Saturday, December 24, 2011

Carols by Candlelight, Adelaide, Christmas Eve 1944

67 years ago tonight (thanks to Persiflage for the correction to my always-shocking arithmetic), at Adelaide's first-ever Carols by Candlelight, a population depleted and exhausted by the war and its effects went streaming down to the most beautiful place in the city, which apparently the current government is about to wreck, to spend the evening by the river and sing some carols. Not tacky 'Christmas songs', just proper traditional carols.

Fifty thousand. That's one-twelfth of the 1941 population figure for the entire state.

From the Adelaide Advertiser, December 26th 1944:

Amazing Christmas Eve Scene In Elder Park

Fifty thousand people celebreated Christmas Eve in Adelaide by attending the carol festival held in Elder Park in aid of the Adelaide Children's Hospital and the Somerton Sick and Crippled Children's Home.

Adelaide has never before see such a great gathering at night [although it was to see a bigger one less than a year later when the war ended -- Ed.]. Fifty thousand is the police estimate, but the number may have been even larger. Long before the festival began all the 30,000 admission programmes (£1,500) had been sold, and thousands of people unable to obtain one gave a donation at the gates, and sang carols from memory.

"Carols by Candlelight" was arranged by the Commercial Travellers' Association and [radio] station 5AD. It gave the city a Christmas scene of unique size and setting. Elder Park on the banks of the Torrens was solidly packed with people sitting from the City Baths almost down to the water's edge, and from King William Road more than halfway to Morphett Street bridge. The footpaths in King William Road were dense with latecomers unable to find room on the lawns, while down the road cars were parked in places two deep, in unbroken lines stretching beyond St Peter's Cathedral in one direction, and filling Memorial and Victoria Drives, and most of the adjoining streets. At one time the cars were three deep opposite the rotunda until the police compelled the line to move on.

Although the festival did not begin until 8 p.m. the crowd began to gather in the late afternoon. Many people brought tea [ie dinner; doesn't that take you back? -- Ed.] and picnicked on the lawns. By 6 o'clock they were beginning to arrive in thousands.

By nightfall the lawns had become black with people dotted red with the glowing ends of thousands of cigarettes. They sat outside the light cast by the band rotunda and a platform that had been built in front of it for the orchestra and 100-voice choir. The platform was lines with 7 ft. candles and floodlit from below.

The orderliness of the crowd was remarkable. There was no jostling or scrambling despite the great numbers. A single rope barrier round the platform was so respected that the police did not once find it necessary to patrol it. Everyone on finding a place sat down and remained seated till the end. St. John Ambulance officers had not a single case to attend to all night.


persiflage said...

What huge social changes have taken place since 1944, even though it is not as long ago as your pen wrote. Otherwise I'd be feeling exceedingly decrepit. I don't suppose cars would be permitted to clog up the streets as they evidently did that night, and I wonder how long it took for it all to clear afterwards.
Happy Christmas.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

And a happy Christmas to you too! Re changes, I was mainly struck by the zillions of cigarettes. That and the non-unruly crowd.

Von said...

I wasn't there on that occassion having been born in the July but did attend on others.Magical!Happy Christmas.

birdmonkey said...

The cigarette comment stood out to me too, and the image of potential grass fires. I guess it was not one of those Adelaide stinker hot days.

I found your blog via Ampersand Duck and have been following for more than a year now. Thank you for another year of interesting post. Best wishes for the new year.