As we approach the end of the year and the festive holiday season, it is hopefully a time to wind down, recharge one's batteries, celebrate, spend and reflect on the year past with friends and families. But do we actually take a moment, with a beer or glass of wine in hand, and consider the meaning and significance of our public holidays celebrated throughout the year?
What do the various public holidays represent to you? Do particular public holidays hold more personal or community significance than others? Are some out-dated, pointless, or in this modern age unaffordable to an economy?
As a society, have we lost focus on the symbolism of our determined public holidays, whether at the national, State or local level? In this day and age, do we take certain days for granted, and use the day not so much as a celebrated day of gathering and reflection, but more as an opportunity to have a day off from the stresses of work?
And should we re-evaluate our existing public holidays, to consider abolishing some and introducing other more worthy public holidays for significant events which represents more of who we are today as a nation? What do you think?
What inspired me to write on this seemingly innocuous issue is the uproar in my hometown of Newcastle, in which the local Council passed a motion for a public holiday for the opening day of the annual Newcastle Show.
The resulting consequence of the Council action is that many in the business community of Newcastle are now pushing for the public holiday not to proceed, concerned that it will cost local businesses and the economy in excess of $35 million. Local businesses consider it unaffordable in the present depressed economic climate, particularly for small business.
Section 8(2) of the Public Holidays Act 2010, under "Local event days" states 'The Minister is not to declare a local event day unless satisfied that the day or part-day is, and will be observed as, a day of special significance to the community in the area concerned.'
If one's position is that public holidays should only apply to local, regional and national events of significance and reflection, such as celebrating our war heroes, or special days of celebration, including spiritual religious days of Christmas and Easter, then it is difficult to justify how the Newcastle Show can be deemed '... a day of special significance to the community… '
Should a day proclaimed as a public holiday be more to pay homage to individuals who have made a mark on society, or events of time passed in our city, region, or nation, in which we remember who we are as a people, and where we've come from?
Is it therefore more poignant for the Newcastle City Council to establish a 'local event day' to celebrate the birth of Newcastle and/or the cultural heritage and diversity, which has made our city, a special place in which to live? Novocastrians and the business community are more likely to embrace a more meaningful day, than an unviable Show Day in which fewer and fewer people attend.
At a national level, Australia's seven public holiday days of celebration are New Year's Day, Australia Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Anzac Day, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day. Additionally, at the State or Territory level, other public holidays may be optionally proclaimed, including the Queen's Birthday and Labour Day. And at the local regional level, public holidays can also be declared, such as in Melbourne on the first Tuesday of November for the race that stops the nation.
Does Australia have it right when it comes to public holidays? Celebrating the establishment of the first English settlement on Australian soil on 26 January 1788 is worthy of a public holiday. But as a nation, is it time we established an Indigenous Day as a national public holiday to honour and celebrate the traditional owners of our land? Perhaps have both the Indigenous Day and Australia Day on two consecutive days as a united and symbolic gesture of reconciliation?