Students at the University of Sydney

Commem Days in the 1950s

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Briefly

Processions in the 1950s:
– city processions were held in each year of the 1950s.
– the students used the processions as an opportunity to raise funds for various charities.
– there was always a heavy police presence during the processions to ensure that no float left the route or proceeded into the city further than Market Street.

Gallery

1950

Festival Week:
– Tuesday 9 May 1950: the students' procession through the city was held after police had closely inspected and banned several of the 50 floats. During the evening, the Commem Ball was held at the Trocadero.
– Saturday 13 May the University was open for visitors.
– all proceeds went to the University Settlement.

1950

Police Superintendent Lawrence censored the procession first, checking over trucks as they passed out of the University grounds, photo from The Sydney Morning Herald, 10 May 1950, National Library of Australia.

1950

The Vet Science Float in the procession, photo, Centaur 1950. Slogans included "Your pounds will save your hounds" and "We get your goat – we'd like your Doe". The report in the 1950 Centaur said "We didn't win a prize, it rained for the latter part of the procession, but everyone enjoyed themselves and will no doubt, be in it again next year".

1950

Five students swam and paddled two rubber dinghies in the Archibald Fountain in Hyde Park in a Festival Week prank on Friday 12 May. They exploded a homemade bomb before making off in a car, and were gone before the police arrived, photo from The Sydney Morning Herald, 13 May 1950, National Library of Australia.

1951

Festival Week:
– Tuesday 8 May 1951: Thirty thousand watched the most spectacular students' procession for many years pass through the city on during Festival Week. Several hundred students took part in around 50 floats depicting topics such as the University finances, the power crisis, the transport problem and the wedding of King Farouk. Women in academic dress took up a collection in aid of the Spastic Centre. The police allowed the procession as far as Market Street - in previous years it had not been allowed beyond Park Street. There were several stunts including tear gas bombs thrown into Hotel Australia and the public convenience in Martin Place.
– Friday 11 May: a mock kidnapping by four masked students in Kings Cross.
– Column 8 of the SMH commented "Isn't it time we eased the restrictions imposed upon the University students' annual procession? ... Other cities give themselves over to university youth at least one day a year. We restrict them to come to the edge of the city, marshalled and surrounded as if they were revolutionaries".
(SMH, 9 May 1951)

1951

Preparing the Vet Science float on the morning of the procession on 8 May, photo, 1951 Centaur.

1951

The Vet Science float, photo, 1951 Centaur. "Our main theme was the bloated woolgrower, with a few accessory items, which included an extensive display of wool types - a heartrending tableau depicting the impecunious state of our fellow Veterinarians and, of course, Support for Vet Women. Our Vet girls were much in evidence, with Pat & Joyce providing sophistication .. while Jan & Judy gave us the contrast of untarnished youth" (Centaur).

1951

The Vet Science float, photo, 1951 Centaur. "On the return journey, our float was attacked, without provocation, by what looked like a plague of Anthropology students. Their barrage of wet bread was answered, in true Veterinary style, by a poisonous cloud of American Wool (pure bull) – the horse's contribution. Such a surprised lot of Anthropology students never was seen" (Centaur).

1951

Members of the 'Sturt Expedition' in the procession on 8 May, photo from The Sydney Morning Herald, 9 May 1951, National Library of Australia.

1951

During the procession, students dressed in girls' tunics played hockey in Martin Place. The police in the background stopped the game just after the photograph was taken, photo from The Sydney Morning Herald, 9 May 1951, National Library of Australia.

1952

Festival Week:
– Tuesday 13 May 1952: the students' procession and festivities during the day were followed by the Commemoration Ball at the Trocadero that evening, attended by 800 dancers. The highlight of the evening was a "haka" by St John's College students. Proceeds of the Ball went towards the students' bursary fund.
(SMH, 14 May 1952)

1952

In the procession, students against Herbert Vere Evatt (The 'Doc'), Leader of the Australian Labor Party (and thus Leader of the Opposition), photo G3_224_1477_1, University of Sydney Archives.

1952

Students against Ben Chifley, former Labor Prime Minister, photo G3_224_1477_(2), University of Sydney Archives.

1952

The United Nations float, photo G3_224_1477_3, University of Sydney Archives.

1952

Students called old motor cars into service for the procession, photo from The Sunday Times, 25 May 1952, National Library of Australia.

1952

A billy-cart, photo from The Sunday Times, 25 May 1952, National Library of Australia.

1952

Students staged a mock duel in Martin Place, photo from The Sydney Morning Herald, 14 May 1952, National Library of Australia.

1952

A policeman escorting one of the duelists from the roadway, photo from the Sydney Morning Herald, 14 May 1952, National Library of Australia.

1953

Festival Week:
– Tuesday 13 May 1953: police and senior students described the procession as "the quietest on record". Police censored a number of floats before allowing the procession to leave the University and lined the city route to guard against incidents. Students on floats threw crackers, flour bombs and straw at onlookers. Some students sold buttons for the World Student Relief appeal and the United Nations Appeal for Children. There were a number of stunts including: students exploded smoke bombs in Martin Place; Julius Caesar and a large entourage arrived outside a city theatre; the annual football match between Physiotherapy women and Dentistry men students was delayed because the Physio team was abducted in a bus, bound and gagged, and abandoned in Martin Place; and students on Monday night stole the hands from the Martin Place clock. Festivities at the University included a race for "bombs," a comic court, a flour fight and a revue entitled "Rank and Vile".
(SMH, 13 May 1953)

1953

This Faculty of Arts float in the procession satirises French and modern art, photo from The Northern Star, 14 May 1953, National Library of Australia.

1953

The captain of the physiotherapy women's team is thrown into the air by the members of the dental students' team during the celebrations on 12 May 1953, photo from the Sydney Morning Herald, 13 May 1953, National Library of Australia.

1954

Festival Week:
– Tuesday 11 May 1954: the procession left the University at 10.30 am and travelled along City Road, College Street, Market Street and back to the University along George Street. Before it left, police and SRC officers censored the floats. The procession was nearly a mile long and took nearly an hour to pass through city streets. Thousands of spectators lined the route and applauded the students. Students staged mock fights and played football, and sold buttons in aid of the United Nations Appeal for Children and World Student Relief. Bands of students left the floats and dashed through city stores and offices yelling slogans. The Police Traffic Superintendent said that the students' activities were orderly and it was a splendid procession. Other Commem Day events at the University included a football match between physiotherapy women and dentistry men, a Cuckoo Court, an inter-faculty flour fight, a billy cart derby and the Commem Ball at the Trocadero.

1954

Police officers inspect a sign on a Medical Faculty float before the start of the procession on 11 May, photo from The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 May 1954, National Library of Australia.

1954

These students rode on a float making fun of the Eastern Suburbs railway in the Festival Day procession through the city, photo from the Sydney Morning Herald, 12 May 1954, National Library of Australia.

1954

A large crowd watched these students travel down Martin Place in a rickshaw, photo from The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 May 1954, National Library of Australia.

1954

Scattering confetti, these students were in a group which tried to run into the Town Hall during the procession, photo from The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 May 1954, National Library of Australia.

1954

Students invaded Sydney after their procession. Police reinforcements were called to Martin Place when students exploded smoke bombs, lit firecrackers and hurled paper bags full of flour. Pictured above are firemen watching as dense smoke poured from a bomb thrown by students, photo from The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 May 1954, National Library of Australia.

1954

Students invaded a city building after the procession, leading the "Abominable Snowman", brought all the way from the Himalayas, Advocate, 13 May 1954, National Library of Australia. Their coming was heralded early in the day by strange "footprints" on the Elizabeth Street pavement outside the building.

1954

Hundreds of University students shouted and cheered as three of their fellows staged a mock 'Mrs Petrov'" kidnapping at the Union Hall on Commem day. Two male students, dressed as "Russian couriers" in long coats, hats and sun-glasses, dragged a girl, dressed as Mrs Petrov - minus one shoe - down the main aisle, photo from The Argus, 12 May 1954, National Library of Australia.

1954

Three of the six hundred undergraduate students at the Commemoration Day ball at the Trocadero, photo from The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 May 1954, National Library of Australia.

1954

On Friday 15th, students blocked Pitt Street traffic for a short time on 14 May. While the "Maharaja" stood by, his seven "slaves" swept the street and laid carpet for him to cross. The students had earlier been turned away from a leading city hotel, photo, The Sydney Morning Herald, 15 May 1954, National Library of Australia.

1954

Students filing across a street after their rajah, carried head high, had been "dethroned", photo, Advocate, 15 May 1954, National Library of Australia.

1955

Festival Week:
– Tuesday 10 May 1955: incidents included throwing yellow paint over one statue in the Archibald Fountain in Hyde Park, putting condy's crystals into the fountain in Sandringham Gardens and a green chemical into the Pool of Remembrance at the War Memorial, and the statue of Queen Victoria had words written on it. The SRC President apologised on behalf of those students who, like himself, "regret and deplore the juvenile attitude and irresponsibility exhibited by some of our fellow students". Heavy reinforcements of police along the procession route ensured that no float left the route or proceeded into the city further than Market Street. Twenty-four students appeared in court charged with offences alleged to have been committed during Commem Day. Later that day, smoke and flour bombs and crackers broke up an afternoon performance at Wallace Theatre and a film program in Union Hall was interrupted by a tear gas bomb.
(SMH, 11 May 1955)

1956

Festival Week:
– Tuesday 8 May 1956: at the procession in the city, nearly 1,200 students collected money for their "Buy a Plane" campaign for the Royal Flying Doctor Service including some pyjama clad students with collection boxes who patrolled the streets from midnight to dawn. Stunts included a pogo-stick race in Hunter Street, pirates boarding a Manly ferry (they were the most successful collectors), holding up motorists with toy pistols demanding money for the appeal, holding a cricket match in Martin Place, reenacting the wedding of Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier and holding an auction sale of "slave girls" on the steps of the Town Hall. Before the procession, some 60 decorated floats survived inspection by police officers and a priest. Police described the procession and the antics that followed as the most orderly they could remember.
(SMH, 9 May 1956)

1957

Festival Week:
– Tuesday 7 May 1957: students raised £4,500 for the Far West Children's Health Scheme as a result of their Commem Day celebrations in the city. During the day, students boarded the US aircraft carrier Bennington dressed as pirates, sounded the chemical warfare alarm and sent the crew rushing to action stations. They also kidnapped the Lord Mayor when he arrived at the Town Hall at 9am, let off smoke bombs in Martin Place, picnicked on the footpath outside Prince's restaurant, laid the "foundation stone" of the Sydney Opera House, played basketball in city streets until police confiscated the ball and tossed a realistic dummy off Bebarfald's store into George Street. More than 70 floats took part in the procession - a record. The most popular themes were the Ebasco report, the Suez crisis and the housing shortage. After the procession students in fancy dress invaded the city rattling collection boxes.
(SMH, 8 May 1957)

1958

Festival Week:
– Monday 5 May 1958: in stunts on the evening before Commem Day, students kidnapped 2UE radio announcer John Laws and invaded two city theatres. Laws was released after giving a donation for an obstetrical delivery room at the Royal Hospital for Women, Paddington, to be built by the Benevolent Society of NSW.
– Tuesday 6 May: the procession of about 30 floats passed through the city on Tuesday 6 May 1958, and its theme was mother and babies. More than 5,000 people crowded into Martin Place in their lunch hour to watch the procession which was orderly and throughout the day only four students were arrested. Approximately £3,500 was raised.
(SMH, 6 and 7 May 1958)

1958

During Festival Day in May1958, photo, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, Digital order number: d7_05348.

1958

The Vet Science float, photo, Centaur, 1958.

1959

Festival Week:
– Tuesday 5 May 1959: celebrations began with a procession of about 60 decorated floats through the city, first censored by the Police Superintendent of Traffic. It was in aid of the Red Cross; many of the floats carried Red Cross publicity and more than 3,000 students were on duty in the city as collectors. The SRC said that there would be no painting of the Archibald Fountain or throwing dummies over the Gap which had caused trouble in past years.
(SMH, 5 May 1959)

1959

The Vet Science float, photo, Centaur, 1959.


Lis Bergmann, 2013