The Melbourne in which I grew up had a long tradition of boring Sundays. Public debate about what could or could not be done on a Sunday without desecrating “the Lord’s day” had raged for over a century and continued for another two decades.

In his wonderful book Wowsers, writer Keith Dunstan (a living Melbourne and National treasure, if you ask me) devotes an entire chapter to the history of keeping the purity of the Sabbath Day. Despite the otherwise free and easy life of the colonies, he notes, this Anglican and Presbyterian custom thrived in Australia and especially in Melbourne.

The Melbourne Sunday was world famous, a tourist attraction really, like trams and 6 o’clock closing

Melbourne was the last city in the British Empire to open important public cultural resources including its Library, Gallery and Museum on Sundays. The Victorian Government even legislated to ban Sunday newspapers on the grounds that newsboys trying to sell them would shout out near churches “and become a perfect nuisance to all peaceful and law abiding citizens“.

At various times, Victorian Railways ran only enough trains on a Sunday to get people to and from church. The Presbyterians even suggested that it was wrong for churchgoers to use trains on Sunday and they should walk. (If they didn’t like their nearest church, then they should move!)

Sunday screenings at cinemas became legal in Victoria in 1965… but only “after Evensong”, prompting the Rev Sir Irving Benson of the Methodist Church to ask rhetorically: “What is coming next… horse racing, night trotting and the hotels open for trade?” Yep, Sir Irving. You tipped it.

And next time you’re battling the Sunday crowds at Bunnings, it’s worth remembering that as recently as the 1980s – at a time when laws on prostitution and brothels were being liberalised – Caulfield hardware store owner Frank Penhalluriack was prosecuted and actually jailed for breaching Sunday trading laws. As Derryn Hinch wrote at the time “You can now legally get a screw in Melbourne on a Sunday but you can’t get a screwdriver.”

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