A light look at daylight savings 247



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It’s that time of year again, with the usual objections being espoused. People do get uptight about it, so let’s take a whimsical look at this sometimes vexatious issue.

Really, it shouldn’t take an Einstein to know the difference in time between one state and another. But I guess the proof of that pudding would be to ask the average Aussie to explain it!

As a Tasmanian (and one of the 74% in favour of it), I smile at those who blame the Apple Isle for creating daylight savings. There are a lot of misconceptions about its origins, so a brief history might be worthwhile.

Ancient civilations had no clocks, adjusting time to the length of the day. We do much the same but in a more controlled way. The further one moves from the Equator, the greater the disparity in the length of day and night, dependent on season. Agrarian societies set time to the longer summer days, these coinciding with important production and harvest times. Later, especially with the beginning of mechanised transport, it was necessary to establish more regimented timescales.

Many Americans believe Benjamin Franklin is father of daylight savings (the reason some reckon he ought to go fly a kite!). It is not so, although Franklin did write a satirical letter in 1784 while US Ambassador to France. In it he suggested that Parisians economise on candles by rising earlier. Although his letter contained many of its benefits, he did not promote daylight savings.

A New Zealander, G. V. Hudson, proposed modern daylight savings in an 1895 paper to the Wellington Philosophical Society suggesting a two-hour shift in time. Further arguments were made in 1905 by Englishman, William Willett, an ardent golfer and sportsman who wanted greater use of the daylight he felt English people slept through in the early part of the day. Willett died in 1915 before his ideas were finally implemented.

Germany and Austria-Hungary commenced daylight savings in the northern Spring of 1916 to conserve wartime coal supplies. Britain and her allies also adopted the practice soon after. Since then, daylight savings has had varied acceptance through different parts of the world.

None of which is light (as it were), which I promised at the start.

There are some hilarious aspects to daylight savings, with which most of you will be familiar:
“It puts the cows off milking.”
“It fades the curtains.”
“The extra hour of sunlight will be good for my garden.”
“Won’t the extra hour cause a problem with global warming?”
“I love daylight savings. It’s the only time I can tell my girlfriend we had sex for and hour and three minutes.”

Maybe not that last. I just had to slip that one in! Seriously, though, there are a few oddments that can raise an eyebrow:

Twins were born in the US, one at 1:32am and the other at 2:06am. Because daylight savings changed at 2:00am, the birth of the second baby was officially recorded as 1:06am, 26 minutes before its older sibling!

Antarctica has 24 hours of sunlight at mid-summer but Australian and New Zealand research stations maintain daylight savings time to coordinate with their home countries.

A man out in the Wimmera scrub had a radio schedule to maintain at 5:00am. His watch battery went flat, it was the night of change to daylight savings and he wanted to be on time. He tuned in to an all night AM radio station, using it to advise him of time through the night. Hearing the five o’clock news, he made the radio call… an hour late! AM signals propagate further at night. He’d tuned in to a Queensland station!

Speaking of Queensland, one of the cutest misconceptions I’ve ever heard came from a truly lovely lady from north of the Tweed. When I explained that we have light and gloaming until around 10:00pm, she said to me, “Well, we have things called stars!” Oops, and I’d always laboured under the misapprehension we were all born under the Southern Cross.

This isn’t meant to solve any issues, so couple of funnies with which to end:

You stagger out of bed an hour earlier and trip over the dog, who is still asleep.
Several of your staff arrive an hour late for work. Bet they won’t be an hour early come April!


You will have some stories to relate about daylight savings. Care to share?

John Reid

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