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Australia’s growing urban population was enjoying an increase in both disposable income and free time in 1913. People found they could afford to engage in sport and leisure activities, as participants and spectators.
Sporting prowess was an essential part of Australian identity. The success of Australian athletes at home and abroad, in sports including cricket, boxing and tennis, was seen as proof of the nation’s potential. Increased numbers of spectators also brought more money into sport. Elite sport was on its way to becoming a form of mass entertainment and, not surprisingly, athletes were keen to share in the profits.
By 1913 swimming was fast becoming integral to Australian life. The sport was considered health-giving and a suitable way to maintain the ‘body beautiful’. Beaches attracted leisure seekers who enjoyed frolicking in the surf. Seemingly innocuous activities like going to the beach or a dance reveal changing attitudes towards morality and modernity. The wearing of ‘revealing’ clothing and less constrained physical and social contact between the sexes were only recently socially acceptable – but not to all.
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Swimming and the beach
Australian swimmers Fanny Durack (left), and Mina Wylie (centre) with British swimmer Jennie Fletcher, medal-winners for the women’s 100-metres-freestyle race at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm. National Museum of Australia.
WORLD OF RECREATION: SPORTING
The two greatest swimming women in the world are now undoubtedly the Australians, Fanny Durack and Annette Kellerman. Fanny has proved herself at Stockholm to be the Naiad of All Nations. She is no beauty like Annette, but she can swim like a duck; the Kellerman’s style is more like a swan’s.
Brisbane Worker, 27 July 1912, p. 7. Read the full article in Trove
The Maryborough Girls Grammar School Tennis Club, 1913. State Library of Queensland, 145754.
TEST TENNIS. AUSTRALIA WINS. BROOKES DEFEATS PARKE.
The first test match between teams representing the British Isles and Australia was concluded at Double Bay courts on Saturday ... It was hot and steamy in the grandstands; but an attendance of about 5000 patiently endured the heat and watched the play with interest. Amongst them were players of the past and of the present, spectators who never miss a match, and many who apparently had never seen a match before.
Sydney Morning Herald, 20 January 1913, p. 10. Read the full article in Trove
First played in England in 1874, lawn tennis was soon to arrive in the Australian colonies and was initially a social pastime for those with leisure and space for a court. The Sydney Cricket Ground hosted the first competitive intercolonial tennis match in May 1885. In 1905, Australia and New Zealand (as Australasia) competed in the International Davis Cup and the first Australasian Championship (now the Australian Open) was held.
By 1913, tennis clubs abounded, and the game was a mainstream activity, played by both sexes, socially and competitively. In January, a crowd of 5000 spectators watched Australia win the first tennis ‘test match’, defeating England seven matches to two, in ‘hot and steamy’ conditions.
Cricket: the national game
Souvenir photograph from Victor Trumper’s testimonial match, 1913. National Museum of Australia.
VICTOR TRUMPER. RECOGNITION OF A CHAMPION. Victor Trumper ... unites in his person the utilitarian virtues of Australia with the artistic virtues of the old country, and he has done so in such a way as to almost set up a new standard for both. That is praise, indeed, and praise unalloyed with exaggerated superlative. It practically means that Trumper may legitimately be regarded as one of the very finest batsmen ever known.
Sydney Morning Herald, 5 February 1913, p. 5. Read the full article in Trove
In 1913, cricket had become Australia’s national sport. Intercolonial competition began in 1856, starting with matches between New South Wales and Victoria and slowly growing to encompass the other colonies. After Federation, cricket quickly became the ideal medium for interstate rivalries. Most important of all were the international clashes between Australia and England. These provided an opportunity to prove the worth of the young nation against the best of the mother country.
In the summer of 1913, Victor Trumper was approaching the end of his career, but was still considered Australia’s greatest batsman. Fellow players and supporters organised a testimonial match at the Sydney Cricket Ground. After a hesitant start on a wet pitch, Trumper went on to score 126 runs. His fellow New South Wales players circulated among the crowd selling souvenir match programs. Autographed photos of Trumper reportedly sold like ‘hotcakes’.
Trumper finished his first-class career in 1914 with a total of 16,939 runs from 255 matches and a highest score of 300 not out. In an age when pitches were not covered during rain, creating difficult batting conditions, Trumper achieved a remarkable average of 44.58.
Rugby League football
Royal Agricultural Society Challenge Shield, presented to the winner of the New South Wales Rugby Football League competition from 1908 to 1913. The shield was presented to Eastern Suburbs captain Dally Messenger in 1913. National Museum of Australia. Photo: Dragi Markovic.
FOOTBALL. OPENING OF THE SEASON.
The Rugby League’s prospects are very bright. The growth of this body is one of the most remarkable events in Australian, or, for that matter, the world’s sport. In a few short years Rugby League football has made such inroads on the Sydney public’s favour that it outdistances all other codes in this respect.
Sydney Morning Herald, 3 May 1913, p. 22. Read the full article on Trove
The various football codes were a major source of entertainment for fans of winter sports in 1913. In Queensland and New South Wales, rugby league and rugby union competed for attention. Soccer, or association football, was also played throughout the country.
Debate raged about the alleged evils of professionalism in football. Rugby union, the amateur code, claimed the moral high ground. Supporters of Australian Rules and rugby league, however, embraced the concept of players being compensated for time lost from work. The evolution of football into an important sports entertainment business had begun.
A key figure in the early success of rugby league was New South Wales player Herbert Henry ‘Dally’ Messenger, known as ‘The Master’ (1883–1959). A rising talent in rugby union, with considerable appeal to fans, his defection to rugby league added credibility to the new code. Messenger quickly emerged as rugby league’s first superstar, taking on legendary status within the game. Messenger captained the Eastern Suburbs team in 1913 and was presented with the Royal Agricultural Society Challenge Shield after Eastern Suburbs won the premiership for the third year in a row.
Australian Rules football
Cigarette cards depicting the teams that competed in the VFA and VFL grand finals, 1913, (from left) Fitzroy, Footscray, St Kilda and North Melbourne. National Museum of Australia.
THE GRAND FINAL. FITZROY V. ST. KILDA.
There is great enthusiasm in the seaside city at the prospect of premiership, and when the team did its final training in the field yesterday afternoon there must have been 2,000 people looking on. The stands and reserves were were quite full.
St. Kilda has had a long stern chase, and some of the loyal supporters, who stuck to the team when for years it did not win a game are now looking forward to reaping the reward of their unswerving support.
Argus, 26 September 1913, p11. Read the full article on Trove
The Australian game
Victoria’s obsession with football, which continues today, can be traced to the formative period of the decade after Federation. By 1901, Australian Rules football, first played in the mid-19th century, had become the most popular winter code in Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. Championed as the ‘Australian game’, it attracted players and fans across the country, and even enjoyed a brief revival in New Zealand (although the competition was in decline by 1913, and did not survive the onset of war). It was in Melbourne, however, that Australian Rules made its greatest mark (pun intended).
The VFL was clearly the dominant of the two competitions by 1913. Richmond and the University of Melbourne joined in 1908. The VFA also grew, however, with teams joining from Footscray, North Melbourne, Brunswick, Williamstown, Prahran, Brighton, Port Melbourne, Northcote, Melbourne City and another team from Essendon known as Essendon Association.
Both competitions attracted passionate support from Melbourne’s sporting public. In the 1913 VFA final, Footscray, the minor premiers, defeated North Melbourne by one point, 10.14 (74) to 11.7 (73) in front of 20,000 spectators at the East Melbourne Cricket Ground. The VFL, however, with its greater proportion of inner city clubs, eclipsed its older rival. The 1913 VFL grand final attracted a record crowd of 59,475 to the Melbourne Cricket Ground. In an all too familiar pattern, St Kilda failed to clinch the premiership after having won the semi-final the week before. Fitzroy was triumphant, defeating the Saints 7.14 (56) to 5.13 (43).
Guy Hansen, Senior Curator, National Museum of Australia
Pink satin tango shoes worn by a member of the Faithfull family. National Museum of Australia. Photo: Jason McCarthy.
Uneasy lies the crowned head that contemplates the tango and its possible effects upon the morals of the realm … The King and Queen disapprove of the dance; the Kaiser issues an army order against it; but the President of the United States, persistently libelled as a 'wowser,' allowed it at the White House … The cable now tells us why the Kaiser banned the tango. The disquieting discovery was made that the Crown Princess was taking lessons in 'ultra-modern' dances.
Argus, 4 December 1913, p. 8. Read the full article on Trove
In 1913, fashionable Europe was gripped by what the Melbourne Argus called ‘Tangomania’. What started as ‘a novelty in the spring’ became ‘a craze in the summer and an obsession in the autumn’, as historian Virginia Cowles put it. The dance style travelled from the squares of Buenos Aires to the salons of Paris, developing from a dance associated with working class men and prostitutes to one that elegant Parisians were eager to learn, perhaps schooled by the sons of wealthy Argentinians travelling in Europe.
From late 1913, Tangomania swept the dance halls and theatres of urban Australia. The grand Palais de Danse at St Kilda opened with a tango performance just before Christmas. Hotels advertised ‘tango teas’ and ‘tango baths’ to attract customers. There was now a market for ‘tango corsets’ and special tango shoes, such as a pair worn by a member of the Faithfull family, from a sheep station near Goulburn, New South Wales. Judging by their frayed heels, these pink-dyed satin slippers saw many nights of dancing.
While young women and men embraced the new dance craze, respectable folk expressed horror. Tango was only the third formal dance, after the Viennese waltz and the polka, in which men and women held and faced each other to dance. Previously, social dancing had been very regimented, with men and women dancing in lines or square formations and barely holding hands. The other revolutionary aspects of tango were that the steps followed no set sequence and dancers performed intimate ganchos in which the woman flicks her leg between the man’s.
The tango transgressed social mores and led Queen Mary and King George V to publically express their disapproval of the dance. Debate raged in the letters to the editor of The Times throughout May 1913 as to whether the tango was a freakish, wanton, licentious dance or one that could be performed with propriety and decorum. Across the channel, the German Kaiser forbade soldiers to dance tango and Pope Pius X instructed all Roman Catholic clergy to ‘initiate a crusade against the step’ as it was ‘offensive to every right-minded person’.
Into this controversy stepped Vernon and Irene Castle, dance partners from New York, who popularised tango and showed that it could be a dance of skill and refinement. Irene Castle believed that the tango they danced was acceptable because they were ‘young, clean, married and well-mannered’. In faraway Australia, some of the residents of St Kilda were not convinced and held a public meeting to protest the opening of the Palais de Danse and its exhibition tangos. However, children’s author May Gibbs decided that the tango was fun and had her innocent gumnut babies learn a dance she called ‘the tickletoe’.
These tango slippers are reminiscent of glamorous nights spent perfecting a new and controversial dance style, but they also represent a dance that symbolised a desire for greater personal and social freedom and the optimism of change.