Students at the University of Sydney

Commem Days


"Commemoration day is one of the few events in the University calendar that kindle the active interest of the general public in the doings of the institution. In the memory of students "Commem" is enshrined. It is the one recognised opportunity they have to let their spirits effervesce for the public edification – spirits that have been "cabined, cribbed, confined' during weary months of "stewing" fori exams. Perhaps it is necessary to go through a course of cramming to realise fully the lazy luxury of commemoration: Books and lectures then give way to laughter and playful humor, whilst the grave and reverend seniors, whose word is law during term-time, wink at the merry subversion of order that makes the day what it is. Of all the ideas that Australian universities have borrowed from Oxford and Cambridge none is so distinctively stamped with the atmosphere of those ancient seats of learning as the mild "rag" that takes place on degree day. It agreeably breaks the tame monotony of academic routine, and ministers on the lighter side to that esprit de corps without which a university does not fulfil its purpose." (The Advertiser, 16 December 1902)

Commemoration Day festivities by University of Sydney students can be said to have begun in 1887, when students gave an impromptu concert to the audience at the annual Commemoration Day (conferring of degrees and commemoration of benefactors) ceremony in the Great Hall. The following year saw the first students' procession which took place after the Commemoration Day ceremony; the first city procession was in 1897. By 1903, the students' Commem Day procession through Sydney streets had become a firmly established annual event.

The processions, which were usually held in May, evolved greatly in size and content, were noted for their witty and political floats, and festivities were often exuberant, although for a time in the 1920s and 1930s the processions were prohibited from the main city streets. The final students' procession took place in 1975.

The illustration above is from The Sydney Mail, 4 May 1910, Google News Archive.

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