A Glorious Thing: celebrating Labour Day in NSW

Trades Hall, Sydney - Trade Union certificates - ca, 1860-1925

A public holiday to celebrate the introduction of the 8-hour working day was first proclaimed by the New South Wales Parliament in 1885. The holiday was generally celebrated on the first Monday of October but for many years it did vary from region to region. In the 1950′s, following the move of May Day celebrations to October, the holiday became more established across NSW as Labour Day - creating the 'October Long Weekend'.


Over the years the people of NSW have celebrated this important day in many ways. Traditionally the day began with a procession of trade union floats and marchers from Town Hall to the Royal Agricultural Grounds at Moore Park. The procession was accompanied by trade union brass bands and lead by members of parliament. The day would continue at the Showgrounds with picnics and an organised cycling and athletics meeting, as well as an exhibition and novelty races. Another popular tradition for the Eight Hour Day was the Art Union lottery. This was held as a fundraiser for Trades Hall and was a great incentive for workers to attend the celebrations, with a door prize of 1,500 pounds on offer.

The Library's digitised collection of graphic material relating to Trades Hall, Sydney can be found  online in our catalogue of manuscripts and pictures. 

The day always had great meaning for Australian workers, and was even celebrated in the song pictured below “Eight hour day in Sydney”.

Times have changed and in more recent decades the October Long Weekend meant the Bathurst 1000. Also known as the Hardie Ferodo 1000 and held at the Mount Panorama circuit in Bathurst, the race saw huge crowds watching Holden battling Ford for the touring car supremacy.

However you plan to spend the public holiday, we hope you enjoy it!

Find more by searching our catalogues  and our eresources, many of which can be accessed by NSW residents anywhere with a Library Card.