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Work and Holidays

Evan Hadkins is a recent contributor to Webdiary. His archive is here, and his most recent piece was Evan's take on education this election.

If you think history books can't be relevant to contemporary issues have a listen to one J Howard (on the motivation for (promised) tax cuts:

Unlike Labor's anti-small business industrial relations system it will lead to more people entering the workforce.

Or this from one K Rudd:

We should maximise incentive so people can work harder and their work and initiative are properly rewarded. I believe it's important for the tax system to maximise incentive.

This book traces the history of the holiday in Australia from before the white invasion to 2005.

It begins with Joseph Banks 'holiday' on the Endeavour and sets it in the context of the aristocrat's grand tour.  The Grand Tour was when an English (usually young) gentleman took an extended tour of Europe - usually France and Italy - to look at the fine art, the purpose being to acquire refinement and sophistication.  It was usually regarded as slightly risqué as some of the experience acquired was likely to be sexual.  It was far less common for gentlewomen and these were usually chaperoned.

Banks boasted that his Grand Tour wasn't merely going to take in Europe but the world!

Chapter Two traces the attitude to work and holidays by the three major population groups in Australia in about the first fifty years after the British arrived: convicts officers and aborigines.

It is pointed out that the convicts were not slaves; and this meant that their hours of work were restricted.  In some cases the convicts did paid work after hours.  The officers and other free settlers desired to copy the British aristocrats - and the aristocrats were defined as the leisured class.  However, this class never really became a reality in Australia.  The Australians who wanted to see themselves as aristocrats worked - and often in trade, which was decidedly déclassé for a British aristocrat.  This meant the homes in the country weren't estates in the British sense but holiday homes, something quite different.  Aborigines had a different attitude to 'work'.  [When some missionaries tried to instil the work culture into them in WA for instance, by paying them to work: the Aborigines did so.  When the missionaries stopped paying them: they stopped working.  This not from this book but from One Blood by Harris.]  This attitude to work was deplored and lazy and indolent.  This attitude of not working unless you have to still echoes - and is directed against others as well as aborigines.

The second half of the nineteenth century (covered in chapter Three) brought speedy and (relatively) cheap mass transport - the train.  For the first time people could 'get away'.  The governments who paid for the infrastructure then wanted to encourage its use.  One way they did this was by encouraging tourism - the railways published tourist guides and offered excursion tickets.

The second half of the nineteenth century also saw campaigns for shorter working hours.  As Australia had never been based on a slave/servant class, but on the work of convicts whose hours were regulated, it was ahead of other countries in developing the campaign around working hours.  This campaign resulted in the granting of a half day off on Saturday.  People could go away overnight and return the next night.

Chapter Four covers from the beginning of the First World War to the end of the Second.  This led to some diminishment of prestige for those who had been overseas.  Lots of people had now seen Europe on their military service.  Rail was well established leading to the possibility of mass holidays, and the development of particular destinations on the railways catering to large numbers of people.  During this time the car also began to be popular - though the full flowering of this would not be seen until after World War 2.  The car tended less to mass holidays and more toward mobile family holidays.

This period saw the development of the guest house.  This meant that a good part of the middle class could 'get away' and look forward to a holiday - perhaps annually).  And the poorer could contemplate getting away for a honeymoon in one of these tourist destinations.

The period after World War Two and up to 1974 (covered in chapter 5) saw the decrease of working hours and the high point of the holiday in Australia - the granting of 17.5% extra pay for holidays.  During this time work was secure and the unions put effort into reducing hours as well as getting pay rises.

This was also the period of the critiques of middle class philistinism, Donald Horne's Lucky Country and Ronald Conway's The Great Australian Stupor being the best known.  White deals with these criticisms, and tries to defend the Australia of the time against these critics.

This period also saw the rise of the tourist industry and the beginning of resorts.  The emphasis shifts from 'getting away' and fairly basic living - under canvas or in a caravan - to having others do the work you would normally do at home.

Then from 1975 things changed (Chapter Six).  What happened?  Three factors are identified: computers change the nature of work (and did not lead to the proclaimed increase in leisure); women entered the paid workforce, so that when the family went on holiday they wanted a holiday too - not just making the meals in a different location; and finally 'post-modernism' - the taking seriously of the image, play, the corporatisation of life, and much else besides.  Holidays were now individualised (by corporations), and offered 'experience'.

This is a well written book.  It is academic in the best sense - there is a good index and there are extensive notes, if you want to follow up any of the points made.  It is also readable and quite pacey - it rarely drags.  There are occasional paragraphs (eg two paragraphs giving the details of the towns in Australia named after British and European resorts) that should have been put in a footnote, but these are rare.

I find this book valuable for giving a broad view of current issues.  In its own sneaky way it is very political.  It's a good read and well worth reading to give a bit of ballast to our perceptions of the current debates around IR.

On Holidays: A History of Getting Away in Australia, by Richard White, was published by Pluto Press in 2005.

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