Interview: On Holiday
Unions: One Day Longer
Industrial: Never Mind the Bollocks
Politics: Spun Out
Economics: If the Grog Don't Get You ....
History: Taking a Stand
International: The Split
Legal: Pushing the Friendship
Poetry: Simple Subtractions
Review: Sydney Trashed
The Locker Room
AFL-CIO Not The Only War
We Love Morris
A Readers Suggestion
Interview with Peter Lewis
One of your observations is that Australia, for a lot of its history, has really been a Southern European culture, a Mediterranean culture, caught up in an Anglo Saxon world. How has our holidays shaped what it's like to be Australian?
For a long time that was one of the main differences between Australians and the British - Northern European traditions was work ethic. It is not that Australians didn't work hard, but their leisure was much more important to them and a lot of people made the comment that Australians take their holidays seriously; that they enjoy their holidays.
Some of them were then critical of Australian laziness and/or purported laziness, or that by the 1970 people were talking about Australia as being "the land of the long weekend", and things like that. But other commentators were saying that it wasn't a matter of laziness or anything, it is just that like people in Mediterranean climates there was a sense in Australia of working to live rather than living to work. Work didn't absorb everyone to the same extent that it did in nations with more of that traditional protestant work ethic.
In your book you talk about some of the benefits of that attitude to life, both in terms of physical and mental health. What do you find there?
Even in Britain people were talking about the importance of holidays, the importance of a break from work. Even many employers argued that workers came back from a good holiday refreshed and better able to get back into the work. You know, a jaded workforce isn't an effective workforce, and so on. I think at the same time though, many people were saying yes, but holidays aren't just a matter of creating a better workforce; that they have other values in this world anyway, particularly for things like family life. It is very interesting, for example how important rhetoric about the family, and particularly about the male breadwinner's relationship with his family was in the moves towards established weekends in the nineteenth century and the moves towards having paid holidays through then and into the twentieth.
You say that in the 1970s things began to change - obviously that change is on the brink of accelerating even further with plans to actually cash in holidays from four to two weeks. What has driven that change?
That is actually a really hard question. It came about precisely at the time when you would have thought that move to further holidays would have actually gained more momentum, rather than less, because this is the period when we have enormous technological change in the workplace, which should have been providing more leisure. People in the 1970s were just assuming that the computer revolution would lead to more leisure rather than less leisure, along with the paperless office and all of those things.
It is also the point when women are entering the workforce in large numbers, and again you would have imagined that that would have led to a reduction in working hours with those men and women; that with women entering the workforce that those men and women would have been able to find more time for leisure activity and for family life and all of that stuff. So it was surprising that that was the very point at which you start seeing the swings back to longer hours. In the 1970s it is surprising that that is the point where the expansion of leisure actually stops in Australia. It continues on in other parts of the world, but in Australia it stops.
Part of it too is the rise of rhetoric about Australians being lazy, or Australians not pursuing excellence, and being mediocre, and so on. I am not agreeing with those arguments but it is interesting that those arguments are there and to some extent they are coming both the left and the right. The new nationalism even of the Whitlam years is predicated partly on the idea that Australians, yes can work hard and can achieve excellence and all of that - all of which are very good things, but that has been used to start saying work is more important than holidays in Australian life.
So where are we headed? Where is the next step on this trail if we go down this deregulation path, what sort of book about holidays do you think will be written in another twenty years time?
Who knows what is going to happen in the future, but one scenario if we did keep on going down this line is that we'd get to a situation which is a bit like it was back in the 18th Century - not the 19th, not the 20th - but right back in the 18th Century that leisure was divided along class lines and you had a sort of class that could afford leisure and sufficient income - unearned income from investment and from inheritance - that that class didn't need to work and they could enjoy quite a lot of leisure. On the other hand, the majority of people had less and less leisure available to them. Now, I'm not sure how far we would go down that road, and I think it would be a terrible thing if we did.
Would it change us as Australians?
Yeah. I think one of the things that is happening with the holiday is that it is no longer something that Australians share. One of the points about what we might think of as a traditional holiday, that emerged through the 50s, 60s, 70s was it was something that Australians did. You know, the beach holiday was something that an awful lot of people did. That you would share that experience with a whole range of social groups, and so on.
I think that one of the things that has happened to the holiday in the last 20 or 30 years is that increasingly it has diversified so that it has often of become a status symbol. People are using their holidays to assert status. And you have an incredible range of holiday types along with an incredible range of access to holidays.
So that you have got fewer people in full time permanent employment with the standard award four weeks annual holiday. You have got more people, you know casual employees. If you have got casual employment it is much harder to take holidays and to organize holidays. Part time employment also is disruptive to the holiday. Contractors often find it difficult to work holidays in. A lot of people are taking work home and all of that. So it is a much more diverse experience that we have got of the relationship between work and holidays.
It is hard to identify an Australian holiday anymore.
Indeed, and the shift to contract and casual will only push that. And I guess the only final question I have for you is: can you make a value judgment on whether this is a good thing or not?
I definitely think that it is not a good thing. I think it is important just in terms of what life is about, to recognize that everything is not bound up with work.
I think one of the things that really struck me in doing the research for the book was the way in which in the 50s and the 60s, when people were talking - when unions were presenting cases to the Arbitration Commission, and when debates were being had over how many weeks annual leave people should have, there was actually a forum to debate what is good for society in terms of the ideal amounts of leisure, income, etc. that were worthwhile. What was the ideal amount - did workers want more pay or more leisure. Those sorts of things were actually argued out.
One of the things that struck me is that at the present time there aren't any forums to have those debates where you can actually arrive at a conclusion that can be implemented. We are constantly talking instead about the need .... Everyone is talking about the need to work more, without recognizing the fact that overall we are wealthier than we have ever been before, so surely we have got time to have more experience away from work, which would be a good thing. But that forum for those sorts of discussions is disappearing.
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