Students at the University of Sydney
Commem Days in the 1940s
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Processions in the 1940s:
1940: owing to World War II, this was the last procession for some years.
1946: despite a police ban on a city procession, the students were able to slip through the police cordon at the University using a smoke screen and invade the city with five motor floats.
1947: on their promise to be good and to restrict the display to 20 floats, the students were allowed to hold a city procession, their first traditional down-town motorised parade since 1940. Processions through the city were also held in 1948 and 1949.
Friday 10 May: The Undergraduates' Ball was held in the Trocadero, with a male ballet, a Maori sketch and renditions of extracts from "Scram", the University Commem songbook.
Wednesday 15 May: The last students' procession through the city for some years took place (Evening News, 11 May 1940).
A skit on the Yamba crocodile, which was never seen, was one of the features of the procession, photo from The Sydney Morning Herald, 16 May 1940, National Library of Australia. This was the last procession for some years owing to the war.
Photo, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, Digital order number: hood_20379.
Photo, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, Digital order number: hood_20375.
Photo, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, Digital order number: hood_20378.
Photo, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, Digital order number: hood_20376.
The Materia Medica (pharmacology) float at Park Street in the 1940s, photo, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, Digital order number: hood_20380.
Friday 23 May: The Undergraduates' Ball, with a ballet of Wesley College students, a floor show and a song - "Varsity Days" - written by the Secretary of the SRC, Lee Philpott, and Johnny Watson, were among the entertainments when more than 900 guests attended the annual ball in the Trocadero.
Wednesday 28 May: Festival Day, but the usual city procession was not held. Instead, the SRC organised a festival fair to raise funds for the University Patriotic Fund, which was affiliated with the Lord Mayor's Patriotic Fund. Students from the various faculties and colleges arranged stalls and sideshows; women medical students were in charge of catering for afternoon tea in the Refectory; men medical students served light refreshments during the day and ran hot dog stalls at night; the University Women's Land Army ran a produce stall; Wesley College students arranged a stock whip competition, with prizes given to those who caused the most damage with an 8 foot stockwhip to an effigy of Hitler; and Law students held mock courts during the afternoon (SMH, 17 April 1941). The University buildings were open to inspection, and lecturettes were given during the afternoon, SUDS performed Sacha Gultry's play "Villa For Sale" during the afternoon, and a revue was presented at night.
Members of the University Revue Ballet rehearsing in the Union Hall for the Students' Festival Week revue, to be held from 28 to 29 May 1941, photo from The Sydney Morning Herald, 1 May 1941, National Library of Australia.
The Hon Henrietta Loder, daughter of the Governor, Lord Wakehurst, and Lady Wakehurst, and Margaret Dovey - saleswomen at the Festival Fair on the Social Science stall, photo, The Sydney Morning Herald, 29 May 1941, National Library of Australia. Students from the Women's College, dressed in gay gipsy costumes, sold tickets for chocolate wheels and guessing competitions; white clad medical students sold ice creams; and "barkers", weirdly arrayed, shouted the merits of the various stalls.
Wednesday 26 May: Festival Day, when the building and grounds were open to the public, and there were athletics in the morning and popular lectures in the afternoon. No students' procession was held because of the war. There were carillon and organ recitals, a play staged by the Sydney University Dramatic Society in the afternoon and the day concluded with the students informal dance and cabaret, which took the place of the revue of former years.
1943 / 1944 / 1945
No students' processions were held because of the war.
Red mud from an air raid shelter was used in the annual Commem battle between Sydney University students outside the Physics Section in 1943, photo, The Central Queensland Herald, 24 June 1943, National Library of Australia.
Tuesday 21 May: The week began when 40 floats took part in the procession which left the Ross Street gates at 10am, and proceeded along Parramatta Road, Missenden Road and Carillon Avenue. Despite a police ban on a city procession, however, the students were able to slip through the police cordon using a smoke screen and invade the city with five floats. That night the Undergraduates' Ball was held at the Grace auditorium.
Wednesday 22 May: Festival Day, when visitors were invited to the University to join the festivities. Other highlights of the day included: the flour fight (10.45am), tramp and hobo parade (11am), song practice (11am), mammoth marble contests (11.30am) and University billy-cart championships and inter-collegiate fights (2.15pm). That evening hundreds of students marched into the city, burning effigies of the police, throwing eggs and flour and raiding the offices of the press. Later they created diversions in the city streets.
The revue in the Union Hall was on most nights (SMH, 21 May 1946).
The Sydney Morning Herald headline, 22 May 1946, National Library of Australia.
In the banned procession on 21 May, one float satirised recent book censorship proceedings in Sydney, photo, Examiner, 23 May 1946, National Library of Australia.
Ancient cars carried laughing students, photo, Examiner, 23 May 1946, National Library of Australia.
"At one stage of the University procession, mud was thrown over the occupants of one of the floats," photo, The Sydney Morning Herald, 22 May 1946, National Library of Australia.
Even the police entered into the spirit of the occasion. They pursued a student with a bucket, seized him but let him go after a warning, photo, Examiner, 23 May 1946, National Library of Australia.
Tear gas, flour bombs and water hoses were used in street battles that disrupted traffic. Police and public spectators suffered as flour, gas, water and eggs were showered, photo from The Daily News, 25 May 1946, National Library of Australia.
A tram was stopped in City Road as students - men and women - battled around it. Bedraggled girl (right) was taking flour bombs from a box. Another girl (left) fled. Passengers stayed aboard to dodge flying missiles, photo from The Daily News, 25 May 1946, National Library of Australia.
Trams banked up and traffic was blocked. Student in foreground was about to ward off a bomb. Behind him a man and a girl pelted bombs in another direction. Girl (left) was flour-spattered, drenched, photo from The Daily News, 25 May 1946, National Library of Australia.
Students battling with flour and tomatoes in Broadway as their procession swung round from City Road, photo, Townsville Daily Bulletin, 24 May 1946, National Library of Australia.
Festival Day on 22 May began with a flour fight between the "greasers" (engineering students) and "butchers" (medical students), photo from The Mercury, 24 May 1946, National Library of Australia.
One of the competitors in the billy cart championship on 22 May, photo, The Sydney Morning herald, 23 May 1946, National Library of Australia.
On Festival Day, a party of Hobo Association students leave Romano's Restaurant after failing to book a table, photo from The Sunday Times, 26 May 1946, National Library of Australia.
Police take the names of two of the Hobo Association students who had rushed from Romano's Restaurant to Prince's to the Australia Hotel during lunch hour in University gags, photo, Sunday Times, 26 May 1946, National Library of Australia.
In the evening, police prevented students from carrying out their intention of hanging an effigy in Martin Place and the revellers split into two groups, one of which is shown above, photo, The Sydney Morning herald, 23 May 1946, National Library of Australia.
Monday 19 May: The Undergraduates' Ball at the Trocadero.
Tuesday 20 May: The students' city procession. On their promise to be good and to restrict the display to 20 floats, the students were allowed to hold a city procession, their first traditional down-town motorised parade since 1940. Heavy rain fell drenching students and ruining many of their floats. However, no floats were banned by the censors and beyond the hurling of flour bombs at spectators the procession caused little worry to police and traffic officers. Later, students turned the University grounds into a muddy battlefield for flour and tomato fights and billycart derbies. In the afternoon, three students returned with a dummy cow, which they left beneath the new clock in Martin Place where it remained until it was seized and removed by the police.
The revue was another highlight of the last week of Lent Term (SMH, 19 May 1947).
The route of the students' city procession, image from The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 May 1947, National Library of Australia. However, rain drenched the students and many of their floats were ruined.
The Prime Minister's post-war program came in for a sly dig on this float, photo, Sydney Morning Herald, 21 May 1947, National Library of Australia.
This float made joking references to the arrival of the US Naval Task Force 38, photo, Sydney Morning Herald, 21 May 1947, National Library of Australia.
Police stopped this float as it began to drive out of the University grounds again after the procession. It was allowed to leave only after it had been stripped, photo, Sydney Morning Herald, 21 May 1947, National Library of Australia.
Tuesday 18 May: The students' procession through the city featured 62 decorated floats which were censored by two police inspectors and the Warden of St Paul's College. Police motor cyclists kept the procession out of the congested parts of the city and hurried it along. The Federal Government's free medicine scheme, the Garden case, the Sydney gas strike and the University Senate were all treated in satirical vein. Official looking forms hurled into the crowd were found on close examination to be only "application forms for more forms." The recent banning of the student paper "Honi Soil" by Senate was ridiculed by a float depicting its editor on his way to his funeral.
Wednesday 19 May: Students wearing false beards and white coats started a barber's shop under the clock in Martin Place.
Friday 21 May: Five students wearing morning dress, top hats and false beards held a mock duel near the Archibald Fountain.
On Commem Day, Medical students advancing on the engineering students in the traditional battle between the "Greasers" and the "Butchers", photo from The Sydney Morning Herald, 19 May 1948, National Library of Australia.
"Posters and decorated floats satirising the Government's free medicine scheme and the Garden case were features of the procession through city streets. Several posters, considered offensive by censors, were ordered to be withdrawn." Above are some of the floats ready to move off, photo, News (Adelaide), 19 May 1948, National Library of Australia.
The Vet Science float, photo, Centaur 1948.
"Women students in the procession give their version of the development of the New Look, from the bustle of the 1900s, through the shapeless twenties, to the much-publicised current version", photo, Queensland Times, 21 May 1948, National Library of Australia.
A Vet Science student in the annual Commem billy cart championship, photo, Centaur 1948.
Tuesday 17 May: A procession through the city in which about 60 floats took part. Two horsedrawn vehicles and a number of obscene posters were ordered by the police to be left behind when the procession moved off. Police also refused to permit a full-grown elephant, borrowed from a circus, to be led in the procession.
Thursday 19 May: General disapproval greeted the painting of two statues - the Shakespeare memorial outside the Public Library and the statue of Prince Albert outside the Conservatorium - which had been daubed in orange paint by some Arts students. The Vice-Chancellor said that the SRC planned Commem Week but was not responsible for the small percentage of students who overstepped the mark.
On Friday 6 May, as a Festival opener, four of a party of seven University students who gatecrashed the Australasian premiere of the new Australian film "Eureka Stockade" at a Sydney theatre , photo, Examiner, 9 May 1949, National Library of Australia.
As part of Festival Week, a student hoax "quarantined" the Hotel Australia with large notices intimating that smallpox had been discovered in the hotel. They were posted on the large display windows on the Castlereacgh Street frontage around 11pm on Monday 16 May. The notices said that the premises would be quarantined until further notice. Night staff quickly removed them, The Daily News, 17 May 1949, National Library of Australia.
Members of the University Revue Ballet in their costumes for 'Blue Stockings or Black', photo from The Sunday Herald, 15 May 1949, National Library of Australia.
The Vet Science float in the procession on 17 May, photo, 1949 Centaur.
On procession day, men and women students played in the Rugby Union game between Physiotherapy and Dentistry. After the game, Carolyn McKelland was ducked in the duckpond, photo from The Sydney Morning Herald, 18 May 1949, National Library of Australia.
The Shakespeare Memorial outside the Public Library "decorated" by students on 19 May, photo, The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 May 1949, National Library of Australia.
To celebrate the last day of Festival Week, on Friday 20 May twenty-one University men undergraduates invaded Martin Place in pantomime fairy costumes. Carrying a placard saying "Maypole by Courtesy of City Council," they danced in a circle around the public convenience, photo, Sydney Morning Herald, 21 May 1949, National Library of Australia. A policeman stopped them after 3 minutes and ordered them out of Martin Place.