As I’m mashing this into my keyboard, my wife will be well into her twelfth hour at work. She probably won’t call it quits till she has clocked up fourteen hours.
I know that sounds like a classic ‘woe is me’ Internet sob story, but stick with me here. It isn’t all bad, she gets paid penalty rates and overtime to compensate for spending all this time at work. Plus she has a ‘half-day’ tomorrow, and will clock up a Pilates class in the morning before heading off to work. See what I mean? Not exactly the ‘Aussie Battler’ that commercial television loves to personify.
A column in the inner city of Melbourne embodies the history behind this compensation, the Eight Hour Monument. On top of a large granite column sits a brass globe, encircled by the words ‘Rest, Labor & Recreation’. There is an elaborate crown on top and the figures ‘888’ below. A prosperous nation built on the ‘eight hour day’. Eight hours for sleep, eight hours for work and eight hours for play.
In 1856, the stonemasons building the University of Melbourne had a gutfull. They downed tools and marched on Parliament House to seek better conditions - an eight hour day. Since their labor was in short supply, they were some of the first workers in the world to secure an eight hour work day. It wasn’t till sometime later that other Australian workers got the right to an eight hour day.
The Eight Hour Monument is by sculptor Percival Ball and his original 1890s design called for life sized figures. The monument was to be the focal point of an annual procession to celebrate the landmark victory. (The procession evolved into the Moomba day parade in 1955). Anyway, the original design was far too expensive at £3000 (or $500,000.000 in today’s money). In 1903 Percival completed the simplified version and in 1923 shifted to it’s current location.
It is a brilliant monument. The brass, granite and rusted iron are an excellent portrayal of the Second Industrial Revolution. Plus the iconography represents an older, more progressive Australia and marks a protest that shaped a nations relationship with work.
- Monument Australia
- Victorian Heritage Database
- National Museum of Australia
- Moomba Wikipedia
- Australian Dictionary of Biography
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