152. The Queen Carnival of November 1917 and more division

Yarram and District Hospital, courtesy Public Records Office Victoria: VPRS 12800 P1, H5533

The last post (151. The war against drink 2) looked at division in the local community over the the issue of temperance or, more specifically, the liquor licence held by the Yarram Co-operative Store. It was argued that as bitter as the debate was at the time, the fall-out was effectively contained. This post continues the general theme of division in the community, in the context of WW1, by examining controversies associated with fundraising for the Yarram and District Hospital in late 1917.

The Yarram and District Hospital had opened in October 1914, not long after the start of the War. Its development had been hurried, in part because a bequest of £500 from John Moore, a local grazier who had died in 1911, stipulated that the money could only be given if the hospital was completed in 5 five years from his death. Moore was a local Catholic and he left another £500, this time unconditionally, for the construction of the church (St. Mary’s) at Yarram. The church was opened in February 1916.

There had been a major fundraising event – ‘carnival’ – for the hospital in 1913, but with the advent of the War, state government funding was restricted because of different priorities and local fundraising was similarly affected. However, in late 1917, it was decided to have a major, community-wide, fundraising effort.

The event was described as a ’Queen Carnival’. Essentially, the community was divided into 4 fundraising teams. Each was associated with a ‘queen’. The 4 queens were designated Red Cross, Agriculture, Sports and Charity. Behind each queen there was an organising committee which was backed by particular local stores, businesses, institutions and community groups. The individual committees organised a range of fundraising activities to compete against all other queens. Progressive amounts raised by the separate queens were published regularly and flags flown to show the leading queen and the positions of the other three. The eventual winner – the queen who raised the greatest amount of money – was crowned as the ‘Carnival Queen’ at a special coronation event which was held on 5/12/17. Prior to the formal coronation, as an integral component of the fundraising, a major sports carnival was staged at the Yarram Show Ground on Wednesday 21/11/17. It was a typical sports carnival with competitions in wood chopping, horse/pony events, and foot and bicycle races. There was also a special sports program for school children. The sports carnival itself was preceded by a major procession through Yarram led by the Victorian Police Band which had been secured for the event. Also, on the night of the sports carnival, there was a major concert in Thompson’s Hall in Yarram. Again the Police Band performed and there were acts from Melbourne as well as many local amateur performers. All the details on the procession, sports carnival and concert were written up in the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – on 23/11/17. Similarly, the write-up of the coronation ceremony appeared on 7/12/17.

Overall, the Queen Carnival was an outstanding success and over £2,000 was raised – an incredible amount for the period – which effectively covered the entire existing debt of the hospital. The degree of planning and organisation, at multiple levels and in many committees, and the strength of the local support were very impressive, and noted as such at the time. However, there were also some significant disputes which arose as the carnival unfolded over November 1917.

One major dispute involved, of all things, a ‘chocolate wheel’, also known at the time as a ’spinning jenny’ or just a ’spinning wheel’. The chocolate wheel had become a favourite at fund raisers. In fact, the Nestle (and Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk) Company – the chocolate wheels of the day were often referred to as ‘Nestle’s Chocolate Wheels’ – had developed a package which provided the organisers with the wheel itself, the wooden bats, and the chocolates for prizes. At a time when there was ongoing pressure for patriotic fundraising, the chocolate wheel was in great demand. However, there was significant opposition to the use of chocolate wheels.

There was some concern that the commercial providers of chocolate wheels were taking too much of the profits – by inflating the costs of the chocolates used for prizes, boosting overheads etc – but the larger concern was that all such ‘wheels’ promoted gambling. The wheels presented a real dilemma for the churches and the anti-gambling lobby: there was a desperate need for patriotic fundraising; the wheel was a highly profitable and very popular form of fundraising; but the wheel was also a soft introduction to the evil of gambling. Over 1917-1918, there were increasing efforts to limit the use of wheels. Certainly, the authorities tried to keep them well away from school fundraising efforts – schools were a vital focus for patriotic fundraising – and ensure that children had no association whatsoever with them. At the same time, the efforts to restrict the wheels were inconsistent and the regulations commonly ignored. Those opposed to them were commonly dismissed as ‘wowsers’.

In Yarram, the Red Cross Queen featured a Nestle’s chocolate wheel at a jumble sale in early November 1917. It was a great success. Not surprisingly, Red Cross Queen decided to run the same wheel in its booth at the upcoming sports carnival. It was at this point that the trouble started. As some essential background, the sports carnival was organised by a special committee. This committee was separate from the overall committee managing the Queen Carnival and, in fact, maintained that it was in complete control of the sports carnival. Therefore, it claimed that it alone had the say over what activities were to run on the day, and it made it clear that it was not inclined to allow Red Cross Queen to run a chocolate wheel in its booth. Faced with this, Henry George Bodman, threatened that if the chocolate wheel was blocked he would have the Red Cross Queen (Miss Bodman) resign. If that happened then, in effect, one quarter of the fundraising would stop; and to that point Red Cross Queen had been the most successful fund-raiser. Bodman was a very successful grazier who had had a long history of local government service, including a period as Shire President.

The matter came to a head, one week later, at the next meeting of the main planning committee for the Queen Carnival. The meeting was reported in the local paper on 14/11/17. At this meeting it was immediately apparent that there was a further complication because someone had contacted the Attorney-General’s office in Melbourne seeking direction on the legality of the chocolate wheel; and the advice received was that the wheel could not be operated at the sports carnival. Bodman wanted to know who had contacted the Attorney-General, but there was no clear answer to the question. Certainly there were some of this main committee – John Bett, storekeeper and elder of the local Presbyterian Church was clearly one – who were opposed to all wheels and had tried to stop the first chocolate wheel at the jumble sale. A J Rossiter, the editor of the local paper, could have been another suspect. Rossiter claimed to have seen the explicit direction sent by the Chief Commissioner of Police to the local police instructing them to prosecute if the wheel was operated. The meeting became very heated. Bodman claimed that his opponents had acted out of jealousy. Others claimed that the advice from the Attorney-General was only advice and could be ignored. They cited the extensive use of chocolate wheels in Melbourne, even at the MCG. The upshot of the tense meeting was that Bodman announced that, as a matter of principle, he was going to carry through with his threat and the Queen of Red Cross would resign. There were appeals to him not to go ahead with the resignation and some there accused him of being ’unsportsmanlike’. Bodman agreed to a crisis meeting the next night but, in the end, the Red Cross Queen did resign.

The resignation significantly affected the whole carnival. Effectively, from that point, one quarter of the fundraising effort ceased. As Rossiter put it in the local paper on 16/11/17:

Withdrawal of the Queen of Red Cross will mean a loss of several hundred pounds to the hospital, unless generous donors are disposed to apply their efforts to one or other of the queens. The main object should be kept in view.

The resignation also threatened the organisation of the final, all-important coronation spectacle as the final event of the Queen Carnival. In the end, another local lady agreed to step in as the (nominal) Red Cross Queen on the night so that the event could proceed as planned. Another effect of the resignation was that there was no Red Cross Queen presence at the local sports carnival, where all the queens had been allocated a dedicated booth for fundraising.

As well as the resignation of the Red Cross Queen, there was another matter, also linked to the sports carnival, which created still more division in the group running the Queen Carnival. It was, unsurprisingly, over the issue of drink.

The committee in charge of the running the sports carnival agreed to 2 liquor booths – commonly, at other similar sports meetings only one was used – and there was heated debate over this decision. Nor was it just the number of booths because there was as much debate over the siting of the second booth. The sports committee had decided that it would be placed near the entrance and next to one of the queen booths (Red Cross Queen). The debate over the issues was set out in the local paper on 14/11/17. Some moved a motion to overturn the decision to allow the second booth. They argued that one booth was more than enough and there should be no encouragement for additional drinking at the sports carnival. The motion was defeated. At the same time, there was more support for efforts to move the second booth, well away from the entrance and far away from the general public. Speakers at the meeting did not want to see … drunks mixed up with the women and children. A J Rossiter, the editor of the local paper and a member of the general planning committee for the overall Queen Carnival, spoke strongly against the siting of the booth near the entrance … where the language of men would offend the ears of the women and children. In fact, Rossiter used the paper to mount a spirited attack on the decision. He wrote a forceful editorial on the matter on 14/11/17:

If the carnival sports committee remains obdurate in their decision to allow a second publican’s booth to be placed near the main show ground entrance, and alongside a queen’s stall, there will arise a public protest on carnival day. The big hospital effort is only a week away, and those who see the mistake about to be made sincerely hope the sports committee will review their decision. … The environment of a publican’s booth is out of place for women and children, yet to patronise the stalls they will be brought within earshot of at least partly intoxicated men, whose language is never of the choicest, and their personal attire is indecent. Nor will there be any convenience handy. It is easy to foresee the trouble that will arise, and mar the pleasure of people out for the day, if the decision to place the booth allowed is persevered in.

Rossiter maintained the campaign. His next editorial (16/11/17) denied that the protest was driven by teetotallers:

Public feeling is very strong against the second publican’s booth being placed near the entrance to the show ground on carnival day, and yesterday a petition was mentioned. This is not an outcry from teetotallers; men who see no harm in a social glass most emphatically protest against a liquor booth being placed where it will be a nuisance and likely be a medium for bringing disgrace on some sports patrons.

In the end, the sports committee held firm in the face of all the opposition and, on the day, there was no problem. Ironically, by the time of the sports carnival, the Red Cross Queen had resigned and so the Red Cross Queen’s booth, located next to the second liquor booth, was vacant on the day. Additionally, the weather was cool and patronage at both liquor booths was well down. There was only one person arrested for being drunk and disorderly; although there was another report that a man dressed as a woman, and using abusive language, should have been arrested. As members of the sports committee had argued from the start the threat posed by the second liquor booth was exaggerated.

In terms of these examples of disputes and division over the staging of the Queen Carnival in November 1917, it is important to recognise that the individuals and opposing factions all belonged to the core group of Imperial Loyalists who were responsible not just for managing the narrative of the War – in the local paper, from the pulpit, at farewells and welcomes for members of the AIF, in local government sessions, at the local school … – but also for organising recruiting drives, patriotic fundraising, support for Hughes and his ‘Win the War’ party and votes for conscription. Clearly, beyond this common front of support for the War, there were any number of personal rivalries and personality clashes and, of course, significant divisions over attitudes to temperance and gambling and other behaviour.

On the surface, there is nothing to suggest that the 2 controversies covered here – those associated with the 1917 Queen Carnival – were driven by the War itself. They were disputes that could have arisen at any time. Versions of them were evident both before and after the War. However, it is also important to note the War was a constant background feature to all that happened; and it must have exacerbated existing differences and tensions within the local community. There was simply no escape or let up. The constant presence and impact of the War is evident in the following 4 anecdotes taken from the period of the Queen Carnival

The first anecdote concerns Mr George Frederick Sauer. Sauer was a local draper. He was a key member of the sports committee responsible for the sports carnival, and he, personally, attracted a lot of criticism over his support for the second liquor booth. He was a member of the local ANA and was also involved in the staging of farewells and welcomes for local soldiers. At the height of preparations for the Queen Carnival, he learned that Albert Rust, the young man to whom his daughter was engaged, had been killed in France. The matter was reported on 23/11/17:

Deep sympathy was felt for Mr. G. F. Sauer and family when it became known on Wednesday evening [21/11/17] that word had been received of the death at the front of Regimental Sergeant Major A. E. Rust. Mr. Sauer was actively engaged at the carnival when the sad news was conveyed by telegram, and in the being the family was made aware of the sad occurrence. Sergeant-Major Rust was engaged to Miss Sauer, with whom her friends feel keenly the loss that has befallen her. Sergeant-Major was in Mr. Sauer’s employ at the store, and proved a worthy young man, one who, after enlisting, made rapid advancement in his regiment. He is stated to have paid the supreme sacrifice last week.

The second anecdote covers a brief reference to the procession that made its way to the Yarram show ground immediately prior to the start of the sports carnival. The newspaper account (23/11/17) highlighted the number of floats in the procession – one humorously featured a chocolate wheel, with prizes of blocks of wood wrapped as chocolate – and then simply noted that at the very end came … A number of young ladies mounted, leading horses with empty saddles. It was, of course, an attempt at yet another local recruiting drive but, like all others at the time, it proved largely fruitless:

A number of young ladies rode in the arena [of the show ground], leading horses with empty saddles, while Lieutenant Smith, recruiting officer for Gippsland, appealed to the crowd to mount. Only a few saddles were filled, one passing the medical examination. The appeal was almost in vain.

The third anecdote covers one of the actual fundraising activities. Over the course of the Queen Carnival, the various queens ran all manner of fundraising activities: dances, concerts, jumble sales, euchre parties … This particular activity was billed as ‘a social evening in aid of Queen of Agriculture’ and it was held in Thompson’s Hall on 30/11/17. As described in the local paper (28/11/17), the range of interests and tastes to be catered for was somewhat bizarre, particularly given the likely audience, but the speel certainly highlighted the all-pervasive presence of the War:

admission will be by silver coin. Competitions for all will be indulged in. Fruit salad, strawberries and cream, and lolly stalls will be in evidence. Pictures, showing some of the horrors of war, will be screened during the evening. A monster Xmas tree will be held during afternoon and evening , on which prizes will be exhibited.

The last anecdote concerns the staging of the coronation ball. The grand event was reported, in minute detail, in the local paper on 7/12/17. The event itself was closely scripted and the staging was incredibly elaborate. This was the event for which a stand-in for the Red Cross Queen was required. Interestingly, in this locally-crafted very elaborate piece of drama, the characters, setting, plot and themes were all quintessentially English. The first paragraph from the paper’s report of the event gives some impression:

Shortly after 8.30 the curtain rose, and there was presented to public gaze a scene that has no parallel in this district. Thompson’s large hall was crowded, many having been refused admission. In the centre of the stage was a throne, and pillars and appointments were made on an elaborate scale to represent the interior of a royal hall. … The pageant of courtiers, attired in beautiful costumes, have assembled to do honor to the four fair queens, and while waiting their arrival join in harmony. The Lord Chancellor (Mr. B. Couston) [local bank manager, JP, 1916 National referendum Committee, Chair of local Recruiting Committee 1917], in good voice, tenders them advice to receive each queen with honor due. …

In this re-creation of some scene from Tennyson, many references to the current War had been scripted. For example, for the Red Cross Queen (stand-in) the Lord Chancellor’s speech made much of Nurse Cavell … whose heroic self-sacrifice has inspired half the civilised world to nobler thought and action. Similarly he forged a relationship between the Queen of Agriculture and … the glorious immortal heroes of Anzac and Poizieres. The Queen of Sports was obviously linked to all those currently playing … the greater game that men are called to now … serving our glorious Empire so well in the hour of her trial. And so on. By our standards it can appear clumsy – a highly contrived attempt to make links between the War and the glory of English history – but for the audience of the day it would have appeared perfectly appropriate.

Again, the anecdotes simply demonstrate that the War was always there in the background. However, there was one final aspect of the Queen Carnival that definitely did relate, albeit negatively, to the War effort. It was the core issue of patriotic fundraising.

The Queen Carnival was devoted entirely to raising money for the local hospital. It was supported across the entire community and it was very successful; but there was a lingering doubt over the appropriateness of diverting funds away from patriotic fundraising. To that point in the War, fundraising had always served patriotic causes – Belgian relief, the Red Cross, the YMCA, various wounded soldiers’ funds, repatriation funds, the Education Department’s School Patriotic Fund … – but the hospital was a very local cause. On the face of it, the hospital fundraising had nothing to do with the War effort or patriotism. It was local self-interest. All the queens, including Red Cross Queen, were raising money for the hospital.

The War – and fundraising specifically for the War- had been running for more than 3 years. The needs of the new hospital, particularly in a climate of reduced government support, were urgent. It seems that the community, led by its civic leaders, made the conscious decision effectively to place fundraising for the War on hold and focus for a short but intense period on fundraising for a specific local priority. There was no significant public opposition or outcry. At the time, at least 6 of the 10 men on the Board of Management for the hospital – G F Sauer, Rev F Tamagno, J Bett, G E Ruby, Geo Bland and M Cox – were heavily involved in a range of groups and committees dedicated to support for the War effort. They were leading Imperial Loyalists. Doubtless their leadership made it easier for the whole community to accept the legitimacy of the hospital fundraising. At the same time, people were aware that patriotic fundraising would be affected. For example, very early on in the Queen Carnival, the editor – Rossiter – raised the issues in an editorial (9/11/17). The references are somewhat oblique but people would have known the intent. Rossiter was not talking about the fundraising efforts for the Red Cross Queen but rather the various, long-standing Red Cross branches in each of the townships.

Regrettably, but too true, the funds of the district Red Cross branches are languishing for funds, and work on behalf of our brave boys at the front is well nigh suspended. Indeed, some of the branches are in debt, and with the present insistent calls on the purse [the Queen Carnival] there seems to be no prospect of doing anything but hang on till early in the New Year. Patriotic appeals are almost entirely overlooked, yet they should be foremost in every mind.

As soon as the fundraising for the Queen Carnival was over – in the early New Year – letters appeared requesting a re-focus on funds for patriotic causes. The following was written by B P Johnson and appeared on 28/11/17, at the very end of the fundraising period for the Queen Carnival. Johnson was, arguably, the pre-eminent Imperial Loyalist in the community. His son was serving in France – he would be killed in a few months time – and both father and son were keen to spread the word about the efforts of the YMCA. Johnson was also reminding the readers, explicitly, that now that the Queen Carnival was over they had to turn their efforts to (proper) patriotic causes:

The Carnival is over, but we have still to consider the boys at the front. I would remind your readers that the Y.M.C.A. is continuing its good work, and therefore still in want of assistance. In this connection I should like with your permission to quote from a letter I received from my son last week. He says, “I am glad that you are appreciative of the Y.M.C.A.; they are doing grand work over here. In many villages we get into near the line the Y.M.C.A. is the only place where you can procure tobacco. They follow us wherever we go, and set up a counter in some shell-smashed house and give us free tea, cocoa, etc. The boys here know what they have done, and when the war is over they will not be forgotten.”

Finally, there were those who had reluctantly accepted, or chose to ignore, the fundraising for the hospital at the expense of the traditional patriotic causes. Perhaps they agreed, with reservations, that it was necessary to support the hospital. Perhaps they realised that overall community support meant that there was no point taking any sort of public stance against the Queen Carnival. Whatever the motivation, it appears that this group was determined that no further exceptions or lapses would take place. In early 1918, there were moves to organise fundraising to upgrade the community hall at Lower Whitelaw. The proposal was that proceeds from a local sports carnival would go to ‘hall funds’. Immediately, letters appeared in the local press, signed by the likes of ‘Patriot’ and ‘Loyal’, attacking the proposal. For example, ‘Patriot’ (18/1/18) lectured the proponents about their selfish, local focus. Patriot claimed that … We in Australia seem to forget that a war is raging. They reminded the general readers about the real needs of the time, when ‘our boys wounded and maimed are returning’ and when … the people of England are suffering – meatless days, the supply of beef reduced by half, people forced to compulsory rationing, milk supplies shortened to even invalids and children. The call was to put of such ventures until … after we have done with Germany. ‘Loyalty’ (25/1/18) stated,

The Yarram Red Cross, I am sure, could make much better use of the money, in buying comforts to send to the boys who are fighting our battles at the front.

Not surprisingly, the locals of Lower Whitelaw rejected and resented the gratuitous advice, particularly as it came from anonymous corespondents. There was more fierce correspondence. However, the bigger issue seems to have been that while everyone agreed to the Queen Carnival as a one-off interruption to patriotic fundraising, there were those in the local community determined to make sure that it had not set any precedent.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Adams, J 1990, From these Beginnings: History of the Shire of Alberton (Victoria), Alberton Shire Council, Yarram, Victoria

O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vols 1-3, The Alberton Project

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