Now and then: rare photos of the Adelaide Christmas Pageant

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By Lana Guineay

Nipper and Nimble, Nellie, the Pageant Queen, the Magic Cave… the much-loved Adelaide Credit Union Christmas Pageant is nearly here, and as all South Aussies know, it’s the traditional day to put up your Christmas tree and kick off the festive season.

Celebrating its 85th anniversary this year, the annual parade has been an SA institution for generations – join us for a trip back in time with pageant photos from the last eight decades, as well as a few throwback facts you might not know…

1930s

State Library of South Australia -B 70614. Hannah Tobin, aged 22 and a friend dressed in period costume for the first 1933 Christmas Pageant. Both women worked at John Martins.

Hannah Tobin, aged 22 and an unnamed friend dressed in period costume for the first ever pageant in 1933. Both women worked at John Martin’s. State Library of South Australia -B 70614.

Father Christmas makes an appearance in 1939. Photo: State Library of South Australia - B 63652

Father Christmas makes an appearance in 1939. Photo: State Library of South Australia – B 63652

A white swan floating into the Pageant, approx. 1939 Photo: State Library of South Australia

A white swan floating into the Pageant, approx. 1939. State Library of South Australia – B 63650

  • It all started in 1933. The Magic Cave had been around since 1896 (yes really), but the first ever pageant was founded in the Great Depression by Sir Edward Hayward, owner of the department store John Martin’s
  • Inspired by the Toronto Santa Claus Parade and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Hayward wanted to stage an event to lift the spirits of Depression-era Adelaide
  • Then called the ‘Children’s Christmas Parade’, it was held on 18 November 1933
  • It featured around eight floats, four bands, went for about 40 minutes, and drew crowds of 200,000
  • All participants were staff at John Martin’s
  • In 1935, the Pageant began acknowledging Australian stories and icons, and included a Lord Mayor’s Christmas appeal float to raise money for underprivileged children.

1940s

1949 Christmas stocking float

1949: evidence the giant xmas stocking float has been around almost as long as the pageant itself. Photo: State Library of South Australia – B 62287/6

1948. State Library of South Australia - B 69087/38

There were some John Martin’s employees who lived in a shoe…1948. State Library of South Australia – B 69087/38

State Library of South Australia - B 62287/3

1940s kids getting ready for the parade. State Library of South Australia – B 62287/3

  • The first ever Pageant Queen was crowned in 1939-40, as a way to raise wartime funds
  • Due to World War II, there was no Pageant from 1941-44
  • In 1945 the pageant returned as the Victory Christmas Pageant – celebrating the end of the war. It also featured the first radio broadcast, which continued to 1959.

1950s

State Library of South Australia - PRG 1712/3/56

Packed streets (and rooftops) for the 1955 pageant. State Library of South Australia – PRG 1712/3/56

Christmas tree girls, 1953. Photo: SLSA

Christmas tree women bring the festive, 1953. Photo: SLSA

King and Queen of Heart, 1951. State Library of South Australia -B 62287/33

King and Queen of Hearts surveying their kingdom, 1951. State Library of South Australia -B 62287/33

1950. State Library of South Australia - B 62287/22

Nellie. The legend. 1950. State Library of South Australia – B 62287/22

  • Previously selected by founder Hayward, in the fifties the Pageant Queen began to be selected by store staff via a democratic voting system. Power to the people.

1960s

1968.  Pageant Queen. State Library of South Australia -PRG 1350/1/5

The Pageant Queen doing her thing, 1968. State Library of South Australia -PRG 1350/1/5

1968. State Library of South Australia - PRG 1350/1/21

Not real aliens. 1968. State Library of South Australia – PRG 1350/1/21

  • Prime Minister Menzies was the first (and to date, only) PM to attend
  • 1960 was the wettest year ever, with the Pageant nearly cancelled due to heavy rains.

1970s

  • 16 new floats were introduced in the seventies.

1980s

Stonewash denim, mullet, film photo... it can only mean one thing: it's the eighties. Photo: Cat Lever

Stonewash denim, mullet, film photo… it can only mean one thing: it’s the 80s. Photo: Vanetta Lever

Lollipop ladies, 1981. State Library of South Australia - PRG 1662/4/40

Candy cane ladies, 1981. State Library of South Australia – PRG 1662/4/40

  • The Pageant celebrated 50 years in 1983. Sadly, just weeks before the golden anniversary, creator Sir Edward Hayward passed away
  • In 1985 the State Bank of South Australia entered into partnership with John Martin’s to present the Pageant.

1990s

  • The Pageant celebrated its diamond anniversary of 60 years in ’93, with 72 sets, 1600 people taking part, and a crowd of 400,000 people
  • John Martin’s sold the Pageant to the State Government in 1996. The Pageant is now owned by Events South Australia and the naming rights sponsors are the four leading South Australian credit unions; People’s Choice, Beyond Bank Australia, Credit Union SA, Police Credit Union, with assistance from the Adelaide City Council, David Jones and many volunteers and supporters.

2000s

Snow White float, 2004. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Snow White float, 2004. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

2009. Photo: Stephen Michael Barnett via Flickr

Nimble, 2009. Photo: Stephen Michael Barnett via Flickr

  • In 2002 the Pageant was recognised by the National Trust as one of South Australia’s ‘heritage icons’.
  • The noughties saw Adelaide get competitive.  A Guinness World Record for the largest gathering of people wearing red noses was achieved in 2011
  • In 2008 and 2009 there were world record attempts for the longest Mexican wave, with the wave travelling for 3.2 kilometres through the city, around 7 corners.
  • In 2010 spectators broke the record for the largest group of singers singing Christmas carols at the same time with over 9,100 people cracking out a Christmas tune (presumably heard as far as Semaphore…)

Today…

2016. Photo: Credit Union Christmas Pageant

The Pageant in 2016. Photo: Credit Union Christmas Pageant

2016. Photo: the Credit Union Christmas Pageant

Father Christmas at last year’s Pageant. Photo: the Credit Union Christmas Pageant

  • Today the pageant takes place along a 3.35 kilometre route
  • 85 set, 1,700 volunteers, 63 floats, 15 bands, 164 clowns, dancing groups, and walking performers take part
  • This year the Leukaemia Foundation has joined the event as its official charity partner, with a Royal Raffle giving winners the chance to join Queen Megan and King Michael on the new royal float  – and help raise funds for a much-needed cause. This is the first time the event has forged a formal partnership with a charity linking back to the 1930’s when the event was used to raise funds for the Lord Mayor’s Christmas Appeal and wartime effort relief with the introduction of the Pageant Queen
  • The Credit Union Christmas Pageant is the second-largest parade of its kind in the world (trailing only Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade), and is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere.

The 2017 Credit Union Christmas Pageant will be held on Saturday 18 November 2017 departing South Terrace at 9.30 am. You can get your Royal Raffle Tickets here.

Feeling the nostalgic vibes? Check out these 11 historic photos of Adelaide.

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