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Leave brought out the best in Canberra

Date

Shane Breynard

Shane Breynard.

Shane Breynard. Photo: Jay Cronan

I must be one of a growing cohort of second-generation Canberra public servants. Together we must number a few hundred. And we must all be approaching mid-career. Maybe we share, too, this odd feeling I have been having recently. It is a slight shudder, or more a sporadic fizz.

It's the feeling you have when a childhood memory spontaneously splashes up into the present. My latest fizz came on the occasion of taking long-service leave. I remembered my public servant father taking his own long-service leave 30 years earlier, when he was just in view of his 50th birthday.

In this town, built on the shoulders of the public service, long service leave is an important part of our shared experience - a part of our culture.

Indeed, the ACT has long been a leading jurisdiction in championing earlier, more flexible and more portable long service leave. It's these changes that have helped me to build up and access my leave earlier than my father ever could have. And seeing him take full advantage of it, only after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, may have had something to do with my desire to take it and run as early as I could.

Employers in most Western countries seek to retain the loyalty of senior, longer-serving employees by steadily increasing their annual leave, with years of service. Australia and New Zealand, along with a very few other former British colonies, are rare in that they make a large block of leave available, designed to be taken as such, after a significant period of service. It was surprising to discover that it was not until the 1950s that long service leave became a standard work condition.

The conventional wisdom is that long service leave retains an employee's loyalty up to and after it falls due; it provides a mid-career opportunity to recharge and re-energise; and it affords paid time to ''visit the old country'' theoretically to connect with professional peers and update work knowledge.

Certainly my recent leave achieved all of these things for me. Even if I didn't get to clean out the back shed, I did recharge. I visited western Europe, and remain inspired by its glorious spaces, events, galleries, and museums; and its fantastic public art. And I took stock of where I think I am headed.

I have also reconnected with my family. As anyone who has done it knows, the confinement and unique experience of a substantial family holiday, especially when it is a little out of your comfort zone, will bind a family like nothing else. It was, for example, a recurring delight to have my nine-year-old daughter scream in protest when her parents and brother praised a European city a little too strongly. She said outright she would ''never talk to us again'', unless we agreed that we liked Canberra better than, for example, Paris, Berlin or London.

She is the only one of us born in Canberra. Her zest for the place bodes well for the future!

It was also a delight for me, while overseas, to hear Robyn Archer speak at Australia House in London, about her formative years as an Australian abroad in the 1960s. She spoke of the pull of Europe for those Australians whose cultural roots lay there. Archer's eloquence in describing the founding and present-day realities of Canberra, and her ambition for its centenary year, was delivered to a rapt audience. To hear this in one of my other favourite world capitals re-invigorated my confidence in Canberra as a city that warrants fair comparison with the rest.

So if long service leave is so widespread and specific in the experience of Canberrans, how does it mark us? To find out that you need to take your leave. You need to travel to your cultural roots, often in Asia these days, and to come home. And, to quote Ian Warden in these pages recently, in this process you might then recognise that Canberra is the place you ''can't get over because so much of your life's agony and ecstasy have happened here''. And you might realise that it's a town worthy of long and dedicated service.

Shane Breynard is the director of the Canberra Museum and Gallery and ACT Historic Places. He is on Twitter: @shanebreynard

3 comments

  • Alas, I had to use my block of long service leave to cover a 2 month period I took off for the birth of my second child... no paid maternity leave in 2004.

    Your trip sounds lovely though.

    Commenter
    Sapphyre
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    January 14, 2013, 11:30AM
    • Long service leave is somewhat of an anachronism but is welcomed by all. A politician would have to be very brave to change it. People here don't realise how lucky they are, many Americans receiving only two weeks annual leave which includes sick leave. My nephew has lived in the U.S for fifteen years and is married to an American girl. He gets three weeks leave, this includes sick leave. If he has the flu for a week he ends up with two weeks holiday. It makes me laugh here when people whinge about how bad things are. They have got to be kidding.

      Commenter
      Dick Andora
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      January 14, 2013, 2:37PM
      • after nearly 30 years in the Circus, and not using any long service leave, it was a wonderful experience when I left. The payout of the equivalent of 9 months was wonderful, alas the tax contribution was a tad rude, but still worth it. Shame I could cash the unused personal leave (sick leave, etc.), that would have given me another 12 months salary. Alas I would have been better off being sick when convenient - or having kids who need caring for .....

        Commenter
        Steve
        Date and time
        January 14, 2013, 7:45PM
        Comments are now closed

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