Students at the University of Sydney

Commem Days at other universities

"Commemoration day is one of the few events in the University calendar that kindle the active interest of the general public in the doings of the institution. In the memory of students "Commem" is enshrined. It is the one recognised opportunity they have to let their spirits effervesce for the public edification – spirits that have been "cabined, cribbed, confined' during weary months of "stewing" for exams. Perhaps it is necessary to go through a course of cramming to realise fully the lazy luxury of commemoration: Books and lectures then give way to laughter and playful humor, whilst the grave and reverend seniors, whose word is law during term-time, wink at the merry subversion of order that makes the day what it is. Of all the ideas that Australian universities have borrowed from Oxford and Cambridge none is so distinctively stamped with the atmosphere of those ancient seats of learning as the mild "rag" that takes place on degree day. It agreeably breaks the tame monotony of academic routine, and ministers on the lighter side to that esprit de corps without which a university does not fulfil its purpose." (The Advertiser, 16 December 1902)

A "rag" is a stunt or prank.

Today, undergraduate Commem Day processions and festivities at the University of Sydney and other Australian universities are long gone. However, "rags" persist at many international universities, either as initations or to raise funds for charity. University Rag societies are student-run charitable fundraising organisations that are widespread in the United Kingdom and Ireland, with some in South Africa and the Netherlands. Traditionally fundraising activities centre around an annual Rag Week, with events each day for the week (Wikipedia).

On this webpage: Gallery





Chancellor of the British Exchequer, Winston Churchill wearing the Irish "Paddy" hat trimmed with green ribbon and with a clay pipe stuck in it and holding the shillelagh presented to him by the students of Queen's College, Belfast, when he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws in 1927. He entered fully into the spirit of the "rag" organised by students in his honour, photo, Western Mail, 8 April 1926, National Library of Australia.



Winston Churchill, former Chancellor of the British Exchequer, "arrested" by students of the Bristol University in 1930. He was charged with acquiring a new hat and a new chancellorship, and with neglecting to supply coffee and biscuits. Found guilty, he paid a subscription to the Students' Club, photo, Western Mail, 23 January 1930, National Library of Australia.



Cambridge University held a "rag"' in April 1925 to aid the East London Children's Camp, and the students made the occasion an outing for the original flower women of Piccadilly Circus, photo, Evening News, 17 April 1925, National Library of Australia.


Cambridge undergrads battle in their annual "rag", photo, The Australian Women's Weekly, 6 November 1937, National Library of Australia.


"This "rag" occurred in the quadrangle at University College, London, on 10 November
1927, and was the most strenuous on record. King's College students, enraged
because their mascot 'Reggie'– a wooden lion – had been captured by the London
University students, badly mutilated by them, and then brought back at dawn,
retaliated by advancing in full force, aided by college girls, to University College
headquarters, where the fun became fast and furious. Pineapple, rotten apples,
eggs, flour soot, anything they could lay their hands on, was used as ammunition.
The battle eventually became so serious that many casualties occurred, and the
quadrangle gates were closed. Our picture shows the great battle in progress",
photo, The Register, 16 December 1927, National Library of Australia.

UK university "rags"

View newsreels courtesy of the British Pathé website:


View newsreels courtesy of the British Pathé website:

South Africa


A group of students hauling the Vice-Chancellor, Dr J E Adamson, in a car during the "rag" they organised to celebrate Graduation Day in Grahamstown, South Africa, in 1927, photo, Western Mail, 27 December 1923, NLA.




Adelaide University students preparing to set off in their Commem procession in 1905, image, Chronicle, 23 December 1905, National Library of Australia.


Thousands of people who saw the Adelaide University students' first post-war procession on 25 July 1947 are still laughing over its highlight – the magnificent impersonation by Arts student Don Porter of Field-Marshal Viscount Montgomery on his triumphal tour of the city, photo, The Mail, 26 July 1947, National Library of Australia.


In their second big "rag" in 1952, Adelaide University students lashed a nude plaster-cast model of a woman to the central spire of Elder Conservatorium, and a huge skull and crossbones from Bonython Hall tower, photo, News (Adelaide), 25 November 1952, National Library of Australia. On Commem Day in April, another such flag flew from the Bonython Hall tower and large footprints led from the Vice-Chancellor's residence to Bonython Hall entrance.



A University student in the guise of a Red Indian Chief at the annual commemcement "rag" in April 1927, photo, The Argus, 11 April 1927, NLA.


Melbourne University students celebrated Commencement Day on Saturday 18 April 1931, photo, The Argus, 20 April 1931, NLA. Pictured above is a "dragon" in the procession.


Degree day in Melbourne in 1934, when a huge crowd assembled in Collins Street to watch the Melbourne University students' procession and "rag", photo, The Argus, 26 March 1934, National Library of Australia. Professor F Wood was admitted to the degree of Doctor of Science at the ceremony in the Wilson Hall.



Before the fun began in the Commem Day procession in May 1931, photo, The Queenslander, 7 May 1931, NLA.


Queensland University students' commem day procession in 1933 passing along Elizabeth Street, Brisbane, photo, The Queenslander, 27 April 1933, National Library of Australia .. find out more about UQ commem days here.


Tin cans, garbage tins, bugles and off-key tubas were in the band that led the University students' annual procession of 40 floats in May 1950, photo, The Courier-Mail, 6 May 1950, NLA.



This gruesome interpretation of the Federal Government's medicine and health plans was featured by university undergraduates in their Commemoration Day procession through Hobart on 11 May 1948, photo, The Mercury, 12 May 1948, National Library of Australia.


This sit-down by University of Tasmania students caused a hold-up near the corner of Elizabeth and Collins Streets, Hobart, on 13 May 1953. They were part of the students' annual street procession, photo, The Mercury, 14 May 1953, National Library of Australia.

Western Australia


A prehistoric animal in the students' procession in May 1924, photo, Western Mail, 22 May 1924, National Library of Australia.


A torchlight procession and an eccentric ball were held on the evening before the graduation ceremony in April 1935, The West Australian, 25 April 1935, National Library of Australia. Pictures are group of oddly attired figures at the ball.