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The Queen’s birthday and our 'hallowed' long weekend

By Tim O'Dwyer - posted Friday, 5 June 2009

Most of us enjoy celebrations and only scrooges don’t love holidays. One of the first holidays in Australia was on June 4, 1788, when Governor Arthur Phillip ordered one of our first celebrations - the observation of the birthday of King George III at Sydney Cove "with every demonstration of joy permitted".

It is likely the long weekend long associated with the reigning sovereign's birthday may have had its origins then because the Governor also gave three days holidays to every convict in the colony.

The Monday Queen's Birthday holiday enjoyed each year across Australia does not, of course, coincide with Queen Elizabeth II’s real birthday. Our British-based constitutional Head of State - represented in her absence by Governors in each State and by the Governor-General nationally - was actually born on April 21.


Australia’s annual celebration of the current King’s or Queen's actual birthday continued from 1788 until the death of King George V in 1936. Then the Commonwealth and all the states, except Western Australia, decided to proclaim an annual Monday holiday near the date of the late King's birthday, June 3.

In Western Australia the first Monday in June had already been set aside for Foundation Day. So the west opted for a Monday at the end of September, perhaps to coincide with the blooming of the wildflowers. Meanwhile the rest of the country agreed that the Queen’s birthday holiday would be the second Monday in June each year.

Funnily enough, the Queen’s Birthday warrants no such public holiday in the United Kingdom, where it is usually and modestly observed on the second Saturday each June with the Trooping of the Colour.

Meanwhile New Zealanders score their holiday every year on the first Monday in June - a week before their Australian cousins.

Poet Les Murray in his book, The Australian Year, likens our Queen's Birthday to a "public holiday in perpetuity". A Monday was chosen, he suggests, because "Australians do not like to miss a long weekend if there is a holiday around to justify one".

Writer Ronald Conway (who died earlier this year) coined the phrase "land of the long weekend" to describe a country where, he observed, "the work ethic had to come to terms with the shirk ethic". In his view Australia was probably the only nation arranging so many statutory holidays to fall on a Monday. In keeping with Conway’s "hallowed convention" of long weekends, a Handbook For Migrants To Australia once warned: "Australians value their leisure time, and public holidays are sacred."


Time was when Australia’s Queen's Birthday holiday was a more celebratory than sacred occasion. The "King's Birthday" of 1936, for example, was described in one state newspaper account as "a worthy commemoration" featuring a Vice-Regal review of troops, a "most impressive parade" and thousands of folk observing the Royal Standard flown with "pomp, ceremony and gunfire". After massed bands played the opening bars of Advance Australia Fair (yes, almost 70 years ago!) the Governor and his Aide-de-Camp, both in Royal Marines uniform, rode up on horseback with an attendant lancer.

"The public cheered enthusiastically. Bands played the first six bars of the National Anthem. The spectacle was inspiring."

God Save the Queen, our national anthem at the time, was played twice more between rounds of artillery and rifle salutes.

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About the Author

Tim O’Dwyer is a Queensland Solicitor. See Tim’s real estate writings at:

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