Students at the University of Sydney
Commem Days in the 1960s
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As in the 1950s, Commem Day city processions were held every year in the 1960s and raised funds for charity.
Tuesday 3 May 1960: Commem Day began in the University grounds with the traditonal flour fight, then about 50 satirical floats lined up at the gates for the city procession. None were rejected by the censor, the Superintendent of Traffic. The procession was led by an economics student John Walter who carried the burning "Olympic torch", Students collected £2,600 for a fund to send Australian athletes to the Rome Olympics. The day coincided with the Coral Sea Week parade, and there were many student pranks as usual. In the evening, students "engaged" with the US atomic submarine Halibut, part of the largest concentration of American naval firepower assembled in Sydney Harbour since the Coral Sea Victory. In addition, two sailors from the US cruiser Canberra were "kidnapped" by students.
(SMH, 4 May 1960)
Wednesday 3 May 1961: celebrations were the quietest for many years, police reported. They officially began at 10am as a procession of 33 brightly coloured floats moved out of the University grounds, satirising people and institutions like Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, Dr Verwoerd and the Milk Board. The last float advertised the charity, the Aboriginal Scholarships Apeal, for which £3,200 was collected. As the procession moved through the city, garishly dressed students distributed "Honi Soit" in exchange for donations. Afterwards, hundreds of students moved to the Town Hall where a party of 50 tried to clean the steps with toothbrushes and detergent, chanting "keep the city clean". Police stopped the students when the steps became slippery. Another group hoisted a piece of women's underwear up the flagpole. The main body of students moved to Hyde Park during lunch time where they performed skits, sang and recited mock poetry to the large crowds.
(SMH, 4 May 1961)
Tuesday 1 May 1962: the SMH headline (2 May) read "Police and Students in Commem Day Skirmishes", and the Commem Day charity was International House.
Wednesday 1 May 1963: Commem Day was quieter than usual. At 2.30am, two policemen recaptured a bus at the University from three students who escaped into the grounds. Later 300 students copied a well-known television commercial for shaving cream by shaving in city streets. Students munched pies on the Town Hall steps in defiance of the Sydney City Commissioners who banned this in 1962; invaded the South Australian Government Tourist Bureau in George Street to protest against a "gerrymander" of South Australian electorates; marched on Chapel and Woods Lanes, Darlinghurst in a mock campaign against "immorality"; and patrolled the city in groups blowing whistles harshly at pedestrians who jay-walked or dropped litter. In the procession, floats commented on Negro riots, the F-111 bomber, massage parlours, the "babies" of the Wyndham education scheme and President Johnson's offers to negotiate "anywhere" for Vietnam peace. During the day, students sold 120,000 copies of the "Daily Horror" in aid of the Autistic Children's Association and collected over $10,000 for the charity.
(SMH, 2 May 1963)
Wednesday 6 May 1964: in the procession, students demonstrated in support of the nego civil rights movement. The procession through the city comprised about 30 floats satirising censorship, shopping hours, royalty, Donald Campbell's land speed record, Australia's air defence and the Beatles. Later in the day about 50 students, many dressed as members of the Ku Klux Klan or as negroes, sat down outside the US Consulate in Wynyard Square chanting "Civil rights now" and "Go home Yanks" and attracting a crowd of about 2,000. Fifty police intervened and 34 people were arrested. The students collected several thousand pounds for the charity SACHED - the South Africa Council for Higher Education.
(SMH, 7 May 1964)
Saturday 1 May 1965: Polling Day and Richard Walsh was the official Commem candidate to contest the State Elections as leader and sole candidate of the Boston T Party.
Wednesday 5 May: firstly, about 500 students held a water, flour and mud fight. Then 27 floats paraded through the city streets between 10am and 11am, led by a group of students in Army clothes, armed with boomerangs and carrying posters "Join Australia's Modern Army". Hundreds of students followed the procession selling the Commem Day issue of "Honi Soit" to collect money for Inala, with about £4,000 being raised. Stunts in the city included 94 students setting a world record for a "hearse-cramming". There were demonstrations again against the US Consulate-General in Wynyard Place, but the demonstration was good-natured (SMH, 6 May 1965). Another stunt involved the removal of every plate from every Consulate in Sydney.
(honi soit, commemorative issue 2006)
Wednesday 4 May 1966: on Commem Day, more than 50 police battled for almost an hour outside Parliament House to keep under control about 3,000 Sydney University students demonstrating for more police pay. However, there were no arrests and police remained mainly good-humoured and tolerant. Two fire engines arrived to help disburse the crowd and students changed their chant to "More pay for firemen". The demonstration was part of the Commem Day celebrations, featuring about 22 decorated floats in the procession through city streets. Pranks included locking the exit doors of St James station for 15 minutes, imprisoning more than 3,000 people on their way to work. In other pranks more than 1,000 students demonstrated in Wynyard Street against automation, blocking the street for 30 minutes; students formed a human chain through city treets, arcades and large stores; and students washed down the Shakespeare statue in Hyde Park and statues in the Archibald Fountain to help "the Lord Mayor's campaign to keep the city clean". Students raised $7,000 for the Commem Day charity - the Australian Council for Educational Research.
(SMH, 5 May 1966)
Wednesday 3 May 1967: on Commem Day, about 3,000 students blocked traffic in George Street and on the Harbour Bridge. Swift police action prevented the students causing chaos to peak-hour city traffic. About 2,000 students later blocked the entrance to Wynyard station during the busy 5pm rush. The incidents occurred after the students completed demonstrations in Hyde Park which included a "cultural revolution" by students dressed as Chinese Red Guards. The Commem celebrations had begun with a parade of floats during the morning from the University grounds to Park Street and back to the University along George Street and Broadway. Police said they had received few complaints about the students' behaviour and they were generally well-behaved.
(SMH, 4 May 1967)
Monday 29 April 1968: the 29th Commemoration Ball was held at Luna Park from 8pm, with proceeds going to the Autistic Children's Association, Belrose. The whole Park was open for the evening and two dancing areas were set aside for the 3,500 guests.
Wednesday 1 May: Commem Day, when students armed with whistles and brooms roamed the city streets looking for litterbugs and traffic offenders as part of an anti-litter campaign.
(SMH, 30 April 1968)
Wednesday 7 May 1969: Commem Day raised between $10,000 and $15,000 for the NSW Prisoners' Aid Society. The celebrations were unusually quiet - only 6 floats took part in the procession into the city and only a few hundered people watched compared with thousands in 1968. A flour fight in the Domain quickly petered out as the contestants ran out of flour and paper bags.
(SMH, 8 May 1969)
Lis Bergmann, 2013