The Tale of the Moving Holiday
Celebrating Melbourne Cup in Canberra – or not
Melbourne Cup Day in Canberra has a curious history. Here’s a short take on it.
Back in days past, Canberra used to have a special union holiday in March called something such as Family and Community Picnic Day. With the rise of conservative governments, it was thought more proper to not have a holiday linked to those ‘dreaded unions’. It was decided instead to provide a more celebratory event for all of the Canberra’s population, not just the union membership.
Our local legislators announced that the new declared holiday would be Melbourne Cup Day; being the first Tuesday in November. The only other place that has this holiday as a declared day off is Melbourne.
Previous to this, Melbourne Cup Day in Canberra was a major excuse for many workers, especially public sector workers, to be distracted all day. In the morning there were the obligatory morning tea raffles and special pre-events, then the special long lunch at a local restaurant, next came the mid afternoon watching the race on the telly and finally maybe not get back to work at all.
This non declared public holiday had become a day for not getting much work done as there was this more important thing to do, namely the Melbourne Cup eat and drink celebrations This was all a great annual commercial success for the local restaurant industry. It was one of their busiest days each year
But with the declaration of this Tuesday in November as a formal public holiday, Canberrans do what they always do when any week day is offered as a holiday. They took a day or two of their annual leave, added this to the two day weekend so that they ended up with four or five days off. Then most headed down the coast, or elsewhere, for a special long weekend holiday.
So when the declared Melbourne Cup Day Holiday rolled around, the numbers who booked and spent money at the local restaurants shrank by huge numbers. This had been one of the biggest days for local restaurants but now their clients had left the scene in great numbers.
Within a year, the local industry was badgering the ACT Government to cancel Melbourne Cup Day as a legitimate and declared public holiday in Canberra.
I think it took three years of Melbourne Cup Holidays for the government to give in and declare that they had moved the holiday again this time to a Monday in early October or late September. It was titled the Canberra Family and Community Day. That is, a holiday to celebrate having the day off.
This latest holiday arrangement leaves that infamous Tuesday in November as a normal work day or as it really happens, an undeclared half day holiday. And so yes, all those public sector people stay in town again and are again booking restaurants for long lunches and drinking and eating for most, if not all, the afternoon while gambling or whatever they do on this day.
I suspect the restaurant owners are happy again; that is as happy as they ever can be.
As for the rest of us, Melbourne Cup Day comes and goes. Another gambling event passes by largely unnoticed. Peace in our time.