First World War fancy dress football poster proves to be an unexpected find

It’s strange what one stumbles across when diving into the archives. As we highlighted in a previous blog post, What to call the war, not everything is neatly labelled ‘war’, and one of the challenges facing QSA archivists, in particular when commemorating the 100th anniversary of the First World War, has been finding those items hidden in the strangest of places.

A perfect example is this amazing poster inviting people to attend the QLD Public Service Patriotic Carnival in 1915. Most people, when looking for First World War related records, would choose to search in the records of such agencies as the Department of Premier and Cabinet, the Governor, even the Police. Would you ever think to look in the records of the Survey Office? Probably not. Yet this poster was discovered in a Survey Office series entitled ‘Miscellaneous Maps and Plans’.

While it is striking as a digital image, what is lost is the impact of the size: the poster is nearly two metres long. One can easily imagine it as a billboard, perhaps outside the ‘Gabba?

In addition to the sheer visual appeal and the surprise of its discovery, the more you examine the poster the more interesting details emerge. The date for example, 31st July 1915, the Gallipoli Campaign had seen incredible losses in April of that year and the clarion call of the poster, ‘to assist our wounded soldiers’, resonates with the fears and sacrifices made in the ongoing conflict.

The picture itself is interesting – just what are they doing? Luckily, a search on TROVE helped solve this mystery. According to an article in the Queenslander (Saturday 7 August 1915, p. 39), the festival included a fancy dress football match, gymnastic display, basketball match, display of boomerang and spear throwing and a number of stalls including a shooting gallery. While not part of the ‘big story’ of the war, one of the interesting sidelines of identifying war-related records in our collection is the diversity of civic events, processions and other activities carried out for recruitment or fund-raising purposes on the Home Front.

Those familiar with archival research will know it can be like opening Pandora’s Box, with so many tangents, byways and possible red herrings to explore. Take the reference in the Queenslander article to the inclusion of a marine display featuring ‘live ceratodus’ (lung fish). Interestingly true, but hardly warranting much thought, then we discovered a letter from Mr Illidge in the Chief Secretaries Correspondence files – dated 30th December 1914 – offering his ceratodus collection to the Queensland Museum. Were ceratodus all the rage in 1915?

Thankfully, though we cannot solve the mystery of the ceratodus, we can at least explain how this incredible art work made it into the records of the Survey Office. The carnival was put on by the public service, and from the newspaper article it is clear that many different departments were involved in the event. However the creators of the poster, A.R. McKellar and H Arrell both worked at the Survey Office, presumably as artists or draftsmen. We also hold a series of maps of Brisbane and suburbs drawn and printed by A. R. McKellar on behalf of the Surveyor-General’s Office, Brisbane, in 1895. It’s incredible to think that twenty years later the map maker’s talents would be put towards a greater cause.

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2 Responses

  1. John Gillam

    This event was most likely held as part of the original Australia Day activities July 30 or 31 1915 The dates were different depending on locations whether it was held on Friday or Saturday Herewith some summarised information

    The original ‘Australia Day’
    Extract from “Their Story” Service, Sacrifice and Community Support Part 1 1914-15
    It may have been the enlistment of her four sons that inspired Mrs Ellen Wharton-Kirke of Manly, New South Wales, to suggest an ‘Australia Day’ to the New South Wales Premier, Sir Charles Wade. The urgent needs of the men in the field, on hospital ships, at various hospitals in Malta and Egypt, and on their way back to Australia made for a powerful cause. Mrs Wharton-Kirke had seen the generosity of the Australian people during previous ‘themed’ fundraising days and saw ‘Australia Day’ as a way of drawing on the pride generated in the community by the gallantry of the Landings to ensure that their soldiers’ comfort and welfare would be assured. The greatest fund raiser of the war and possibly in Australia’s history was now launched.
    Local organising committees were formed across Australia, with July 30 1915 agreed, as the date for events to be held in every city, town and shire. For the first time the entire community of Australia would work as one for a common cause. A common format was used by all. A street parade that displayed the patriotism of that community would wind its way through streets bedecked in wattle and national flags to the local sports field where an afternoon of fund raising sports were held. Ribbons, badges, handkerchiefs, buttons and other items, were sold to raise funds. The target set for NSW was £200 000.
    For this brief interval people forgot their anxieties and allowed themselves to enjoy the day as they would before the war. Everyone combined in preparing for the great day, making all manner of things to sell and in devising attractions to bring out the people and to allure them into donating. In the most frequented spots in city and suburbs, stall-holders, with the aid of many friendly assistants, had erected dainty booths, in and around these worked thousands of bright-eyed girls, nurses, teachers, and others selling the various wares.
    In Sydney, Martin Place was transformed into a fairyland. Venetian masts were covered with national flags; the adjacent buildings were decorated; dozens of little cabins and booths displayed all kinds of goods, from embroideries and laces to potatoes and pickles. Wheeled traffic was impracticable in the crowded streets. Bevvies of girls, in various fancy or national costumes, brought their battery of charms to bear upon the men. Bands of musicians perambulated the streets and gave open-air concerts. As the hours went on, the crowds, the excitement, the liberality of all sorts and conditions of persons increased and, when the exquisite winter day closed in, it was evident that the people, having ‘ made a day of it,’ were intent on making a night of it too. It seemed as if the whole community had abandoned itself to giving and spending all it had for the sake of the men on service.
    Everywhere in Australia the same state of mind prevailed. The crowds may have been larger, the attractions finer, the proceeds greater in the cities than elsewhere, but the hearty spirit of the Australian people was the same everywhere. Given the different circumstances, the efforts, the sacrifices, and the offering from hundreds of small country places were equally admirable and as touching of those of the cities.
    Nationally the movement proved a huge success with NSW raising £839 550
    Bean said of the occasion It is unlikely that ‘Australia Day ‘ will ever be wholly forgotten by any who were privileged to take part in that magnificent outburst of giving. Four commemorative Gallipoli medalets were struck in solid gold. One went to King George, one to the King of Belgium and one to the Prince of Wales. In recognition of her efforts, the NSW Premier arranged for the fourth to be presented to Mrs Wharton-Kirke. The success of ‘Australia Day’ in 1915 saw a repeat of similar events in the subsequent years of the war.

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