When the First World War broke out in August 1914, Queenslanders quickly rallied to support the troops overseas and their families at home. Support for the war effort came from all quarters: community associations, private organisations, government, businesses and concerned citizens.
Events such as benefit nights and theatrical fundraisers not only lifted the spirits of those at home but also raised much-needed funds. Queenslanders enthusiastically collected packages of food, including bully beef (tinned corned meat), jam, butter, rice, tea, cocoa, condensed milk and hard tack (a long-life biscuit). Along with food, clothing was donated to be sent directly to the Front, or to England to help the ‘Empire’. Among the beneficiaries of this generosity were the family or dependents of serving troops, the wounded and, later, returned soldiers.
On Saturday 31 July 1915, the Queensland public service organised a patriotic carnival to assist wounded soldiers, held at the Brisbane Cricket Ground, Woolloongabba. The gathering attracted more than 6,000 people who came to enjoy boomerang and spear throwing, ring events, gymnastics and live music. Attended by Governor Sir Hamilton Goold-Adams and his wife, Lady Goold Adams, it also honoured those members of the Queensland public service on active service and those who donated a percentage of their wages to the patriotic fund throughout the war.
Perhaps the most iconic fundraising event was the first ever Golden Casket lottery draw in 1917. The lottery, known then as the Golden Casket Art Union, was originally created after a suggestion received from the Entertainment Committee of the Queensland Patriotic Fund. The creators initially had to circumvent a law that prohibited cash prizes, so the jackpot was £5,000 in solid gold bullion! Back then, this was an extraordinary amount, equivalent to approximately 30 years of a full-time salary, or enough to purchase several suburban houses.
The gold prize was displayed in a jewellery box known as a casket, which is how the lottery gained its name. That first draw took place at the popular Brisbane Festival Hall to an excited audience that included Queensland political dignitaries, such as the Brisbane Lord Mayor. In those early years, the proceeds were donated to support returning soldiers and to provide much-needed housing for war widows and their children.
The Golden Casket Lottery is now recognised as one of the largest lottery organisations in the world and it came to be owned by the Queensland Government in 1920. In 2007 the Queensland Government sold Golden Casket to Tattersall’s Limited, with the considerable proceeds going to a new State Children’s Hospital.
During the First World War, over 1,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples enlisted to fight. You can read more about soldier named ‘X’, Private Billy Elsdale, one of the few serving Aboriginal soldiers from the First World War.
Cover image: A procession in support of the First World War through Queen Street, Brisbane, in December 1917; ITM2105331