How Did the Pursuit of Leisure Reflect Class Differences in the Late Colonial Period?

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How did the pursuit of leisure reflect class differences in the late colonial period?

The pursuit of leisure was very reflective of class differences in Australia, although at times the lines between middle-class leisure and working-class leisure were blurred. In this essay I plan to evaluate the types of leisure activities participated in by each of the social classes, including looking at the differences between female and male leisure activities, and also which leisure activities led to intermingling between the different classes. I also plan to illustrate how the changes implemented by the Labour Movement in the 1850s led to an increase in leisure time for both classes and how this changed the activities participated in.

Leisure is subjective. It means different things to different people. Leisure can be defined as ‘unobligated time, as discretionary time to use in relatively freely chosen ways, when the obligations of work and sustenance have been met,’ this definition applies to an industrialised society where work is the centre of peoples lives (Haywood, 1989, p.3). Leisure can also be defined as ‘a range of activities in which people choose to participate during their free time’ (Haywood, 1989, p. 4). These activities that people choose to participate in are wide ranging for example, sport, dancing, gambling, drinking and shopping and depend on the person’s interests and personal preferences with regards to relaxation. People’s attitude towards leisure and the activities participated in have changed over time due to a large amount of factors. The introduction of the eight hour work day in 1856 and the implementation of the Saturday half-holiday in Australia increased the amount of leisure time available. Advances in technology also changed the activities participated in, such as, the cinema.

Class can be defined in terms that are entirely social and dependant on a particular set of characteristics: prestige, power, wealth, income, location in the labour market and location in a city (Connell, 1992, p.2). Class structure in Australia was never as strong or defined as in Britain and Europe, but it was still noticeable. Australia in the late nineteenth century had two major social classes, the working-class and the middle-class. Due to the fact that Australia in the late nineteenth century had only been populated by Europeans for around a hundred years and the vast majority of these people were convicts, there was a noticeable lack of a ‘leisure-class’ or aristocracy.

In Australia in the early nineteenth century leisure time was variable. This was due to the fact that the colony had only being populated by Europeans for a short amount of time and meant that building up industry was of the greatest importance. Most of the leisure activities enjoyed by the early settlers were primarily British in origin, such as horse racing and gambling, although horse racing did not become a form of mass entertainment until later in the century (Rickard, 1988, p. 99).

In the later half of the nineteenth century with most of the major colonies flourishing leisure time became more available. One major factor that increased the amount of leisure time for all Australians was the implementation of the half-holiday on Saturday’s. Sunday had always being reserved as a day of rest, but it was the introduction of the half-holiday on Saturday that increased leisure time, most notably for the working class. The half-holiday led to a demand for spectator sports, such as horse-racing, cricket matches and football games. As previously stated horse-racing was popular in the early decades of the nineteenth century but in the 1860s became a mass spectator sport, which is largely due to the first running of the Melbourne Cup in 1861 (Rickard, 1988, p. 99). The Melbourne Cup quickly became nationally popular and by 1870, 30,000 people attended (Rickard, 1988, p. 99). Saturday’s quickly became the most popular time to participate in...
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