Students at the University of Sydney
Commem Days in the early 1900s
On this webpage:
By 1903, the students' procession through Sydney streets had become a firmly established event.
For the rest of the decade, the students held their annual procession from the University to the Town Hall where the Commemoration Day ceremony was held.
Commemoration Day, Saturday 21 April 1900 (Great Hall):
Saturday 21 April 1900: Because of particularly poor student behaviour at the 1899 ceremony, Senate decided that the degrees would be conferred privately at a ceremony on 21 April 1900 where the proceedings were purely formal and undergraduates not invited.
Saturday 28 April: In response, the Undergraduates' Association held a procession which was not as extravagant as in 1899, and had no trollies or horses or carts. Following the procession, they held a burlesque commemoration at the Town Hall.
Commemoration Day, Friday 31 May 1900 (Great Hall):
First there was an organ recital by Mr Mote.
Next came a program of songs, as arranged by the Undergraduates Association on its own account, by the students
Then their Royal Highnesses the Duke and the Duchess of Cornwall and York and the academic procession entered the Hall.
The proceedings were purely academic, and consisted solely in the conferring of degrees. Unlike previous commemoration days, there were no speeches, but despite the formal nature of the
function the undergraduates from their point of view had a very enjoyable time. Throughout the proceedings they carried out an impromptu programme of their own. It had an appropriate limit, however, but it was remarked afterwards that for years things had not been so lively at a commemoration gathering. Everything, however was good-humoured, and the Duke throughout looked anything but displeased. The Chancellor having formally declared the meeting convened, the registrar gave the commemoration of benefactors, and then the conferring of degrees by the Chancellor upon the candidates presented to him by the deans of the several faculties took place. The first candidate presented was his Royal Highness the Duke of Cornwall and York. The Chancellor, addressing the Duke, said "In the name of the senate, and by my authority as Chancellor, I admit you to the degree of Doctor of Laws in this University." He handed the Duke his diploma, handsomely illuminated and bound. The Duke bowed and resumed his seat amidst cheers, the undergraduates singing, "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" (SMH, 1 June 1901).
The undergraduates were very noisy. One of the noisiest undergraduates at the Sydney University Commemoration, when the Duke, and Duchess were present, was a young lady armed with a tin whistle.
(Sunday Times, 9 June 1901)
Commemoration Day, Saturday 10 April 1902 (Great Hall):
Those of the students who were not listed for the purpose of receiving their degrees were conspicuous by their absence, the reason given being that their behavior at the previous commemoration, at which the Duke of York was the central figure, and who formed the subject of some curious doggerel, was of such a character that the Senate decided to exclude them from participating in the present function. Indeed, with the exception of two years ago, when the degrees were conferred at a special Senate meeting, this is the first occasion such a step has been deemed necessary. Consequently, the familiar display so dear to the hearts of the undergrads was on this occasion entirely out of the picture.
(Evening News, 21 April 1902)
Commemoration Day, Saturday 2 May 1903 (Town Hall):
For the undergraduates' procession, about 700 undergraduates - not in fancy dress but many wearing masks and with toy trumpets and barrel organs - lined up at the University and at 9.30am drove to the Town Hall where the official ceremony was held. Preceded by a brass band, the procession included every kind of vehicle as well as horses with pyjama trousers or decorations.
Once at the Town Hall, the vehicles were left outside and the students trooped inside for the ceremony.
Commemoration Day, Saturday 30 April 1904 (Town Hall):
The students' procession took place before the official ceremony in the Town Hall. Nearly every description of vehicle, from the juvenlle woodcart to the carriage, was pressed into service, while the horses that had been requisitioned were mostly of the "robbo" diameter. As a matter of fact, some of the animals were so frail that it was a with considerable difficulty those in charge of them kept them to their work. As for mottoes, masks, and costumes, there were enough and to spare (Richmond River Express and Tweed Advertiser).
Not only was their procession quietly conducted, but in the hall, where disturbances are emphasised, and are so regrettable, they behaved with model decorum.
(Goulburn Evening Penny Post)
Commemoration Day, Saturday 6 May 1905 (Town Hall):
The annual students' procession and the offical ceremony took place on a wet Saturday morning. The procession, like its predecessors, was a noisy congregation of exuberantly frolicsome undergraduates who, in the most grotesque manner, caricature popular institutions, their professors, current political questions. They gave pride of place to the battle which has been undertaken by the Federal Prime Minister, and depicted the socialists' ideal, by a group of happy indolent students at rest under spreading palm, and fortified by comfortable luxuries. There were travesties on matters social and industrial, and the undergrads did not forget the trades union objective of State-made locomotives and a "White Australia", those subjects receiving humorous and ingenius treatment.
Commemoration Day, Wednesday 11 April 1906 (Town Hall):
The students marched through the city streets to the Town Hall. The Sydney University Students' turnout today was further confirmation that there is nothing new under the sun. The ideas were about as old as the ramshackle vehicles groups of them rode in. There was the usual assortment of masks, the vegetable green whiskers, knights on broken-winded horses, fireman who squirted water on those of the crowd within range, and cardboard trumpets supplied the noise that heralded the approach of the procession to the city ... The procession seemed to greatly delight the students. They got plenty of fun out ot it. From the Railway Station to Barrack street, George street was lined with people the procession attracted. These, too, caught the spirit of the tomfoolery, and laughed at the undergrads in their motley.
Commemoration Day, Saturday 27 April 1907 (Town Hall):
The earlier part of the proceedings was as usual given up to the students. Assembling at the University at 8 o'clock they formed their burlesque procession, and about an hour later started on their tour of the city. The route was lined by a large number of sightseers, and a crowd of fully 5,000 must have been waiting at the corner of George street. In the matter of fantastic and ridiculous dressing the students reached heights of imagination hitherto considered impossible. Fully half were attired in female cosume, which might have been designed by some degenerate Worth in the last stages of ankylostomiasis. Many public questions were travestied the threatened Asiatic invasion, the capital site, and surf bathing symbolised by a lorry load of bathers, provided with life lines and all the other appurtenances of the beaches ...
The procession broke up at the Town Hall, where the students held their burlesque commemoration before the serious business commenced.
(Goulburn Evening Penny Post)
Commemoration Day, Saturday 2 May 1908 (Town Hall):
The students' procession was marshalled in the University grounds at 9.30am and then proceeded along George to Barrack Street, then to York Street, and back to the Town Hall. A genuine brass band headed the procession, and blared martial music along the route; but there was a students' band, seemingly bom of the brain of some unfortunate conductor in the last stages of delirium tremens. Every instrument was there, and a different tune was lustily played on each, the ensemble being comparable only to a score of gramophones bolting backwards. As might have been expected the main feature of the display was illustrative of Professor David's (Antarctic) Odyssey, and it afforded a wild burlesque on the Shackleton expedition. A polar bear drove the trolly, whereon were a Nimrod and a shanty labelled "winter quarters" under the shadow of Mount Erebus, and, further on, the South Pole itself. A pall of white was over all, and the members of the expedition looking parboiled in their antarctic clothes were in ludicrous contrast to the shivering but intrepid Scotsman in abbreviated kilts shimming up the pole (The Sydney Morning Herald). Two camels on loan from Wirth's circus were an unusual feature of the procession.
Commemoration Day, Saturday 1 May 1909 (Town Hall):
The students' procession preceeded the Town Hall ceremony. Beautiful weather prevailed. The streets along the line of route were densely packed by crowds, who participated in the humour of the procession. Some skits on topical events were exceedingly grotesque, particularly those dealing with recent political matters and women's attire.
(Goulburn Evening Penny Post).