The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences acknowledges Australia’s First Nations Peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the land and gives respect to the Elders – past and present – and through them to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are advised that the MAAS website contains a range of Indigenous Cultural Material. This includes artworks, artifacts, images and recordings of people who may have passed away, and other objects which may be culturally sensitive.
2001/25/1 Fancy dress costume, childrens, 'gum blossom', crepe paper / cotton, maker unknown, worn at the Public School Children's Festival / Sesquicentenary of European settlement of Australia, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1938. Click to enlarge.

Children’s ‘gum blossom’ fancy dress

Made
This costume was worn by Pat Dale for her role as a gum blossom in the 'Garden of native flowers' section of the 1938 Public School Children's Festival. The programme described the Festival as aiming, 'by means of changing colour, rousing rhythms, and pleasing pageantry to recall symbolically the people from whom we came, the land which drew us, our settlement and progress and a vision of world unity through co-operation.'

In 1938 Australians celebrated the 150th anniversary of European settlement with a wide range of activities including parades, pageants, sporting competitions, exhibitions and an air race. Although these took place across the country, Sydney was the principal seat of celebration. As the promotional brochure, Australia's Festive Year, declared: 'Sydney is Australia's oldest, greatest and gayest city, [and] will rightly be the centre of the 150th Anniversary Celebrations.' Festivities commenced on 26 January 1938 with a re-enactment of Phillip's landing and ended with the 'glorious climax' of Anzac Day. Sydney school children participated in a number of events including a 'Public School Children's Festival' at Sydney Cricket Ground on April 6 and 7. As the official programme stated this was not an historical reenactment, but rather 'by means of changing colour, rousing rhythm and pleasing pageantry [aimed] to recall symbolically the people from whom we came, the land which drew us, our settlement and progress and a vision of world unity through co-operation'. Some 12,000 school children took part in a series of 13 tableaux ranging from 'Homeland' -- where 2,064 girls from Domestic Science Schools [danced] in picturesque national costumes' -- through representations of native birds and flowers, wool and wheat to the 'Wheel of Progress' where all 12,000 participants represented this 'symbol of world unity through understanding and co-operation'.

The program described 'A most spectacular gathering of 1,500 primary school boys in the rich plumage of birds: Magpies, Parrots, Cockatoos, Kookaburras, Galahs, and Regent Bower Birds, who amid bird calls, will by characteristic movements finally provide a background for a few of our animals, the much loved lumbering Koalas ... and the world-renowned Kangaroos.' As in many of the sesquicentennial events, Aboriginal people were represented -- in this case by 900 primary school boys performing a full 'corroboree' -- although scant regard was had for the fact they had little to celebrate.

It was held at the Sydney Cricket Ground on April 6 and 7 and was one of a number of major parades, pageants and festivals organised to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the founding of Australia. Although commemorative material such as ceramics, glass and textiles survives, it is rare to find a paper costume such as this which provides an important reminder of the symbols used to represent Australia in 1938, symbols that still have currency today as was evident in the children dressed as wildflowers for the opening ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Summary

Object No.

2001/25/1

Object Statement

Fancy dress costume, childrens, 'gum blossom', crepe paper / cotton, maker unknown, worn at the Public School Children's Festival / Sesquicentenary of European settlement of Australia, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1938

Physical Description

Childs fancy dress costume comprising a dress and hat made of crepe paper.

Dress: crepe paper costume with round neck, sleeveless and with opening down centre back. Bodice and upper skirt lined with pale green cotton. Hand stitched. Bodice is of eucalypt green crepe paper gathered into neck and waist. Skirt is multiple layers of pinky orange crepe paper gathered into waist. Hem of skirt is cut into long thin strips forming a fringe. Two metal press studs and two metal hooks and eyes form close at back.

Hat: the hat is made from eucalypt green crepe paper forming a peaked hat in the shape of a gumnut with tightly twisted crepe paper forming a stem. Hand stitched and lined with the same crepe paper.

Production

Notes

This costume was made in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. The costumes for the Public School Children's Festival were made by teachers and mothers. The donor remembers that her mother spent many days in working bees at Mosman Primary School making this and other costumes.

History

Notes

The costume was worn by the donor, Pat Dale, in the 1938 Public School Children's Festival when she was 8 years old and kept by her mother and then herself until donated to the Museum. Her sister, whose costume does not survive, was Britannia. The Festival was performed twice, on April 6 and 7 1938, at 1.30 pm. MOTHERS MADE THE COSTUMES FROM CREPE PAPER AT WORKING BEES.

The costume was worn by Pat Dale for her role as a gum blossom in the 'Garden of native flowers' section of the 1938 Public School Children's Festival for the sesquicentenary. This was held at the Sydney Cricket Ground on April 6 and 7, 1938. The Festival programme described the event as aiming, 'by means of changing colour, rousing rhythyms, and pleasing pageantry to recall symbolically the people from whom we came, the land which drew us, our settlement and progress and a vision of world unity through co-operation. It is not a panoramic review of the historical incidents of the century and a half, but a children's jubilation, depicting in happy, joyous, dancing strains the spirit of our land and our national background.' The Festival was divided into a series of sections including 'Our land', 'Wheat', 'Wool', 'Garden of native flowers', 'Native animals' and the 'British Commonwealth of Nations' and, finally, 'Nations of the World'. 2,016 children participated in the Garden section. Dressed as waratahs, flannel flowers, gum blossoms, wattle, Christmas bells and desert peas, the children formed 'dancing circles of movement'.

An article in the Sydney Mail described the pageant as 'One of the most spectacular, beautiful and effective of the whole series of celebration pageants ... a palpitating spectacle of colour'. Significantly the native animals were all played by boys whilst the girls 'were rightly allotted the more picturesque and colourful roles of the flowers. Great ingenuity was shown in the making of the costumes'.

Fancy dress is a way to lift the spirits especially in times of constraint. Crepe paper afforded a colourful and inexpensive way to enjoy acting out an alter ego and joining in a festive celebration. Unfortunately crepe paper had its downside. When wet the colour would run onto skin and clothing and leave nasty stains.

The pageant committee thought long and hard about how to represent Australia. The Sydney Morning Herald 22/2/1938 reported committee discussions that led to the choice of two female figures to represent Australia. Other contenders were a surf lifesaver, a jackeroo and a farmer but it was thought these pushed sport and primary production too much. Director of Cinesound Ken Hall, thought choosing a young boy wrongly emphasised the 'infant nation' idea, which Australia had outgrown . Mr L.A.Robb president of the Returned Serviceman's League wanted an Anzac (Australia New Zealand Army Corps) 'I don't like the idea of a female symbol at all. It does not give enough strength' he said. An indigenous figure was not discussed.

Source

Credit Line

Gift of Pat Dale

Acquisition Date

7 March 2001

Cite this Object

Harvard

Children's 'gum blossom' fancy dress 2020, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 19 October 2020, <https://ma.as/9957>

Wikipedia

{{cite web |url=https://ma.as/9957 |title=Children's 'gum blossom' fancy dress |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=19 October 2020 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}

Incomplete

This object record is currently incomplete. Other information may exist in a non-digital form. The Museum continues to update and add new research to collection records.