Professor Jill Julius Matthews, Australian National University, 27 August 2013
MICHELLE HETHERINGTON: Welcome everyone this afternoon. My name is Michelle Hetherington and I am the senior curator of the Glorious Days: Australia 1913 exhibition and the commissioning editor of the book of this same name that supports and extends the exhibition. I would like to welcome you here to the National Museum today and also to acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, past and present, on whose land we meet today.
My role here today is to introduce our speaker, Professor Jill Julius Matthews, who is the author of a marvellous essay in the book and who has kindly agreed to give the lecture on ‘Leisure 1913’. The 1913 lecture series is being recorded and the five earlier lectures that have already taken place are accessible on our website. That means that there will be an opportunity for questions at the end of Jill’s lecture. We will be handing around microphones. If you choose to accept the microphone, that will be taken as your consent to be recorded. We do ask if you are going to answer a question that you use the microphone so that we can capture your question for listeners. There is also a little questionnaire that our staff would love you to fill in. We endlessly have to be audited and to understand our audience. Enough of the housekeeping.
Professor Jill Julius Matthews is currently professorial research fellow at the Humanities Research Centre at the Australian National University (ANU). She did her PhD in history at Adelaide University and came to the ANU in 1984 after teaching history at Flinders, Adelaide, Sydney and Wollongong universities. She was appointed to the women’s studies program and was the inaugural director of the Centre for Women’s Studies from 1995. In 1997 she took up an appointment in the history department. From 2008 to 2010 she was head of the School of Social Sciences in the Faculty of Arts, and from 2011 to 2013 head of the School of Cultural Inquiry, Research School of Humanities and the Arts, at the ANU.
Professor Matthew’s main research interests are history of popular culture, modernity, sexuality, silent cinema, Australian culture, social and gender history. She has published widely through books, edited collections, book chapters, refereed articles, review essays, conference and seminar papers and during her career has, as I am sure many of you will know, received numerous awards, grants and distinctions. Professor Matthews has recently completed a study on the history of the distribution and exhibition of adult and pornographic movies in Australia 1896 - which must have been about two minutes after the invention of moving footage - to 1984 as a member of a multi-university ARC funded team project called ‘Mapping the movies: the changing nature of Australian cinema, circuits and their audiences 1956 to 1984’. She is currently engaged in two projects: Research on the place of the erotic in the process of modernisation; and preparation of an HRC conference on history, cinema and digital archives that will be happening in July 2014. I would like to introduce Professor Jill Julius Matthews.
JILL JULIUS MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Michelle. I, too, would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land and their elders past and present and also to thank the National Museum of Australia for inviting me to speak to you today.
Australia at the turn of the twentieth century was known internationally as ‘the workers’ paradise’ because of its superior conditions of labour and its very superior conditions of leisure. The eight hours ideal of eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation and eight hours for rest was enshrined through industrial awards during the 1850s and 1860s. From the 1880s, Saturday half-holiday joined Sunday as leisure time for paid workers. A basic fair and reasonable wage was guaranteed to men from 1906, with women workers paid approximately 54 per cent of that. We need to note that less than 20 per cent of the female population at the time were public workers, and most of those were young and single so that the gender-based income discrepancy ensured that even working women were dependant for men for everything beyond subsistence.
Nonetheless, the right to leisure and the income to enjoy it was as central to the lives of working women and men as it was to wealthy Australians. From the beginning of the twentieth century, Sydneysiders of all classes and genders had more time and more money than ever before to enjoy leisure just at that moment when the possibilities for leisure activities were becoming more modern and more exciting.
What do we know about leisure in the year of our celebration: 1913? And how do we know about it, given that whatever fun and entertainment people had was transitory and has now passed from both experience and memory? In this talk I want to show you two of the most important types of record that we have about those times and its leisure: magazines and movies.
The turn of the twentieth century marked a great flowering of magazine production throughout the Western world. It was associated with new technologies for paper production and printing and it included the printing of illustrations, importantly; faster forms of communication in transport; and new practices of marketing and advertising. The magazine revolution was also associated with significant changes in the reading public, so it is not just the production of reading material but the people who read who are being changed through these processes, through the social effects of modernisation . Things like urbanisation, commercialisation, increasing levels of literacy, higher standards of living and improved gender equality all built up this new readership. Just let me give you an example: the fact that many more men and women now travelled to and from work by tram or train opened up a new market of readers eager for portable reading matter. All these multiple changes at the turn of the century meant that magazines and newspapers increasingly become the reading matter of choice for everyone and not just an additional interest for the elite.
To give you a sense of the size of what some scholars have called this ‘magazine revolution’, let me give you some figures. At the 1911 census in Australia, which is the closest we have to our year of 1913, the total population of Australia was just under 4.5 million people, excluding Aboriginal people, which was in itself a little less than the population of the city of New York at the same time. Greater Sydney was home to almost 640,000 people. If we take a longer period, not just that snapshot of the census, the 30 years from 1892 to 1923, Sydney’s population including suburbs grew from about 383,000 to 900,000; that is, expanded almost two and a half times.
During that same 30-year period the number of magazines published in the city, in Sydney itself, increased fivefold from around 50 to over 250. This number excludes newspapers, newsletters and annual publications. The greatest increase across the period seems to have been in fortnightlies and monthlies, the number of which grew some 13 times which is indicative. I need to point out that the count of 250 only applies to magazines actually published in Sydney. During this same period, Gorton & Gotch, the major newsagents, were doing a roaring trade selling magazines published in Melbourne as well as those overseas. They imported hundreds of magazines particularly from the United Kingdom and United States. There were also Australian editions of popular overseas titles. These many local and international magazines were variously delivered to people by post through mail-order subscription; they were delivered by newsagents on request; they were available in a multiplicity of news-stands across the city - that ubiquitous picture of the news boy is of this period.
Every interest that a person had was covered by its own magazine. As well, new magazines sought to excite in people interests that they didn’t know they had or certainly hadn’t had before. But while many of them were specialist, the niches to which they were marketed tended to be defined somewhat differently from those we are familiar with today. In a survey I conducted some years ago into the magazine holdings of the Mitchell Library in Sydney for this period, I found that the 250 local magazines could be roughly sorted into six categories: religious, mission and charity; political; work related including trade, professional, financial, industrial and agricultural; women’s and home-centred magazines; sporting and hobby; and finally illustrated general interest including society, literary, art and entertainment.
Regardless of their specific content, magazines were not read as part of daily work - even the trade related ones were not part of daily work - they were a leisure activity. This listing already gives us some idea of what the people of 1913 were interested in during their leisure time. But conventionally we think of leisure as concentrated in the last three categories there. While all the magazines were read as a leisure pursuit, it’s the magazines in the last three categories that were also about leisure, so they are doubly useful to us as sources of information. Let me turn to the detail of some of these types of magazines in our year of celebration - 1913 - or close to.
There was one women’s magazine actually published in Sydney in 1913, the Australian Women’s Weekly - not the one you are familiar with which started in 1933 but one that began in 1912 and lasted until 1921. It was not a glossy but was ‘dedicated to women’s service’ and tended to be earnest and somewhat moralistic in its tone. In its own words:
The Australian Women’s Weekly is an interesting and cheerful little periodical published for the purpose of providing a light literary recreation for the odd moment at a minimum of cost. Its articles are short and varied, and are specifically suitable for the housewife - and her daughters.’
The home was clearly not recognised as a domain of leisure, at least for women.
Let’s move on to the sporting and hobby magazines. In 1900, Eastman Kodak introduced the first cheap, hand-held box camera, the Brownie, suitable for amateurs and marketed with the great slogan, ‘You press the button - we do the rest.’ It was an amazing success. Magazines that had previously catered for the photographic professional now targeted as well the growing legions of enthusiastic hobbyists and their camera clubs. Two of the photographic magazines published in Sydney in 1913 were Harrington’s Photographic Journal and the Australasian Photo-Review.
Harrington’s Photographic Journal began in 1892 as the Australian Photographic Journal until 1910, then as Harrington’s until 1927. The Photo-Review, the second one I will come to in a moment, began in 1895 continuing until 1956. Both delighted in breaking news of yet more and more photographic wonders: the magic lantern, Edison’s many inventions, Lumiere’s kinematograph, Roentgen’s X-rays and so on and, just as avidly, the controversy over psychic or spiritual photography. These journals saw themselves as bringing science into the hands of every man and women. One’s hobby made one a member of the great company dedicated to unlocking the mysteries of the universe.
Harrington’s emphasis was on the technical aspects of photography. It declared its object as:
… mainly to furnish a complete record of all new inventions and ideas, to discuss same, and assist both professionals and amateurs in being thoroughly up to date.
The back section provided an exchange and purchase section for photographic equipment and films, and it listed details of amateur photographic clubs. There was considerable discussion of the magic lantern as well as of photography, astronomy and microscopy. It sought readers’ contributions and on request it began a beginners’ column. It also included reviews of art shows, poetry and biographical sketches. Travel photography was a regular feature.
The second photographic journal of the time, the Australasian Photo-Review, was confusingly similar to Harrington’s, covering technical information, photographic and scientific news from around the world, reporting on photography’s use in various fields such as microbiology, criminology, anthropology and tourism. Like Harrington’s, which was published by a photographic business of that name, the Photo-Review was published by the Baker & Rouse photographic business, and later was sponsored by the Kodak Company. It carried a great many high-quality photographs of major events throughout its lifetime, as well as artistic studies.
When Walter Burke took over as editor from 1905 - Walter Burke was the father of the possibly more famous photographer and journalist Keast Burke - the magazine was thereafter printed on fine art paper, allowing high-grade illustrations in the text as well as in its special pages. It’s a bit early for our purposes, but there is a lovely quote from the Photo-Review from 1895 which I find irresistible as an account of modern leisure:
As the bicycle is the locomotive machine of the rising generation, so is the camera its art machine. And both may appear to the ultra-conservative mind to have a tendency towards vulgarising nature, just as journals of the snippet order - all the magazines I am talking about - vulgarise literature. The bicyclist who carries a camera on his back and a copy of Somebody’s Weekly in his pocket, with an accident insurance attached to it, is proof against all assaults of fate.
In the field of sport, one of my favourites is Snowy Baker’s Magazine. It was published monthly from January 1912 until mid-1914, after which time most of its readers had enlisted. Snowy Baker was a well-known sportsman, physical culturalist and entrepreneur who ran his own gym. He took over the Sydney Stadium from Hugh D McIntosh in 1912 and he ran championship boxing matches there. He later became an action movie star and stunt coach in Australia and in Hollywood.
Its first issue Snowy declared that his ‘object in publishing this monthly magazine is to furnish authoritative, interesting and informative articles on all manly health-giving pastimes.’ Manliness was the core concern of the magazine. It praised two black boxers, for example, as ‘chivalrous and manly fellows, regardless of creed or colour’. It exhorted its readers to ‘Stand erect. Be a man. Maybe you are a woman, but be a man anyhow. Don’t slouch.’ It covered a wide variety of sports which gives us an idea of the range on offer in 1913: swimming, diving, yachting, surfing, tennis, shooting, polo, sculling, rugby, rollerskating, jujitsu and, most particularly, boxing. The magazine also advocated natural living, sensible diet and exercises to regulate posture. All this was accompanied by tasteful photos of well-proportioned athletes, including of Annette Kellerman – there is a section on her in the exhibition - the international swimming and theatrical star who wrote a regular column on women’s fitness for the magazine.
Another short-lived magazine from just outside our period was The Surf, published over the two summers of 1916-17 and 1917-18. The stated object of the weekly Surf was ‘to champion the interests of the beaches and work steadily for their protection and development’. The magazine made itself available to surfers and to general public to ‘ventilate their grievances and defend their rights’. One such grievance many had was the early 6 p.m. closing, of the Bondi and Coogee surf clubs. On the other hand, the Surf does not forget that the surfer is a gay-hearted, carefree child of nature who enjoys the good things the Gods have been given him, and it will therefore strive to reflect in its pages some of the gladness that dwells in their hearts. The column ‘Surf, shooters and sirens’ was an in-house or rather on-beach gossip column naming individuals, usually by nickname or first name, and their foibles. The magazine carried news and tips for racing and current theatrical and picture shows as well as swimming, boxing and fishing notes. You can see that the mix of interests is broad within what we call a niche surfing sporting or beach magazine. Surf carnivals were covered in reports and in snapshots, and the covers carried increasingly risque photographs of starlets, rather than beach sirens. The magazine apparently sold very well - over 6,000 copies by the middle of February in 1918.
In the category of general interest magazines, by 1913 a number of titles that we know well today for their literary offerings were available. The Bulletin began publishing weekly in 1880, and by the 1890s was recognised as the great supporter of Australian nationalism and the Australian literary renaissance. Emerging from The Bulletin stable was The Bookfellow, published by AG Stephens from 1899 to 1907, and then again from 1911 to 1925. When The Bookfellow failed in 1907 for the first time, its place was taken by The Lone Hand. Edited by JF Archibald it was designed to cover the Australian material that The Bulletin had to pass over. All these magazines were very well patronised by a readership whose great leisure pursuit was reading.
Another magazine of the general interest sort was Splashes Weekly, a society magazine which crossed over into the women’s domestic category. It published extensive spreads of photographs including full-page portraits of theatricals and celebrities, and double spreads of sporting and social events. It presented its brief as ‘to chronicle music, art, drama, sport and all phases of society in clean and crisp journalism’. By mid-1914 that brief included film with picture theatre listings and reviews, news and fan tales. The magazine carried brief news from Melbourne, Brisbane, Newcastle and London. But from the outbreak of the war it became overly patriotic.
This mix of nationalism, society gossip, theatrical notes, sports and how-to columns with lots of photographs was very much the style of many of these early twentieth-century general magazines. Leisure activities were not so rigidly distinguished from each other, and these general magazines catered for the readers’ many leisure interests, not just one. This was certainly the case with magazines in the entertainment sub-category. In this field, 1913 readers were particularly well served. The Green Room, *Australian Variety, Footlights and The Theatre Magazine were all flourishing concerns.
The Theatre Magazine was the oldest, publishing from 1905 to 1926. Footlights began in 1907 but collapsed under wartime pressures in 1915. The Green Room began in mid-1913, lasting until 192, and Australian Variety began later in that year of 1913 and continued with numerous name changes until 1937. Initially, each was focused on a hybrid readership from among the entertainment professionals, as well as seeking a general public focus with an interest as an audience and as people watchers. All of them had a broad and heterogeneous understanding of their subject matter as theatrical or entertainment.
The Theatre Magazine was an illustrated monthly devoted to the advancement of theatrical interests. It quickly became the leading voice for both legitimate and variety theatre in Australia, covering drama, popular amateur theatre, music and amusements, as well as profiles of authors, playwrights, marriages and stars, and many representations in black and white or one tint photographs, caricatures and cartoons. It always had an eye to its non-theatrical readership and gradually increased its pictorial features as well as reviews, and social as well as theatrical gossip. If we take just its 1913 issues, it had extensive discussion of moving pictures, local and international; it questioned whether Australian audiences were accept modern French bedroom farces - no. There were articles on the tours of the Imperial Russian Ballet with première danseuse Adeline Genèe and of the American musical burlesque artists. The Quinlan Opera Company was currently presenting The Ring of the Nibelungs for the first time in Australia and the theatre produced an exposition for the popular mind entitled ‘The world’s most titanic music drama’. The use of that term ‘titanic’ in July 1913 is a little bit odd given the sinking occurred in April, but I haven’t quite worked out why yet. I think possibly it was written before the sinking but anyway. The same year it noted the death of JC Williamson, the great theatrical entrepreneur in Australia. It wrote about the increasing commercialisation of all artistic endeavour and the demise of the old-time Bohemian theatricals. It ran profiles of a wide assortment of people associated very broadly with theatre, including caterers such as Sargents pies.
Footlights, published weekly from 1907, claimed for itself the title ‘Official organ of the theatrical profession’, which of course put it in competition with The Theatre. It championed ‘fair play for all’ and congratulated Australian theatres generally on the standard of excellence and cleanliness that they maintained. Its understanding of the theatrical profession was broad covering variety, drama, musical comedy, opera, pantomime, circus, sideshows and moving pictures. Its initial staple content was for theatrical insiders, anecdotes and whimsicalities, local and overseas theatrical news, who was where, listings, commentary on shows, interviews and profiles, and short paragraphs of theatrical gossip and the movement of touring performers and companies as well as the occasional short story. The magazine even ran its own theatrical agency and an artists’ post office. But after a decline in size and style from mid-1913, it tried to revive itself and appeal more to the theatrical audience by publishing more photographs and new columns. It declared itself ‘The People’s Popular Penny Playpaper’. But after war was declared its decline was fatal.
The Green Room seems to have been born of an Edwardian sensibility - think dashing club men with cigars and top hats in the front stalls. It was more focused on being entertaining than on serving the profession. Published monthly, it was initially marked by a tone of light amusement and a style of Bohemian anti-wowser and a strong sense of masculinity. Its later readership was described as ‘all interested in jazz, cocktails, Oxford and other bags, night life and the froth of city existence generally’. Throughout its career its emphasis was on girls, particularly chorus girls for whom it ran competitions: shapely leg contests, movie screen contests and so on. These competitions, of course, resulted in attractive photographs for its readers. I should mention that all these entertainment magazines regularly published pictures of attractive young women. The Green Room contained more synopses than reviews of films, vaudeville and theatre, and it specialised in behind-the-scenes film and theatrical gossip and anecdote.
The last of the theatrical entertainment magazines is Australian Variety. As with the other magazines, Australian Variety, a weekly, took a very broad definition of its interests. The first issue specified its aim as to: ‘provide pithy paragraphs about the amusement world generally, with special attention given to fair and impartial criticisms on vaudeville acts’. As well as vaudeville, it reported on legitimate theatre, amusement parks, magicians, moving pictures, boxing and horse racing, and it published interstate notes and letters from performers working overseas.
Initially it was directed towards an insider readership again of peripatetic theatrical performers, the racing fraternity and the men about town who supported them, but it also included material of interest to a more general readership. In the issue of 17 December 1913, Australian Variety reported on the opening of Cosens Spencer’s new White City at Rushcutters Bay:
The White City attracted fully 30,000 people on Saturday evening … The grounds are brilliantly illuminated throughout, and the whole scene, with its maze of active amusements, is bewildering in the extreme. No such entertainment has ever been offered before in Australia, and the venture, individually and collectively, may be reckoned as the greatest of its kind ever introduced here.
There is a bit more discussion of these entertainment and amusement centres in the article that Michelle mentioned I wrote for the book Glorious Days.
Another entertainment that Australian Variety reported was the very popular Tango Teas at the Tivoli Theatre. As well as providing demonstration dances, the 1914 June show featured an international ‘flapper’ parade, showing the latest fashions from New York, Berlin, London and Paris. Within a year of its establishment, Australian Variety expanded those pages devoted to picture shows, and by the early 1920s it had become recognised as the authoritative voice on cinema in Australia until its demise in 1937.
At this point I want to turn away from the magazines that both recorded and provided leisure time activities and look at another medium - moving pictures - that did the same. As with magazines, not only was going to the pictures an extremely popular leisure activity but also the pictures themselves provide us with a wonderful record of leisure pursuits in 1913. While we these days tend to think of movies in terms of feature films, and indeed by 1913 feature film production was just beginning to come into prominence in Australia as well as overseas in Europe and the US, in 1913 the majority of films made and exhibited in multi-film programs were shorts, especially non-fiction actualities, documentaries, newsreels, theatrical and vaudeville skits, and advertisements.
In Australia, the film historian Chris Long claims that more than 80 per cent of Australia’s total silent film footage was made up of these non-fiction films. But even though they were all non-fiction, they were designed to be either entertaining or uplifting - in that category we find the officially commissioned films of events like parades, foundation-stone laying with inaudible speeches interminably going on, as well as scenes of Australian industries. The National Film and Sound Archive just down the road holds a substantial collection of short films from 1913 showing leisure pursuits ranging from lawn parties, fêtes and fashion parades to a multiplicity of sporting events, gymkhanas, regattas, football and cricket matches, surf, bathing and gymnastic displays, boxing and horse racing. There is also a considerable number of travelogues that they hold. Travelogues were very popular designed to whet the appetite for leisure travel, if only in the imagination.
Apart from reading magazines and going to the movies as leisure activities, there was one other great pastime that embraced thousands of Australians week after week in 1913 - dancing. All of these activities - movies, magazines and dancing - fed each other in a marvellous modern synergy. In 1912, the American entrepreneur JD Williams opened the great Crystal Palace Amusement Centre in George Street with its extraordinary imitation of Luna Park on Coney Island. He also set up Luna Park the following year in Melbourne. In 1913, as I mentioned earlier, Cosens Spencer opened the White City Amusement Park, another one of these enormous Coney Island imitations. Both contained magnificent picture theatres and new-style dancing palaces. In 1913, people danced. They read about dancing and they watched dancing on the screen.
The early twentieth-century popular music coming out of America called ragtime and jazz originated among the newly urban African-American and Jewish populations in North and South America. The dances that accompanied this music were generally regarded as vulgar and improper for fashionable, let alone polite society, apart from the Methodists who refused all dancing. Their names reveal all: the Bunny Hug, the Grizzly Bear, the Turkey Trot, the Black Bottom, the Camel Walk, the Lame Duck and, most famous of all, the Tango. From around 1911, theatrical entrepreneurs and entertainers put a lot of effort into cleaning up performances and refining and standardising these dances on and off the stage to make them palatable to white middle-class youth and most particularly to their parents.
Central to this popularisation of social dancing in 1913 was the work of the American entrepreneurs Irene and Vernon Castle. Irene and Vernon Castle were an energetic and market-savvy husband and wife team of professional ballroom dancers and fashion trend setters. Irene Castle bobbed her hair, the first known celebrity to do so, and after that the fashion took off. The Castles eliminated the remaining sexual elements from these popular dances. They simplified their movements, smoothed out the music and then sold them to the world through mass-produced books, photographs, gramophone records and through moving pictures.
From around 1913, social dancing exploded as a leisure activity. To end I would like to show you a short clip from the only film the Castles made together. Vernon died in 1918 in a military plane crash, but Irene had a long career and many more film roles. This film, The Whirl of Life, was made in 1913. It’s a film roughly based around the autobiography of the Castles and an excuse to show their dancing. The style is quite respectable and restrained. If we have time at the end I would like to show you a clip from a little bit later in 1921 that shows the tango in a much more sensual style with Rudolf Valentino.
[Film plays] I have to apologise for the quality of this one. The quality is not great on this one. The quality for the Valentino is appalling but it will still give you a taste. This is Irene and Vernon Castle.
[Film plays] This is from the 1921 film The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse set in Argentina and later on turned into a First World War film. That’s leisure. Thank you very much.
MICHELLE HETHERINGTON: Now we get to ask some questions.
QUESTION: What was particularly distinctive about Australia in the context of 1913 elsewhere? Were there features of Australia that were not found elsewhere or features that were found elsewhere but not in Australia?
JILL JULIUS MATTHEWS: Leisure in Australia in 1913, yes, there was more of it and yes, there was more money to enjoy it but, apart from that, those dimensions and mediums I am talking about - the films, magazines and dancing - were cosmopolitan; they were international. In a way it’s a nice contrast with what had happened in the 1890s with that incredibly inward-looking nationalism that The Bulletin, for example, championed in looking to Federation and so on, and by 1913 they were looking outwards. They were part of a global circulation of leisure entertainment not just coming from America but from around the world.
People at the time talked about being backward, but what we can say here is that the speed at which commercial leisure moved around the globe was fantastic. The time it took for Australians to get to know the latest fashions, to get access to the gramophone records and to see the films wasn’t all that much longer, if longer at all, than how long it took to get from New York to the mid-west or from London to the Midlands. Australia was provincial, but it was part of this cosmopolitan world.
QUESTION: It wasn’t dependent on the P&O to bring?
JILL JULIUS MATTHEWS: Indeed it was dependent on the P&O but also the telegraph to get into the country, and then the telegraph, the railways, the tramlines, the roads and the telephones all speeded up the communications around the country.
QUESTION: How literate were Australians in 1913 that there could be so much popularity in magazines? Did those magazines cover social events like our magazines and newspapers do today?
JILL JULIUS MATTHEWS: Australia had a very high rate of literacy. Universal education had been introduced into Australia in the middle of the nineteenth century in the various states. Most children had at least a primary school education, including those in the country regions. I haven’t got the figures with me but relative to other countries it was a very high rate of literacy for both boys and girls, which of course was distinct in other places. In terms of social events, the magazines that I was showing you towards the end, the general magazines, showed events and the audiences at those events in their photographs and talked about them in their discussions.
The great era of the social magazine is really the mid-1920s, but this is the forerunner for that. My favourite magazine of them all is the Australian Sporting and Dramatic News. It is beautiful, glossy and full of the most wonderful photographs and events. In these days sport was considered to be part of everybody’s activities. Ladies would go to the polo and girls would go to the boxing matches. The sport was part of that entertainment.
QUESTION: Were there differences in the way different classes spent their leisure; and, if so, what were they?
JILL JULIUS MATTHEWS: Yes. When we are talking about commercial leisure, money plays a big part in that. Generally speaking though, I suppose the differences were about where you sat rather than whether you went. There were some sporting events that had class connotations like polo and yachting which were very expensive to participate in and to bet on and attracted an upper-class audience. But there was a lot of crossover. In a sense there was an egalitarianism through the cosmopolitanism. It was commercial; it was cosmopolitan; it didn’t have an intrinsic traditional class connotation. So if you could afford it, it was available.
Indeed, the entrepreneurs involved were developing quite modern marketing techniques precisely to bring in that mass market. They didn’t want to exclude. They made the theatres respectable so that women and children could go rather than rough men of either the upper or lower classes. What they wanted was a long-term audience. The same thing with films: some of the early films were seen as not just risque but downright obscene. There was quite a strong move to self-censorship amongst the theatricals, the picture theatre owners and exhibitors.
QUESTION: Today we think of tourism as an important part of leisure. What was tourism like back then? Was it limited to the wealthy? Did the working people have annual holidays, Christmas holidays; and, if so, what did they do with them?
JILL JULIUS MATTHEWS: I am not absolutely certain about that in terms of the annual holiday. I am not sure when they were introduced. I know the Saturday half holiday came in. Paid holidays, I am not sure about. Certainly there was a tradition of layoff over Christmas. The factories shut so the workers weren’t paid, and that’s when they took leave.
Tourism as an activity again really starts going from the late 1920s and mid-1930s. You have the model T Ford in about 1905 and it takes a while to come through. So the idea of getting a motor car and having the means of travel, but you could take a holiday by rail or on bicycle. You could go on hiking holidays. They are just beginning. The nature outdoor societies concerned with national parks and so on all really get going in the 1920s.
But I should say that with the films that I was talking about from the mid-1890s when they started, one of the most popular forms of film were travelogues. Films were taken of all around the world. There were some trick shots like putting the camera on the front of a train and going through the Swiss valleys and things like that. Otherwise there were lots of travelogues that meant that people got a sense of where the rest of the world was and its enjoyments.
QUESTION: I find it interesting that Australia was such a forerunner in achieving the eight-hour day and the right for women to vote - those liberating things. Do you think even though we were part of the British Empire that was because of our distance from the UK or there was less sense of class consciousness?
JILL JULIUS MATTHEWS: A lot of work has been put into that and there is no categorical answer. This notion of the workers’ paradise wasn’t only applied to Australia. There were some other countries in the nineteenth century that laid claim to it. And you are quite right, most of them were colonial or peripheral from the metropolitan centres. I think Argentina, for example, was known as the workers’ paradise at one point. It has to do with a relative degree of wealth which Australia by the late nineteenth century certainly had and by the strength of a labour movement which wasn’t as curtailed by legislation as the British system. For example, the Tolpuddle Martyrs were sent to Australia as convicts in the early mid-nineteenth century because they had taken a union oath. That strength of labour unionism was being exported from Britain and being imported to Australia through the convict system.
The strength of the labour movement in Britain and mass movements to Australia come in the early 1890s around the time of the 1890 Depression, and they are common. America, England, Australia all have a strong tradition, but Australia has this background that has achieved things. And that’s I suppose related to universal manhood suffrage coming much earlier so that workers as well as property owners had the vote and not women from the mid-nineteenth century which again is much earlier. The campaigns were similar around the world; they were more successful in Australia at an earlier time.
QUESTION: One of your magazines had the slogan on the cover sempre idem - always the same - and I am a bit disappointed that things haven’t changed very much in the past 100 years. It’s the same families - the Hoyts, the Tattersalls, JC Williamson - running the press, The *Bulletin, the *Age. Is it because things are attenuated to remove class distinctions so that they never change?
JILL JULIUS MATTHEWS: This is the beginning. What we have is the tail, and of course all of those companies have morphed amazingly during the century in between. Their commercial success is based on their ability to change. A lot went by the wayside. There were a lot of companies that I didn’t show there. As you can see, some of those magazines lasted for a year or two. They were great while they were there but had a short life span. The ones that we have recognised, the ones you have just named, are the ones that have that strength at the beginning, and a capacity to change and to adapt to the commercial possibilities throughout the next century.
MICHELLE HETHERINGTON: Sadly we will have to stop there. That was absolutely fantastic and so interesting. On your behalf, I would like to thank Professor Matthews, and I think she deserves a round of applause. [applause]
Disclaimer and Copyright notice
This is an edited transcript typed from an audio recording.
The National Museum of Australia cannot guarantee its complete accuracy.
© National Museum of Australia 2007–22. This transcript is copyright and is intended for your general use and information. You may download, display, print and reproduce it in unaltered form only for your personal, non-commercial use or for use within your organisation. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) all other rights are reserved.
Date published: 01 January 2018