was established.

Today the stories of hardy pioneers and their exploits, including moonshine misadventures and the ‘six o’clock swill’ are still passed on between the ‘Cossie Clubs’, RSA’s and King Country hotels and it really is a great place to pull up a bar stool and raise a glass.

Ohura Cosmopolitan Club 1954

Pictured above: A large, orderly crowd files into the new Ōhura Cosmopolitan Club in 1954. It was an important event in Ōhura’s social calendar, not least because it was in the middle of the King Country dry area, which finally became 'wet' the year the club opened.

Source: Peter McIntyre, Kakahi New Zealand. Wellington: A. H. & A. W. Reed, 1972, Kerryn Pollock, 'King Country places - Taumarunui', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/king-country-places/page-7 (accessed 6 April 2020)