The History of Daylight Saving in WA

I recently finished the first draft of a book set in Perth which spans three decades from the 1960s to 1980s. Researching this time frame has brought back many memories – how many do you share?

For anyone who believes daylight saving was invented in the 1980s just to torture children, you may be surprised to learn that the concept of turning the clocks forward to extend the hours of daylight into the evening was first introduced uniformly across Australia during the first World War (1917).

It was used again across the nation during WW2 (1942-1944) but from the 1970s onwards, states have had free reign to decide.

Looking back on my childhood, with the dubious blinkers provided by decades of distance, I thought daylight saving was a constant. I have strong memories of being sent to bed in what seemed like full sunlight, my roller blind always jamming a few inches above ground level, the bright orange sunset bleeding around the edges of my curtains. If you had pressed me, I would have said that we had daylight saving every summer of my childhood during the 1980s, so strong are the memories of fighting with my parents about the unfairness of being sent to bed while the sun was still up.

Naturally, I’d be wrong.

During the research for my book, which is set in Perth during the 1960s to 1980s, I discovered that Western Australia only had daylight saving for two years of my childhood: 1983-84 (when I was six) and 1991-92 (when I was fourteen). There was an enforced trial for three consecutive years from 2006-2009, but by then I had grown up and my bedtime was no longer dictated to me by my mother, but by my newborn daughter.

Perhaps the reason daylight saving is so strong in my memory, although in reality it only directly affected me twice, was because it was constantly being debated in the press and around kitchen tables across the state.

Western Australia has held no less than four referendums on the issue of daylight saving, in 1975, 1984, 1992 and 2009. (As a side note, the only other state referendums carried out by Western Australia were in 1933 which was about seceding from the Commonwealth of Australia, and two separate referendums in 2005 about retail trading hours1.)

The first three referendums were held following a single year trial of daylight saving, and each time the voters returned a vote of ‘no’. Unconvinced West Aussies didn’t want daylight saving, the government then enforced a three year trial from 2006-2009 followed by the fourth and final referendum, which returned the highest ‘no’ vote of all.

The final vote was 54.6% no, 45.3% yes. Interestingly, it showed many of the people living in the coastal and inner suburbs of Perth supported daylight saving, but this was overshadowed by the overwhelming rejection of daylight saving by people living in the eastern suburbs as well as rural and regional areas.

It was decided by the Premier at the time, that the issue would not be raised again for another twenty years2.

sunset-2418090_1280

Sunset over Elizabeth Quay, which actually didn’t exist when I was a child

But even if Western Australia does not participate in daylight saving itself, we are still affected by it every year the Eastern States takes part. Daylight saving in the East increases the time difference between Perth and Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to three hours – sufficient to make it challenging for businesses, confusing when you need to call friends and family, and enough of a difference to wreck your sleep when you travel interstate.

I wasn’t alone in thinking that daylight saving formed a major part of my childhood, a brief straw polls among friends also showed many thought battling with parents about bedtime was a fixture growing up.

Turns out we were just being annoying kids, fighting with parents for the sake of it, and daylight saving had nothing to do with it.

 

Further reading: A recent National Geographic article looking at Daylight Saving in the US and its history around the globe.

 

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Referendums_in_Australia#State_and_territory_referendums
  2. https://web.archive.org/web/20090521204833/http://www.thewest.com.au/default.aspx?MenuID=77&ContentID=142031

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