Students at the University of Sydney
Commem Days in the 1910s
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From 1912, the students' procession, culminating in a festival at the Town Hall, was held on a separate day from the Commemoration Day (the commemoration of benefactors and conferring of degrees ceremony). The processions were not held between 1915 and 1918 due to World War I, but resumed in 1919.
The event was now called the Students' Festival, but students and the media continued to refer to it as Commem.
Commemoration Day, Saturday 30 April 1910 (Town Hall):
The students' held their procession before the official ceremony at the Town Hall. Half-a-mile of staring colours and blaring instruments, of (occasional) rattling crackers and (continual) howling voices. Elephants and camels, carriages and waggons and taxi-cabs, all loaded with outlandish figures, from a skeleton to an octopus, grouped into fantastic skits and imageries. It was the maddest, most amusing procession that ever blocked wheeled traffic and brought the townspeople out in thousands till they blocked the foot-paths.
Commemoration Day, Monday 3 April 1911 (Great Hall):
Monday 3 April 1911: a Commemoration Day was abandoned by the Senate owing to the disorderly proceedings of previous years and degrees were conferred at a formal ceremony in the Great Hall.
Saturday 13 May: The students, however, were determined to have a gathering of some kind and so held their own unauthorised commemoration. They hired the Town Hall for their own ceremony. In addition, between 300 and 400 young men in motor cars, cabs, delivery vans, and knackers' carts, and armed with gongs, trumpets, horns, concertinas and other instruments assembled in front of the Chancellor's (Sir Normand MacLaurin) house in Macquarie Street, opposite the Botanical Gardens entrance. Here they played discordantly, yelled, hooted, hurrahed, and gave cat-calls. Sir Normand was forced to jump into a taxi and drive to the Inspector-General's office for police protection.
Subsequently, the committee of the Undergraduates' Association appeared before the Professorial Board and expressed regret for those things in connection with the Commemoration which had caused annoyance to the Chancellor and to certain members of the Board. The Chancellor wrote to the Board asking that the charges against the undergraduates insofar as they concerned himself be dismissed. The chairman of the Undergraduates' Association also said that the songs were never meant to be taken seriously, and the Committee regretted that they had been taken in the wrong spirit. The Board accepted the explanation.
(SMH, 4 April, 11 and 20 May 1911, Riverine Herald, 15 May 1911).
Commemoration Week, 20 - 26 May 1912:
"By a compromise, which it may be hoped will prove satisfactory to all parties concerned, the University authorities have secured the chance of a dignified and orderly function at the conferring of degrees ceremony, whilst the students are to be allowed to resume their annual procession through the streets of Sydney" (SMH, 23 May 1912). The students' procession through the city was now held on a separate day from the official Commemoration ceremony. "This year there is to be not merely Commemoration Day, but a Commemoration Week up at the University. Between the undergraduates and the authorities all is peace, and the hilarity that is on the program for the next few days and evenings will be a perfectly legal and recognised hilarity. The undergraduates' procession has senatorial sanction, and they are even to be given the Univerisity Great Hall for their own commem celebration" (The Mercury, 25 May 1912).
Monday 20 May: The Annual dinner of the University's Women's Union and University Scout's Dance.
Tuesday 21 May: Inter-university women's tennis.
Wednesday 22 May: Lectures ceased, University athletic championship.
Thursday 23 May: 2.30pm, the official commemoration of benefactors and conferring of degrees ceremony in the Great Hall. "The wheel has come full circle .. for the first time for many years Commemoration Day was celebrated in the Great Hall, and there can be no doubt that in no other place can that ceremony ever be so fittingly performed. The Great Hall represents the, oldest and noblest traditions of academic life, and it is only proper that within its walls should take place the ceremony which most concretely symbolises the handing on of the torch of life and learning" (SMH, 24 May 1912). It was to have been followed by a garden party given by the Senate but the heavy wintry rain and cold winds prevented this.
Friday 24 May: Intercollegiate sports; University's Women Undergraduate Association's dance.
Saturday 25 May: By 9.00am the procession had assembled in front of the Quadrangle and began to wind its way out of the grounds into Parramatta Road. It was an extravagantly humorous procession but did not go further into the city than the railway station, where it turned and wended its way back, via Regent street and the Newtown tram line, re-entering the University grounds opposite the Deaf and Dumb Institute. At 10.30am it was followed by the undergraduate festival in the Great Hall at the University, where addresses were given and sports "blues" presented. At 8.00pm the annual reunion took place.
(SMH and The Mercury, 25 May 1912)
Festival Day, Saturday 24 May 1913:
Saturday 12 April: The conferring of degrees ceremony, which was held in the Great Hall, "lasted an hour and passed off very quietly. There were no speeches. The degrees having been conferred, the Chancellor said, 'I now call upon those present to give three cheers for His Majesty the King'. The cheers were given very heartily, and were followed by cheers for the Chancellor and the senate. That was all. When the annual commemoration takes place the proceedlngs will doubtless be a little more lively" (SMH, 14 April 1913).
Saturday 24 May: The students' procession through the city culminated in a festival at the Town Hall. The procession left the University at 8.30am and passed down George Street West to the Railway Station, then along George Street to Market Street, up into York Street and finally to the Town Hall. There, matters were wholly in the hands of the students, with Senate and the professors unrepresented. None of the academic ceremonies of former commemorations held in the Town Hall took place and the time was mainly taken up with amusements provided by the students.
(Evening News, 26 April 1913)
Festival Day, Saturday 23 May 1914:
Saturday 4 April: The conferring of degrees ceremony was held in the Great Hall.
Saturday 23 May: The students marched in procession from the University to the Town Hall. It was a succession of cleverly-devised and executed humorous surprises. Political contestants in the Federal and State arenas were burlesqued, and there was a representation of the Governor-General living in a small bark hut. The State Bakery was represented with a herculean baker trying in vain to make an impression on a loaf of bread. The subsequent function in the Hall was marked by much noise and fun. There was plenty of horse-play, but it was kept within bounds, and the chairman of the Undergraduates in a speech referred to the friendly relations now exisiting between the Senate of the University and the Association.
(Kalgoorlie Miner, 25 May 1914)
Festival Day, Saturday 22 May 1915:
Saturday 10 April: The conferring of degrees ceremony was held in the Great Hall.
Saturday 22 May: For the first time for many years, no procession was held as it was generally felt that, in view of the war, it would be out of place. Instead, the Undergraduates celebrated Commemoration Day with a concert in the Town Hall. All proceeds including sales of the song book went to the Belgian Fund. In a brief address, the Chancellor of the University, Sir William Cullen, mentioned that 356 graduates and undergraduates had already left for the front. The words of one of the students' songs were:
|Today we sing a valiant race
This Is OUR Belgian day,
So let us pour our praises forth
In song and chant and lay;
The finals all are coming near,
Then we'll be free to volunteer,
But meanwhile strike the Kipling note,
And pay, and pay, and pay.
We sound the loud kazoo,
And yet we all must say,
It's still Commemoration, but
This is our BELGIAN day.
Festival Day, Thursday 17 May 1916:
Saturday 8 April 1916: A conferring of degrees ceremony was held in the Great Hall.
Thursday 17 May 1916: For the second year in succession, the students' procession was not held. Instead, the Sydney University Undergrads' Association hosted a garden party at the University in aid of the Overseas Tobacco Fund. There were several hundreds of guests, including the Governor Sir Gerald Strickland. The outdoor amusements included a mixed doubles tennis match, demonstrations in chemistry, physics and geology, afternoon tea in the Great Hall and in the new Union buildings. The grounds were decorated with flags and a band played selections. University dress was worn by men and women students.
In the evening the annnual reunion of graduates and undergraduates in the Union Hall. After attending the reunion, around 60 begowned undergraduates travelled into the city by tram and began to parade the streets, singing songs, holding impromptu meetings, cheering and playing musical instruments. However, a dampening effect on the jovial proceedings came when a number of young students crowded into Paris House restaurant and in so doing knocked over and smashed a valuable bronze statue. While there was a general scatter by the young men, a couple of students returned and asked for an account of the damage to be sent to the Undergraduates' Association.
(SMH, 19 May 1916)
Saturday 14 April 1917: A conferring of degrees ceremony was held in the Great Hall.
Saturday 13 April 1918: A conferring of degrees ceremony was held in the Great Hall.
The students' commemorations were half-hearted, mainly owing to the war, and just a little, perhaps, owing to their being "dry" (SMH, 17 July 1919).
Festival Day, Saturday 18 July 1919:
Monday 7 April: The conferring of degrees ceremony was not held as planned on Saturday 12 April 1919 in consequence of the Government regulations prohibiting the holding of meetings owing to the infuenza epidemic. Instead, Senate resolved the degrees be conferred forthwith.
Saturday 18 July: The signing of peace and the removal of the other cause of depression bid fair to make this year's festival one of the most memorable (SMH, 17 July 1919) and, although the infuenza epidemic had forced the closure of the University for five weeks earlier in the year, the students held their first Commemoration Day since the war. As the weird procession of quaintly laden lorries slowly wended its way from the Varsity into the city via George Street, business in the immediate vicinity of the spectacle ceased to interest anyone. Shops and officers and factories emptied as suddenly as if a fire had broken out on the premises ... The crudeness of their realism, the outrageous character of the parodies, the almost barbaric revel of prehistoic humour, were infinitely diverting .. The bizarre string of vehicles and motor cars and perspiring youths, and paint and powder and grotesque costumes, wound from George Street into Martin Place, along Pitt Street and so to the Town Hall via Market Street (SMH). The procession was followed by a concert in the Town Hall and a reunion in the Great Hall in the evening.