TUMBY BAY - On Monday my elderly neighbour dropped by to report that he had just been to the Tumby Bay local council offices to pay his quarterly rates instalment and had discovered they were closed.
Mystified, he went to the local supermarket, which was open, and asked the people at the checkout whether they knew why the council offices were not open.
They told him it was because it was a public holiday, to be precise Adelaide Cup Day.
I asked him whether he planned to go to the race. Given that it was an eight hour drive away and he had no interest in horse racing he replied in the negative.
When he had gone I thought about the absurdity of having a state-wide public holiday for a far away event of very limited interest attended by only 2,000 people.
Not that I begrudge anyone the opportunity for an extended long weekend. It was just the excuse that intrigued me.
The reason for the holiday was, after all, a pretty elitist affair confined to a well-heeled minority of social climbers and good time junkies.
We have a lot of holidays like that in Australia. Concurrently with the Adelaide Cup holiday was a holiday for the Moomba Parade in Melbourne.
The Moomba Parade is a family-based fun day that attracts a huge crowd of ordinary people. I’ve never been to it but I gather that it is far from elitist.
That said, it is centred on Melbourne and its inhabitants and a few visitors from elsewhere. Nevertheless, people in the far flung corners of the state still have the day off.
The nearest equivalent to these events in Papua New Guinea is probably the Hiri Moale Festival held in Port Moresby.
The three-day festival originally coincided with Independence Day but has recently been shifted back to late September. I’ve been to a couple of them and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
As far as I know, now that the date has been put back, there is no public holiday attached to the festival.
People in other parts of PNG can’t enjoy a long weekend for Hiri Moale like they do in Melbourne for the Moomba Parade or Adelaide for the Adelaide Cup.
Last Monday was quite a pleasant day in Tumby Bay and a few people took advantage of the holiday and good weather to go fishing and have a barbeque.
None of them as far as I can tell were celebrating a horse race.
There’s something decidedly incongruous about this business of public holidays where a small minority in a confined locality party away while the rest of the population simply takes the chance to have a day off for no apparent reason.
The cynic in me suggests that such days are really now all about making a dollar. Moomba, for instance, when it was set up in 1955 was about fun but I suspect it is now more about money.
Some of our traditional public holidays, like Christmas and Easter, have gone the same way. Both are now centred on conspicuous consumption rather than anything else. They are now simply used as commercial vessels for business.
At best they might bring a bit of joy to some people, especially children, but they also cheapen the experience and broadcast a message out of tune with the original intent.
We now also have a plethora of ‘international’ or ‘world’ days. These don’t usually come attached to a public holiday but are used as propaganda and marketing opportunities, self-promotion and, no doubt, a bit of money-making too.
So numerous are these international days that some of them are actually doubling up on a single day. Last Sunday was International Women’s Day and Friday week will be World Frog Day.
If you want to check out what’s on in 2020 go to https://www.calendarlabs.com/holidays/international/2020.
I suspect that most of these public holidays and days of celebration simple wash over the majority of the population without leaving a trace.
I mean, what have you got planned for World Frog Day on Friday 20 March this year?
I didn’t think so.