'Gum Blossom' child's fancy dress

Contributed by: Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences

Dress Photo: Jean Francois Lanzarone Side view of 'gum blossum' fancy dress 1938 Front view Back view Front view of 'gum blossom' fancy dress, 1938 Inside of 'gum blossom' fancy dress, 1938 Hat from 'gum blossom' fancy dress costume, 1938 Internal structure of 'gum blossom' fancy dress, 1938 Back opening Damage possibly from a hair pin Details of holes in crepe paper Liquid stains on inside front of skirt. Discolouration below inside armhole. Patricia Green Fo..... written in pen on inside front, upside down. Covered waistband protects child from paper edges of skirt. Damage from a hair pin Children performing at the Sydney Cricket Ground 1938 William Miller in his magpie costume for the sesquicentenary, 1938
  • Australian dress register ID:

    29
  • Owner:

    Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences
  • Owner registration number:

    2001/25/1-1
  • Date range:

    1938
  • Place of origin:

    Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  • Gender:

    Female, Child
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Object information

Significance statement

This tiny outfit was worn by three year old Pat Dale at the 150th anniversary celebrations of white settlement in Australia held on April 6th and 7th 1938 at the Sydney Cricket Ground. It represents one of many Australian native plants that the girls depicted alongside birds and animals worn by the boys to represent the spirit of Australia. The gum blossom outfit was inspired by the characters 'Bib and Bub' from the books 'Gum-Nut Babies' and 'Gum-Blossom Babies' by May Gibbs (1877-1969). Gibbs had migrated to Australia with her parents when she was four.

The 150th anniversary celebrations touched every Australian. The Sydney event involved twelve thousand children and their families who had powerful memories of the event. At a time of constraint, crepe paper provided an inexpensive, colourful material for fancy dress outfits that would only be worn once. The workshops at primary schools created additional hype amongst families leading up to the event.

It is rare for a paper outfit to be kept intact for such a long period and for the wearer, Pat Dale, to still be available to tell her charming story.

Author: Lindie Ward, 2nd April 2009.

Description

Dress and hat from three year old child's 'gum blossom' fancy dress costume made from crepe paper with cotton lining. The hat and sleeveless bodice are made of green crepe paper and the skirt is of fringed pinky orange crepe paper representing the flower of a gum tree.

History and Provenance

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

The Birds selected were magpies, parrots, cockatoos, kookaburras, galahs and Regent bower birds while the animals were the 'much loved lumbering Koalas ... and the world-renowned Kangaroos'. The display culminated in a series of tableaux: the Spirit of Australia, Federation, the Call of 1914, the British Commonwealth of Nations and the Wheel of Progress, 'a symbol of world unity through understanding and co-operation'.

William Miller recalls having to form up into lines 'and wave your wings about at the appropriate time'. He was photographed wearing the costume in the backyard of his home at Burwood.

Each child was presented with a sesquicentenary medal for taking part in the parades.

His mother Lila had herself taken part in the MLC Empire Day parade in 1915.

Do you have any stories or community information associated with this?

The gum blossom outfit was worn by three year old Pat Dale of Mosman, one of twelve thousand children who took part in for the Public School Children's Festival / Sesquicentenary of European settlement of Australia. It took place on the sixth and seventh of April 1938 at the Sydney Cricket Ground. 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'.

Pat Dale wore this outfit in the section called 'Garden of Native Flowers' section where girls attended a girl representing Australia in 1788. A second girl represented Australia in 1938 attended by the 'fruits of civilisation and industry'. Pat's sister whose costume has not survived was dressed as Britannia. Another child, Marie Day, was one of two 'English' girls who presented bouquets to dignitaries. The boys wore costumes depicting native birds and animals while the girls wore more passive costumes relating to wheat-sheafs, flowers and plants. The event was highly choreographed and the children wore the costumes twice, once for rehearsal and once for the event itself.

All children were given a medallion by the state government in gratitude for the many hours of preparation and rehearsal that they had endured.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

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.

Where did this information come from?

From Pat Dale herself in 2002.

This garment has been exhibited

Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales exhibition 'Fancy Dress' at Elizabeth Bay House 2002.

It was through advertising for fancy dress costumes from the public for this exhibition that the outfit came to light and Pat Dale was able to tell her charming story.

At the opening of the exhibition Pat (aged 67) met her friend William Miller (a magpie) whom she had not seen since the sesquicentenary celebration when she was 3.

  1. Place of origin:

    Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

  2. Cost:

    Pat's mother used green and pink crepe paper and old pieces of cotton fabric for the lining. It must have cost her the price of several packets of crepe paper in 1938.

  3. Owned by:

    Pat Dale (b1935)

  4. Worn by:

    Pat Dale

  5. Occasion(s):

    Sesquicentenary celebrations

  6. Place:

    Sydney Cricket Ground

  7. Designed by:

    Sesquicentenary celebration event designer.

  8. Made by:

    Pat Dale's mother at Mosman Primary School.

    Pat's mother attended sewing bees at Mosman Primary School to make these outfits for her children using scraps, curtains and old sheets as linings to make them sturdier.

  9. Made for:

    Pat Dale

Trimmings / Decoration

Fringing has been created by cutting the crepe paper.

Fibre / Weave

Crepe paper forms the main visible fabric of this costume.

It is lined with a green plain weave cotton fabric.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye

Manufacture

The lining is sewn by machine and the finishing and fastenings by hand. The crepe paper is cut vertically to create the effect of gum blossom petals.

Label

No label.

Alterations

No alterations.

  1. Hand sewn
  2. Machine sewn
  3. Knitted
  4. Other

Cut

The crepe paper is cut to create a generously layered fringed effect like a flower petal.

  1. Bias
  2. Straight

Fastenings

The back opens from top to bottom and fastens with a hook and eye at waist and 2 pairs of press studs at neck and centre back.

  1. Hook and eye
  2. Lacing
  3. Buttons
  4. Zip
  5. Drawstring

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

Green cotton lining.

Measurements

dress
Girth
Neck 380 mm
Chest 730 mm
Waist 730 mm
Hem circumference 1910 mm
Vertical
Front neck to hem 440 mm
Front waist to hem 240 mm
Back neck to hem 500 mm
Back waist to hem 260 mm
Horizontal
Neck to sleeve head 75 mm
Cross back 250 mm
Underarm to underarm 340 mm
Convert to inches

Hat measures 280 height, 480 around.

The width of the crepe paper was not easy to determine.

Dress Themes

Fancy dress was a popular party theme when people had more time to make things before television dominated family life. Most women sewed to stretch the weekly budget a bit further. Patterns for crepe paper fancy dress outfits were available for purchase.

Additional material

Articles, publications, diagrams and receipts descriptions

Sydney Morning Herald 22/2/1938

'Great Australian Girls and the Remarkable Women they became' by Susan Geason, pub. ABC Books 1999.

Other related objects

2006/2/1 Magpie costume worn for the same event by William Miller. His sister was a sunflower. Alan's mother Lila Froud made the costumes at workshops at Burwood Primary School.

William Miller (born 1929) was aged nine and at Burwood Public School when he was selected to take part in the Public School Children's Festival at Sydney Cricket Ground to celebrate the 1938 sesquicentenary. He can remember going to the cricket ground twice, once to rehearse for the Schools Display and once for the performance on Wednesday 6 April 1938. In fact the performance was repeated on 7 April. The program described the display as 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'. There were thirteen parts to the Display beginning with Homeland -- 2,064 girls from Domestic Science Schools dancing in 'picturesque national costume' -- and including a Living Southern Cross made up of 1400 primary school girls, a Garden of Native Flowers formed by 2016 infant and primary girls in costume and Birds and Animals with 1500 primary school boys dressed in 'the rich plumage of birds ... [who] by characteristic movements finally provide a background for a few of our animals'.

Condition

Insect damage

Some tiny holes indicate insect damage.

State

  1. Excellent
  2. Good
  3. Fair
  4. Poor

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