Although hotels have traded in New South Wales since the 18th century, the AHA (NSW) traces its origins back to 1873. Its long history has been played out against a background of fluctuating fortunes for both the hotel industry and the liquor trade, and mirrors the social changes that have revolutionised drinking habits and the Australian way of life over the past 100 years.
The Association has not always been a stable, secure organisation. Its history is characterised by the frailty of the unity that brought New South Wales hotelkeepers together at times of crisis in their industry. Before 1900 the strength and dynamism of the Association seemed to depend more on the level of activity of its opponents than on any intrinsic coherence or purpose of its own.
In 1873, New South Wales, with a population of almost 540,000 had over 2,400 licensed publicans. The same year the temperance campaign was having a serious effect on the public with campaigners trying to achieve a total ban on liquor in New South Wales.
Deciding that only united action could overcome this threat to their livelihood, Charles Darton of the Occidental Hotel, Wynyard called on licensed victuallers to form an association that would protect and defend its members and “establish unity of feeling and action amongst them”.
The United Licensed Victuallers Association (ULVA) was formed with Charles Darton being elected its first president. By October 1875 the Association had elected a new president, Joseph Olliffe of the Hyde Park Hotel and was able to report that it had 427 members, five branches and 310 pounds income. The Association had worked extremely hard during the general elections to secure the return of those sympathetic to the trade, and members believed that it was their activities that had helped defeat the Parkes Government.
The decision of government in July 1956 to legalise poker machines in non-proprietary clubs, profits being taxed and the resultant revenue diverted to the hospitals fund was a body blow to the ULVA.
Hotelkeepers seemed powerless to defend their trade against the now unrestricted competition from the clubs.
The ULVA reacted quickly. Recognising that it would have to meet social changes head on, it commissioned Asher Joel Advertising to investigate both the hotel trade and consumer attitudes. Joel’s report, presented to President Plasto in 1958, criticised many aspects of the trade, but his criticisms inspired the creation of a ULVA program to modernise the industry.
Central to the program was a new emphasis on tourism, improved standards of hotel service and management, and a vigorous public relations campaign. The ULVA compiled and distributed a list of hotels and their tariffs (leading to the publication in 1962, of the AHA accommodation guide), represented the interests of residential hotels, and took part in co-operative arrangements with the Australian National Travel Association and other tourist industry bodies. Owners and licensees were also encouraged to refurbish hotels.
Well-trained staff was seen as an essential first step in attempts to improve hotel service and management. The Association supported scholarships at the East Sydney Technical College and encouraged hotelkeepers to employ graduates of its courses. The Association from 1960 distributed Hotel Progress, a guide to hotel management and promotion.
By the end of the decade this new, more professional approach to hotel management was to lead to the Association’s co-sponsorship of the Hotel and Catering Trade Fair.
The public relations and advertising campaign was designed both to support these initiatives and to increase goodwill. The Association made strong representations to parliament, its activities were publicised through all available media outlets, the publishing program was maintained and a number of charitable causes were supported. The Association sponsored Marlene Matthews at the 1958 Commonwealth Games and supported the NSW Olympic Federation’s drive for funds in 1960.
The AHA (NSW)
Other activities of the Association reflected its newfound dynamism. In keeping with its modern image, in 1959 the ULVA became known as the NSW Branch of the Australian Hotels Association. In 1960, it obtained registration as an industrial union of employers and in 1962; Mr Terry Ludeke was appointed its Industrial Advocate.
The following year, the AHA (NSW) persuaded the Government to enforce the use of badged glassware throughout New South Wales, and achieved the abolition of the meal break in trading hours.
From 1963 hotels were able to trade straight through from 10am to 10pm. The AHA (NSW) established its own trading company in 1961, set up a federal secretariat in 1964 and, by 1967, had moved to its own premises in Clarence Street.
Although Len Plasto and his council had commissioned the Asher Joel study and formulated the organisation’s initial response, after the 1958 election of office bearers, a new Council, led by Barry McInerney, acquired the responsibility for implementing the bulk of the modernisation program, McInerney, an ex-serviceman, who was born in 1917 and educated in Cootamundra, was an experienced hotel administrator, having already held three hotel licenses. He proved a wise choice as President and remained in that position until 1983.
A new General Secretary, Ron McDonald, was also appointed in 1960 following the retirement of Dick Hadfield. There can be no doubt however, that the old Council had laid the groundwork on which McInerney and his team were to build. Both councils were resolute in their determination to see the industry through its difficulties.
The program of reform and renewal undertaken in the late 1950s and early 1960s was perhaps the most extensive the Association had ever devised. But the problems which McInerney’s Council faced were, in many respects, similar to those which the ULVA and its predecessors had encountered in the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. While the pace of economic, social and technological change was considerably accelerated in the 1950s and 1960s, change and adaptation remained a constant theme in the development of the hotel trade and its Association.
By the late 1960s the traditional ‘men only’ hotel was almost a thing of the past. It had been replaced by the sophisticated comforts of new and rebuilt hotels. In 1970 Murwillumbah’s Royal Hotel was issued with the first NSW tavern licence following the 1969 amendments to the liquor act which introduced this new form of licence, while in 1974 the King’s Head became the first tavern to operate in strata title premises.
Tourism was expanding rapidly and hotels were able to take advantage of the accommodation boom brought about by the R and R scheme for United States soldiers serving in Vietnam by the opening of the Opera House during the 1973 Royal Tour. In 1970, Marjorie Hunter of the Cosmopolitan Hotel, Erskine and Clarence Streets, became the first woman elected to the AHA (NSW).
Metric conversion was achieved smoothly, without the forecast difficulties in bottle and glass sizes. Close and cordial relationships were established with successive state premiers and ministers for justice and a spirit of co-operation allowed the Association to forge new bonds with representatives of registered clubs, the retail liquor trade and the tourism and accommodation industry. Hotelkeepers responded generously to fundraising appeals on behalf of the Smith Family, the Olympic Federation and the victims of Cyclone Tracy.
The public relations campaign had been a great success as evidenced by the favourable press coverage given to the charitable impulses of hoteliers and to the Association’s centenary celebrations in 1973.
Powerful and United
The Commonwealth Government too, at last seemed to appreciate the importance of the liquor trade when a survey of the manpower and training needs of hotels revealed that, in NSW, the trade employed 10 percent of the workforce and, as part of the travel industry, generated 8% of national income. Recognition appeared complete when, in 1976, Australia hosted the first International Hotel Association Congress to be held in the southern hemisphere.
Underlying these gains, however, were indications that the industry had yet to overcome a number of difficulties. The referendum held in November 1969 on the question of Sunday trading had been lost, and a proposal that a motel division of the AHA (NSW) be established was thwarted when it was discovered that the Motel and Motor Inn Association had already been established and registered industrially.
Similarly a major theme of the Association’s activities throughout the 1970s and beyond was the fight against what it saw as unfair trading conditions brought about by the privileges and opportunities afforded to other sections of the retail liquor trade which were not available to hotels.
In 1974 the NSW Government proposed the introduction of a bed tax to finance a Tourism Development Assistance Fund. Although this particular legislation was withdrawn following strenuous efforts by the AHA (NSW) and the Australian National Tourist Association, the industry remained affected by Government revenue raising measures and, despite the best efforts of the Association, there were almost annual rises in excise and taxes on beer, wine and spirits. From 1974, too, inflation became a major problem for the industry, prompting the Association to conduct a national survey on the costs and profitability of hotels.
Increasingly the hotel industry had to operate within an economic and legislative structure that was becoming more complex and hotelkeepers and their Association once more had to find new skills and strategies to meet new problems. Orderly marketing, which had for so long been the centrepiece of the Association’s program for industry stability, itself became the subject of attack under the federal government’s restrictive trade practices legislation.
Association activities during this period were also affected by the Prices Justification Tribunal, by the increasing complexity of industrial legislation, and by the fierce discounting of packaged liquor practised by a number of chain stores. The share of the liquor market held by hotels continued to decline and, at the same time, anomalies in the method of valuation meant that hotels were paying considerably more for water rates than other licensed premises. It was during the 1970s, too, that governments directed attention to the mounting road toll, leading to the introduction of a maximum permitted breath alcohol level and eventually to random breath testing.
The AHA (NSW), for the most part, took these challenges in its stride. A firm of management consultants, Coopers and Lybrand, was commissioned to undertake a new, more detailed industry study which would lead to recommendations on the policies to be adopted by the Association. The constitution was rewritten to meet the requirements of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, a research and statistics officer was appointed, hotelkeepers were encouraged to take part in the Green Door, Bottle Mart and other co-operative buying schemes, parliamentarians were subjected to frequent lobbying on the shortcomings of the Liquor Act and other issues and Council members gave evidence to the 1979 Select Committee that enquired into liquor trading.
The Association also mounted its own campaigns advocating road safety and the exclusion of underage drinkers from hotels and a number of cost saving schemes for members were introduced, including travel, insurance and superannuation services. Hoteliers were to reap the rewards of the Association’s diligence. A 1977 Government decision allowed the payment of licence fees by instalment, Sunday trading was introduced in 1979 and hotels were even able to open two hours early on Anzac Day, 1980 without the dire consequences predicted by the temperance lobby. A concerted campaign during 1981 prevented the imposition of higher excise duty in the federal budget of that year, a number of hoteliers were able to forestall rent increases.
By 1984 AHA (NSW) action had led to a reduction in water rates for metropolitan and Newcastle hotels. A new, simplified liquor act was introduced in 1982 meeting many of the demands of the Association, including compulsory training for hotelkeepers. The spread of PubTab and associated wagering and sports services helped secure the viability of many hotels as did the legislation, in 1985, of video games machines. Indeed it seemed as though innovative marketing had at last permeated the hotel industry.
The AHA (NSW) and the industry it represents would be almost unrecognisable to the far-sighted men who in 1873 established the (ULVA) of New South Wales. The enormous social changes that have occurred over the period have been accompanied not only by a revolution in the drinking and leisure habits of Australians but also by the rise of a new breed of hotelier and a growing awareness of the social and economic importance of the industry. But the readiness of the AHA (NSW) to defend the trade, the professionalism and unity of the industry, and, above all, the good reputation enjoyed by the hotelkeepers of New South Wales would be appreciated by those early organisers as a fitting reward for their efforts.