I realised I was against daylight savings time (DST) on the last Sunday of October, 1981. I was six years old. It was not a difficult political position to adopt: my mother had just told me to go to bed while the sun still shone.
I was born in the north of Western Australia six years before that realisation, in 1975, in a town which shall remain anonymous. WA is famous for many things, like heat, light, sun, red dust, heat, light, sun, oxidised metals within the earth which may be extracted for ever-decreasing economic benefit and increasingly deleterious environment consequences. It’s also known for resisting (with a few forgivable lapses) the adoption of DST. This meant that as a young child I was in the privileged position to be able to go to sleep in the dark. I wish now that I had spent more time appreciating this, but kids rarely know how good they’ve got it.
My family moved to New Zealand in the spring of 1981. New Zealand is famous for many things but not, however, for resisting the adoption of DST. The country folded like a K-Mart clothes horse in a Canterbury nor’wester. The Time Act was passed by the New Zealand parliament in 1974. The result, a few short years later, was that a boy with an Aussie accent lay in bed just north of Auckland wondering what the bloody hell was going on as the sun pounded through his west-facing bedroom window.
All New Zealanders (I am now among that number) live in starry-eyed envy and visceral fear of Australian weather. Being both sun-loving and risk-taking, those of us of sufficient means seek out the perpetual Aussie summer for a week or two of holiday whenever we can (those of us of less sufficient means just move there permanently – at least according to the dominant political narrative and all rugby league fans). My preferred destination is Surfer’s Paradise. To my delight, Queensland steadfastly gives the finger to DST. On my first visit some twenty years ago I was astounded to discover that people in Queensland are active outside their homes before work starts. Imagine that! And with shops being shut at that time, they do things that seem wonderfully compatible with healthy human existence; they swim in the ocean, walk on their legs, talk to others of the species, look around with their eyes – and read books with their eyes too, and newspapers. Free of the tyranny of DST, their lives are not unnaturally skewed towards the evening; they are not artificially coerced into late-night shopping at Pacific Fair or double-dipping during happy hour at the Keg and Prawn.
We must be clear, however, on just who does benefit from the uptake of DST (spoiler alert: it isn’t you). DST might not fade our curtains, confuse our cows, and brown out our lawns, but regardless of mythology and misinformation, DST does support consumerism by manipulating our hours of activity and free time such that they coincide with commercial opening hours, and ideologically, it’s compatible with neoliberalism and conservative politics.
According to National Geographic, ‘changing our clocks twice a year doesn’t save us energy or money’. DST does, to be fair, get us out of the house in the evenings – but where do we go? Research suggests that actually, we go shopping, spending both money and daylight. And how do we get there? We drive. The petroleum industry has always lobbied hard in favour of DST – the precise opposite of what you would expect if DST were energy-saving. As National Geographic points out, DST reliably increases driving time and petrol usage. One might legitimately wonder if we would have been better off staying at home.
In case I haven’t made it clear, I hate DST. I hate it because I love moonlight, I hate it because I want the sun to be at its zenith at noon and not 1pm, I hate it because it confuses people, I hate it because, as Canadian novelist and academic Robertson Davies once said, ‘At the back of the daylight saving scheme I detect the bony, blue-fingered hand of Puritanism’ telling me what to do. And after visiting the enlightened city of Surfer’s Paradise, I realised that I also hate DST because it makes unconscious, accidental, casual consumers of us all. The economics of DST are not based on saving energy, but on spending savings. We are kept in the dark (literally) about morning life – a time when the shops are shut, when we cannot be tempted to be part of neoliberal economic churn, the feeding of phantom governmental metrics, or the bloating of the false idols of economic success.
There is an ideological position that all supporters of DST share. They all believe summer is brilliant. They believe that all things that happen in summer are axiomatically good. They conflate summer with DST, and their experience of summer with the arbitrariness of their clock-winding, their artificial time-travelling. This conditioned response is simple to demonstrate. In 2007, the New Zealand Government extended DST by three weeks, thereby cursing the country with 27 weeks of it every year. (This, of course, is more weeks than we have of Standard Time, a tipping point which means it would make more sense to adopt DST as our new Standard Time and instead have 25 weeks of ‘daylight robbery’ in the cooler seasons, which makes as much sense as picking up the whole country and flinging it hundreds of kilometres to the east until it nestles in the next time zone.) When the New Zealand Herald reported on this DST extension, the first sentence of the article was, ‘New Zealanders will soon be able to enjoy more summer days.’ Um, no. More DST does not equal more summer. The then Minister of Internal Affairs Rick Barker said ‘summer will start one week early [and] will finish weeks later’. Wrong again. When people say they love DST, they simply mean they love summer. Fair enough I suppose, but they should relax: whatever numb-nut politicians and regurgitative journalists might say, they will always get to have summer, regardless of how much everyone dicks around with the clocks.
I am not ideologically aligned with the notion that summer is good. In those six years I spent in northern WA I absorbed enough heat and light to last me a lifetime. I now radiate that stockpiled native Australian heat from my flesh and skin year-round, sometimes glowing like a coal and other times smouldering like ash as New Zealand moves through its barely discernible seasons. I don’t want to ban summer; all I ask is to have my robbed mornings back so that I might stroll in the dawn breeze before work. All I ask is not to be pulled like a mindless, bovine consumer towards the shopping mall. All I ask is not to become a counting bean in the GDP calculations. All I ask is the chance, sometimes, to have my aging features flatteringly lit by the moon before I toddle off to bed.
Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.
Subscribe | Renew | Donate November 9–16 to support progressive literary culture for another year – and for the chance to win magnificent prizes!