Friday, 16 April 2010

Queensland - What time is it anyway?

One thing I've noticed about Queensland, more than any other country, is the difference in time. Since my Mongolia blogs, I've been finding people on Twitter and getting an idea of what everyday life is like in each of the countries I'm blogging about. I've found quite a few interesting Queenslanders on Twitter, who I've been following these past few weeks (and some of them are following me, thanks guys!) But when I get up in the morning, they're getting ready for bed. When I'm attempting to blog after a hard day in the office, they're still not awake.

Time is such an interesting concept. I do a lot of walking around London with my best Ozzie friend and recently we passed through Pett's Wood, where there is a memorial to William Willet, an Englishman who campaigned passionately for the introduction of daylight saving time (DST). The story goes that Willett came up with the idea whilst riding through Pett's Wood on a lovely summer morning. Most of the curtains in neighbouring houses were drawn and Willett thought about how much daylight people were wasting.

His proposals weren't that great, to be honest, 15 minute changes for a succession of months during the summer. Most of us struggle with the twice a year changes, can you imagine if the clocks were going backwards and forwards on a monthly basis!

Eventually his proposal was refined to a one hour change, twice a year. The main motivation in the end was economic, as Daylight Saving Time was adopted as an austerity measure during World War 1 (to stop people burning too much coal).

More surprising than any of this, and something I didn't realise until I started researching the topic, is that Standard time was only really adopted in Britain in the mid-19th century (based famously on Greenwich Mean Time). Before that there was something called Local Mean Time, which meant that each town or village could calculate their own time, in relation to the passage of the sun. Inconceivable in our modern era of nine-to-five, clock-in, clock-out, checking in for flights two hours before departure! The growth of rail travel spurred on a change, after all, one needed to be sure when the train was going to depart and arrive (not sure what went wrong!).

By 1885, Britain had adopted Standard Time based on GMT. New Zealand also led the way, being one of the first nations, apart from Britain, to adopt a standard time for the whole country. One look at Australia's time zones and you can see how complicated things got 'down under'. Things got off to a good start with Western Australia, GMT +8 , great, we can handle that. By the time South Australia got involved, things started going a bit awry. I mean, GMT +9.5? Maybe it's a European thing, but I just can't be doing with half hour differences, what is that all about?

Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania all behaved themselves, adopting a reasonable GMT +10, but when Daylight Saving Time came along, Queensland, being that much closer to the Equator, opted out - as did the Northern Territories from the Central time zone. When the time changes in summer, Australia's three continental time zones become something more like five! Phew! At least they've had the decency to synchronise the dates for time changing.

I started looking into this topic after an article this week in Queensland's Courrier-Mail about the issue of Daylight Saving Time. Queensland's Premier Anna Bligh caused a heated debate in the Twitteverse by suggesting that the state should have a debate on whether or not Daylight Saving Time would be a good thing for South East Queensland only. Queenslanders have voted against DST before, but not specifically voted on this option for the South East. Western Australia has also had four public votes on DST in the past, each time people have voted against it.

I don't blame them in many ways. I find DST an inconvenience, although my gadgets are getting smarter and updating themselves automatically these days. Still, I hate the moments of panic when you look at the clock and think you're an hour late/early for an appointment when, in fact, someone's forgotten to wind their blooming clock back/forward. Also, I've been through this twice already this year, once in Cuba and then again when we got back to London!

There is also a debate going on in the UK as to whether or not we should adopt Central European Time here. I was really surprised to find out that Britain did adopt CET, as an experiment, between 1969 to 1972! It didn't last though, probably too close for comfort for the Eurosceptics :-) There are very good reasons for abandoning DST in the UK. Sorry, Mr Willett, but it seems as though DST is costing us millions in energy bills and is bad for the environment. Strange that it's the same reason DST was introduced in the first place.  I guess, our habits have changed over the years.  The advent of television means we spend more time indoors and stay up later in the evening than our grandparents did.

Well, it's 21:40 in London right now, which makes it 06:40 (tomorrow) in Brisbane. Good morning Australia!!

Image credits

The image of William Willett is from Wikipedia and is copyright free.

I wanted to find a very special and beautiful image of time from flickr.com and I was lucky to come across this one by flickruser ToniVC a.k.a. Toni Verdu Carbo, a very talented photographer from Girona in Catalunya (Spain) - by the way Toni, I love Girona and thanks for sharing your photos with us using the Creative Commons License. 
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