Ah, February. You are my favourite month each year, for we have so much in common. We are both just that little bit different to the norm, what with your unique length of either 28 or 29 days, depending on what year it is, rather than the 30 or 31 day length of every other month of the year.
But, my dear February, even I cannot complete with your most special and unique attribute. You can create a very special group of humans. Every leap year, on your magical 29th day, you can create leaplings. I never want to create any sort of human, which I think we can all agree is for the best.
‘What is a leapling?’, I hear the two or three people that will read this ask. Well, a leapling is someone who is born on the 29th of February. Let’s just be up-front about something right now. Leaplings shouldn’t really exist. They have only come about due to a quirk of history and one goose-eating, OCD suffering astronomer in Rome.
For a long time, ancient astronomers calculated a year had a fixed number of days. 365 of them, to be exact (or so they thought…). Every year was the same length and the world rejoiced. This discovery was beautiful, it was simple, and it was wrong.
When, in 45 BC, astronomer Sosigenes of Alexandria decided that his fellow astronomers may have forgotten to carry a 4 or something when they calculated the length of an Earth year, he ran the maths again and found that each of our years is actually 365 and a QUARTER days long. I am sure he made lots of early Roman calendar makers very angry when he loudly announced his findings in the square outside the Colosseum.
Now I am all for being a perfectionist and have a range of prescription drugs to help me deal with it as proof. But if I had been in the position of Sosigenes and had suddenly discovered that there were a few extra hours each year, I would have quietly used my stylus to scrub out the extra hours from my papyrus scroll and left the length of a year nice and simple by sticking to a perfect 365 days.
But no, Sosigenes was nothing if not OCD (and a sexual deviant and eater of geese, but I digress), and so for the rest of Western human history our Gregorian calendar has three consecutive years of 365 days (in which that pesky extra quarter year is ignored), and then a 366 day year every fourth year, where those quarter years have their revenge by creating an extra day – 29 February.
And stuff happens on 29 Februarys too. Stuff like people being born. And those people have, for as long as we have had 29 Februarys (this may not be true) been called ‘leaplings’.
Leaplings are special. First, they are really rare. Do the math (I did, and it was awesomely fun) and you will find that the odds of being born a leapling are 1 in 1,461.
Second, many very famous people are born on 29 February. For example… um… Ja Rule and a very old pope. See, famous people!
You may find it hard to believe after reading such a long and extensive list of the benefits of being a leapling, but there are a few downsides as well. The biggest one being: does this mean a leapling only gets birthday presents once every four years?
No, wait, that is not the biggest downside. The biggest downside to being a leapling is that, technically, they have to wait until they have been alive for 72 years before they celebrate their 18th birthday (18 x 4 = 72) and have their first beer at the local pub or nursing home dining room.
Surely the law would have done something to protect these poor, innocent, leaplings by now, so that they don’t have to wait until they are my father’s age before they can legally have their first drink.
Our law is a funny thing. It turns out you can be different ages in different States and Territories of Australia. For example, if you are a leapling living in New South Wales, you may have to wait a long, long time for that first legal drink. There is a piece of law in New South Wales called the Acts Interpretation Act that tells us all how we are meant to read and interpret other pieces of New South Wales law. Yes, it is a law telling us how to read otherwise unreadable laws. That’s the law for you. Fun, right?
This Act says, very clearly (for the law) that a person ‘… attains an age in years at the beginning of the person’s birthday for that age’.
OK, maybe I exaggerated the ‘very clearly’ part, but the point is that in New South Wales you become a certain age on your birthday for that age. If you are a leapling, you only become one year older every four years, on 29 February. The laws of a few other States, like Queensland, work out how old you are in the same way as New South Wales. The laws of Victoria and Western Australia say nothing at all about how to work out your legal age, so I guess no-one in those States ever legally has a birthday.
Where does this leave a leapling wanting to know how old he or she is, legally speaking? From a strict legal perspective, leaplings are different ages at different times under different Australian laws. That means that a leapling only turns 18 years of age in New South Wales and Queensland after they have been alive for just over 72 years.
But let’s face it. The law is stupid, and this is perhaps the law at its very most stupid. A person who is born on 29 February 2000 and who goes into a Sydney or Brisbane pub at midnight on 1 March 2018 for their very first drink is (probably) not going to be arrested. Still, it just goes to show why people like Sosigenes should not let perfect be the enemy of good enough.