Australians have characteristically seen themselves as a people who are unenthusiastic about hard work and more oriented toward the pursuit of leisure. It has often been suggested that the basis of this national identity as a ‘laid back and carefree people’ was the uniquely Australian industrial system. Recently there has been a growing alarm that this situation has been eroded by deregulation of the labour market and by the emerging problems for women of balancing work and family. This sense of alarm is supported by high levels of subjectively reported time pressure. However, analysis of a substantial body of diary-based information about time use presents a paradoxical picture. While there continues to be a wide disparity between those population groups experiencing ‘time poverty’ and those who are ‘rich’ in available free time, between 1974 and 1992 average free time has increased. This holds true even after controlling for the social changes that make comparisons over time more difficult. Moreover, international comparisons suggest that Australians may not have realised that their pattern of free time has been typical. Most industrial societies have experienced similar amounts of average free time. Most industrial societies have exhibited a complicated trend towards increased free time, while at the same time believing themselves to be subject to greater time pressure.