Activity 2a: Work and Recreation in the 1850s

In the 1840s and 1850s it was still common for skilled and unskilled workers in Australia to labour for six days a week, often for around 12 hours a day. However, at this time Australian workers in different sectors began to campaign for an eight-hour day. They argued that this would allow them more time for recreation and ‘self-improvement’, or what might today be called a suitable ‘work-life balance’.

As a result of this campaigning, the eight-hour day became a reality for some skilled workers. Workers realised the benefits of acting together for their common cause and the possibility of having worker representation in parliament.

The Eight-hour Day movement in Australia was inspired by a similar movement during the Industrial Revolution in Britain and the phrase, ‘Eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest’, coined by the British industrialist and social reformer, Robert Owen.

To gain an understanding of the achievement of the eight-hour day and the concept of ‘work-life balance’ students are asked to consider the impact that extended school hours would have on their sleep and leisure time. 

Resources Required


Conduct a class discussion about what the students do in their spare time. List popular activities on the board.

Ask students to complete the first row of the Handout: 24-hour Table, calculating the number of hours:

  • they will be at school today
  • they will (probably) sleep tonight 
  • that remain for play (and eating etc). 

Students imagine the following scenarios and complete the ‘What if...?’ row of the table.

  • What if school days were 10 hours long, and included Saturdays?
  • What would the consequences of this be for their hours of sleep and play? 

My day   
What if?   

Students graphically present their data using a program such as Microsoft Excel or Microsoft Publisher, to help them visually compare the differences. 

Discuss with students how they would feel about longer hours of school affecting the number of hours spent playing or sleeping.

If the school did change its policy and introduced a 10-hour day, what could students do to change the situation back to the way it was?

Activity 2a | Activity 2bActivity 2cActivity 2d |

People Power Introduction2. Eight-Hour Day

Overview of Activities: Focus Question 2 | Teacher Information