Knowing when public holidays fall is important for tourists, who like to time their flights and travel accordingly – but in Australia, coordinating public holidays is so complicated, many assume it’s impossible.
As demonstrated by the Queen’s Birthday weekend you’ve just had (or not had, depending on which state you’re in), Australia finds holidays tricky to synchronise.
Queen Elizabeth was born on 21 April 1926, but public celebrations for her birthday traditionally happen in June. That’s why a service was held in London’s St Paul’s Cathedral last Friday to mark the start of three days of celebrations for the Queen’s 90th birthday. The timing also works for the Duke of Edinburgh, who celebrated his 95th birthday on Friday.
Ironically, the Queen’s Birthday is not a public holiday in Britain, but it’s a public holiday throughout Australia. Most Australian states observe the Queen’s Birthday on the second Monday of June (yesterday). Schools, post offices, and other organisations close in most parts of the country. New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, Northern Territory, South Australia and Tasmania all celebrated the Queen’s Birthday with a public holiday yesterday (Monday 13 June 2016), making it a long weekend.
So what about Queensland and Western Australia? No public holiday for you! Not on Monday 13 June, anyway.
Queensland won’t have its Queen’s Birthday holiday until 3 October 2016, well after the official celebrations in London and the rest of Australia are over. Queensland’s Palaszczuk Government moved the holiday in 2015. The idea was to balance holidays in the first six months of the year with those in the second six months, even though it meant getting out of step with the rest of the country.
In Western Australia, the situation is even odder. WA celebrates the Queen’s Birthday on a different date again. There are no hard rules about when it falls in WA but it is often on the last Monday of September or the first Monday of October. The WA governor makes the call, and this year, she has chosen Monday 26 September. At least WA will get in before Queensland.
New Zealand also celebrates the Queen’s Birthday as a public holiday, on the first Monday of June each year. It sticks to that day and applies the holiday throughout the whole country – smart.
The situation in Australia is similar to the haphazard way the country chose the gauges of its railway tracks in the 19th century, when each of the Colonies of Australia went ahead and adopted it own gauge – the distance the rails are apart. With Federation in 1901 and the removal of trade barriers, the short sightedness of having three gauges became obvious, because trains in one state were unable to run on the tracks of another. Yet 94 years would pass before all mainland state capitals were joined by one standard gauge.
Coordinating public holidays would be useful for tourism and far cheaper than re-laying railway tracks, but it would require officials in different states to agree with each other. So far, that has proved impossible.
Written by Peter Needham