M-days in Australia

UKMA has recently acquired two pamphlets from the 1970s Australian metric conversion programme. One about the switchover to metric units for weather reports, and one about the switchover for motoring.

Each pamphlet was part of an intensive public education campaign centred around M-days, specific dates on which certain sectors made the coordinated switchover to metric units.


The Australian metric conversion programme made use of M-days. An M-day, or metrication day, was a target date that was set for a key element of a sector’s metric conversion programme. Each M-day was accompanied by an intensive public education campaign. Pamphlets and other information material were issued, and newspapers, radio and television all cooperated in explaining the new units, and how they would affect the public.

M-day for weather reports was 1 September 1972. This was 10 years after the UK made the nominal switchover to degrees Celsius. Analysing the pamphlet, it is clear that the Australian metric conversion benefited from lessons learned from the British experience, where daily weather temperatures had been given on television in both °F and °C, but a survey after years of exposure revealed that most people had totally ignored the metric.

“Temperature reports in public advices issued by the Bureau of Meteorology, Australia’s official weather service, will be only in degrees Celsius from September 1.

The Bureau does not favour a dual system of publication because overseas experience has revealed that this makes it harder for people to adapt to the new unit.

Some news media may wish to use a dual system for a limited time period, but it is expected this will be discontinued from September 1.

If temperature were expressed in both units every day, the public would find it difficult to learn Celsius.”

In 1974, Australia also had a successful conversion to metric units for motoring. This was in sharp contrast to the UK, where the planned 1973 switchover was postponed indefinitely following the change in government in 1970. Nearly 50 years later, the metric switchover for UK road signs has yet to be rescheduled.

Both pamphlets can be downloaded from the following web page:

https://ukma.org.uk/what-is-metric/australian-experience/

Temperature and pressure go metric

Motoring goes metric

 

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14 Responses to M-days in Australia

  1. Daniel Jackson says:

    In the temperature and pressure go metric pamphlet they are promoting the millibar as opposed to the pascal. Canada adopted the kilopascal. In some cases the millibar was renamed the hectopascal (hPa).

    I can't find pressure units on the Australian Bureau of Meteorology website so I can't tell if they still use millibars or are using pascals.

    http://www.bom.gov.au/

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  2. Daniel Jackson says:

    It sure would be interesting if someone came up with a logical reason why metrication was so successful in the commonwealth countries like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and others but not in the UK.

    There has to be issues in communication and friction between the successful metric countries and those still in transition.

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  3. Martin Vlietstra says:

    The pascal was added to the range of recognised SI units at the 14th GCPM (4-8 October 1971). The pamphet in question describes changes that were to take place in Australia on 1 September 1972 (eleven months later), and would have been designed several months prior to September 1972. At that time it is unlikely that the world's meteorologial community had started to adopt the pascal and it would probably have been confusing to the Australian population if they started using a unit that had not yet gained acceptance elsewhere.

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  4. Martin Vlietstra says:

    There are two reasons why metrication was successful in South Africa compared to the UK. Firstly the change-over was managed without the option of hanging onto the old units of measure - it became illegal to sell rulers with inches on them, theremometers with degrees Fahrenheit on them, weighing devices calibrated in pounds and ounces etc and secondly, by adopting the metric system, South Africa was throwing off one of the shackles of colonialism.

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  5. Lee Kelly says:

    Just wait until after Brexit and we start trading with other countries only to discover the whole world is metric except the US, Liberia, Myanmar.

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  6. Ezra Steinberg says:

    Well, actually, there have been reports that both Liberia and Myanmar are converting to metric (though the specifics and time frame are as yet not totally clear).

    That just leaves the good ol' U S of A stuck in the 18th century. 😉

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  7. Daniel Jackson says:

    Lee Kelly,

    Liberia and Myanmar have made a commitment to metric and are slowly changing. Their trade is mostly with neighbouring metric countries. Plus, British industry is pretty much 100 % metric and they have no intention of reverting. So even if the Luddites succeed in getting some areas to revert, the majority will not unless it can be proved it will increase profits. If it instead increases costs, there will be no accommodation.

    The US is also committed to metrication (thus, the whole world is either metric in practice or fully committed) and the multinational companies are already metric internally. That won't change. The question is what American product that isn't metric would be marketable in England? Almost all electrical products are not as the US uses 120 V; 60 Hz and England uses 230 V; 50 Hz.

    Most American homes have a majority of their products come from China, made in metric requiring metric tooling to install and repair if the product requires such. The only non-metric you may get from the US is in the marketing literature, but not in the product itself. Even in that the units are dual (very cluttered) so the metric is there still. Small ma & pa shops that still use USC internally usually don't export. Most though integrate metric components into their products and thus produce hybrid products. American mechanical engineers spend more time that need be on conversions, increasing unproductivetivity, mistakes and costs.

    No wonder they are jealous of China using one single system and passing the US by.

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  8. Daniel Jackson says:

    Ezra,

    Liberia and Myanmar are not only committed to metrication, so is the US. All of the countries of the world are now officially committed to full metrication. Myanmar and Liberia have been pretty much mixed when it comes to measurement use. Many goods and services imported come from metric countries. Automobiles in Myanmar are second hand and come from Japan with the speed and odometers in kilometres and kilometres per hour. Liberian autos are the same except they come from Europe via neighbouring African countries.

    The media of Myanmar is metric

    https://www.mmtimes.com/news/govt-starts-rebuilding-ancient-city-wall-bago.html

    http://mizzima.com/article/six-arrested-precursor-seizure

    Myanmar in effect has three systems! There is the native system, the British Imperial system and the metric system. The native system is used for weights unless it's a grocery store packaged food, which will be kilograms or if it's a person's weight which is always in pounds. The weather is in degrees Celsius. Liquids are in ml and litres.

    Liberia is a hopeless basket case, so I wouldn't expect there to be any official metrication efforts, but as China increases its presence in Africa and continues to develop the continent along metric grounds, metrication will increase and previous units will die out.

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  9. Lee Kelly says:

    My comments about Liberia and Myanmar are based on what I've read on websites, sorry.

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  10. Daniel Jackson says:

    Lee Kelly,

    The perception about Liberia, Myanmar and even the US goes back to the 1970s and 1980s and no matter how much these countries metricate, the perception will remain.

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  11. Ezra Steinberg says:

    @Daniel Jackson:

    Alas, it is quite a stretch to say that the USA is "committed" to metrication.

    On paper the US government is committed but operationally (outside of the military) is still essentially USC. Just look at the aborted attempt to convert all of highway construction to metric initiated some time back by the Department of Transportation. Some state Departments of Transportation (like New York's) took the lead on this but later completely abandoned that effort and have completely reverted to USC.

    Aside from internal engineering work in companies that might be metric, the outside everyday world in the USA is for all practical purposes 100% USC. In daily commerce one sees metric for supplements (but with such oddities and labels that say 1,000 mg, which I see all the time).

    Just take a look at most of the YouTube videos or TV and radio programs done by Americans for dissemination in the USA. The overwhelming majority use USC exclusively (without even mentioning "Fahrenheit" when they are using that disastrous unit). I have seen exceptions (hurrah!), but they are sadly few and far between.

    I work for a very large world-wide technical company with offices and data centers in every region of the globe. Aside from using Celsius for the temperature of components and ambient are and some measurements in meters for placement of racks or the width of aisles, all of the documents I see (mostly from engineering) are in USC only. (I always try to add metric when I edit those documents.)

    This comes from the fact that our main offices are located in the San Francisco Bay Area. Everyone even in engineering assumes that USC dominates or is the default even among the Chinese, Indian, and other foreign nationals who work here (of which there are very many).

    USA committed to metric? Not really. At best some lip service (again, with the exception of internal manufacturing and engineering inside companies depending on both the type of work they do and their internal culture).

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  12. Daniel Jackson says:

    Ezra,

    You are totally wrong. The US committed itself to metric with the Metric Conversion Act of 1975. Whether metrication has taken place since then or not at all or by bits and pieces, the US IS officially committed to metrication. Liberia was the last country to commit itself in 2018. Thus ALL countries are legally committed to metrication.

    Before the 1970s in the US there was zero metric usage. Industry, the market, medical, education, was 100 % USC. The commitment to metric in 1975 changed this. Metrication was voluntary and many facets of life did change and are still changing.

    A lot of manufacturing went metric, medicine and health went metric, most beverages went metric, etc. Many home products are made metric and if they require assembly, you need metric tools. Automotive is fully metric. The US went from 100 % USC to a hybrid.

    what you experience in your work is proof of what i have said. Your company is hybrid, neither USC nor metric . If there was no commitment in 1975, your company would be using USC 100 %.

    Despite the US commitment there are those individuals and if they have control of a company, they will use their influence to oppose metrication as long as they can. It's good that you use your preference to push metric as much as you can, but I hope when you include metric units, they are nice round numbers. If not, they only make the metric look ridiculous.

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  13. Ezra Steinberg says:

    @Daniel Jackson

    So what if the USA is "officially committed". Empty words. Sadly.

    And, yes, I always round to sensible numbers. I never want metric to look ridiculous! 🙂

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  14. Daniel Jackson says:

    Ezra,

    Being committed means that the incentive is there for those companies and businesses that want to use metric can and do. Without that official commitment, things would be as they were pre-1970 where everything was 100 % USC. Foreign companies who want to sell in the US would have to produce inch based products for the US market and so as not to have dual inventories and production lines would create USC products for the whole world.

    Being officially committed puts the burden of dual usage, hybridisation and the costs of it on the American consumer. Due to the official commitment you now have metric soft drink bottles, metric in medicine, metric in over half of the industries, etc. If there was no official commitment most Americans wouldn't even be aware the metric system exists.

    The unfortunate thing is most Americans aren't exposed to metric on the job. Those industries that use metric are increasingly automating using fewer and fewer workers. Thus fewer and fewer become exposed to metric on the job. Most Americans who go to a college choose careers in the financial sector, such as economics, accounting, marketing, finances, etc. Very few go into engineering or technical sciences, which with some exceptions is predominately metric. The large international companies tend to be metric, the small ma & pa shops, mostly operating like they did before WW2 still resist. Most because they don't export and don't design and build to international standards.

    I don't know what your company produces but I would be curious how they compare with their international competitors. If they are so gung-ho on using USC how does this compare to what their competitors are using? Maybe you are in the petroleum and gas or aeronautics which seems to be stuck in the past.

    One of the contributors to this forum once remarked that the auto industry and the aeronautical industry once tried to form a partnership to share ideas and eliminate redundancies, but they couldn't convince the other to adopt the measuring units they were using so the partnership never went into effect. The aeronautical industry is becoming fractured. Planes produced internationally are in metric as opposed to USC in the US. Boeing had huge problems years ago with its dream-liner when it subbed work to metric countries who had to convert inch drawings to millimetres. The rounding of the values caused many parts not to fit. Boeing couldn't get past their arrogance to send metric drawings to their sub-contractors outside the US. They were foolish enough to believe if they sent drawings in USC, the world would drop metric and start using USC to please Boeing. They didn't and Boeing paid for it.

    Space companies like Space-X, JPL, Bigelow Aeronautics and many others are metric internally as are the Chinese, Indians, Russians, Europeans, etc, backing American Aerospace into a corner.

    The US is starting to lose influence in the world and when the influence is completely broken, expect the world to reject every effort by US companies or industries still resisting metrication to do business outside US borders. The handwriting is on the wall and it just a matter of a few short years the US companies still refusing to metricate will find themselves bankrupt. The sooner the better.

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