Continuing a look at some images of Australia past . . .
Christmas train shortage forces well-to-do passengers into cattle cars
The opening of new lines meant the Victorian train network was placed under significant strain over the 1882 holiday season. A carriage shortage forced operators to resort to an old plan of utilising cattle trucks to transport Christmas "excursionists". This satirical cartoon, published in January 1883, poked fun at their uncomfortable predicament: "Christmas time must be a season of peace and goodwill to all the cattle who look contentedly at their tormentors being whirled away in the very vehicles in which they have so often suffered."
Cockatoo pie for Christmas dinner
Prussian scientist Ludwig Leichhardt (pictured) was hailed as the "prince of explorers" in 1845 after he and his exploration party completed a 4800km journey from the Darling Downs to Port Essington. On Christmas Day 1844, midway through the expedition, herecorded in his journal that his party enjoyed a "Christmas dinner of suet pudding and stewed parrot" — possibly a cockatoo or a galah. Delicious. It was not unheard of for early settlers to put native birds on their Christmas dinner tables if domestic fowl was scarce. In 1834, the year South Australia was declared as a colony, local woman Mary Thomas described eating a traditional ham and cockatoo pie for Christmas.
Vintage chocolate ads show off Australia’s finest sweets
MacRobertson's Chocolate, founded in 1880 by legendary businessman Macpherson Robertson, created some of Australia's most iconic treats — including Picnic, Cherry Ripe and Freddo Frog. But Robertson's finest creation was Old Gold chocolate, launched in 1916, and made to European standards using special equipment in a purpose-built factory. These advertisements, probably made sometime in the 1920s, show something that's missing from most modern chocolate ads: people actually eating and enjoying chocolate. Cadbury acquired MacRobertson's in 1967 and still manufactures Old Gold, though the product's recent ads are more abstract. A 2008 campaign depicted Old Gold-loving Aztecs being invaded by conquistadors.
Platypuses dazzle New Yorkers
Australian zoologist David Fleay was the world's foremost platypus expert, the first to ever breed the animals in captivity in 1943. Four years later he became a New York City celebrity when he delivered three platypuses to the Bronx Zoo: Cecil, Penelope and Betty, who were housed in a "platypusary" built to Fleay's specifications. The exhibit was a massive success, according to a tongue-in-cheek newsreel that reported how "the popular peepshow packs in plenty of perplexed people" (and which dubbed the unique animals "nature's nervous mistake"). Betty died of an illness not long after arriving at the zoo. In 1957, Penelope escaped the platypusary and was never seen again; two years later, Cecil died all alone.
The first Aussie Christmas cards
The first ever Christmas card was printed in England in 1843, but the cards didn't really become A Thing until printing costs dropped in the 1870s. Soon after, the first Australian Christmas cards "with specifically Australian subjects" emerged — they depicted gorgeous wildflowers painted by artist Helena Forde. In the following decade the Christmas card entered its heyday, with local companies churning them out. But by the 1900s, Christmas postcards had become more popular: this one was sent around 1907 by New South Wales teacher Frank Moore. The card proves humanity was obsessed with adorable kittens long before the internet came along.
The aviatrix and the kitten
In May 1934, New Zealand aviatrix Jean Batten set a world record by flying from England to Australia in just under 15 days. After her arrival in Sydney, the "young, slim and feminine" Batten toured the country to celebrate. Upon landing in Brisbane (with stops at Newcastle and Coffs Harbour) she told the 25,000-strong crowd who greeted her that "I have someone here". She then pulled a kitten from the cockpit of her Gipsy Moth: named Buddy, the cat had been given to Batten by ex-servicemen at Sydney's Prince of Wales Military Hospital. "He's the first kitten to fly from Sydney. Isn't he wonderful?" Batteen asked with a "mischievous smile". Buddy stayed with Batten as she toured Australia and New Zealand, but the cat became neurotic from constant flying — "every time she flew with it ... there was this terrible mess to be cleaned up", according to one of Batten's assistants.
French orphan smuggled to Australia in a sack
"I will tell you the story of my life," a French boy named Henri told reporters when he arrived in Brisbane in 1919, "I'm told it is very interesting." It was: Henri was orphaned early on in World War I, when he was about five, and spent the war scrounging for shelter and food from British troops.
On Christmas Day 1918, Henri encountered the No. 4 Squadron of the Australian Flying Corps, who were based near Cologne. Dubbed "Young Digger" by the airmen, Henri bonded with Brisbane mechanic Tim Tovell — whose own young son had died of meningitis during the war. So Tovell decided to take Henri home to Australia with him, smuggling the boy aboard a troopship inside an oat sack. The boy proved such a popular stowaway that the Queensland government arranged papers for him to live in Australia.
Henri died in a car crash in 1928, when he was about 18.
Conductress changes tram sign during World War 2
Initially hired to count tram ticket clippings and reconcile them against conductors’ takings, women were thought to lack the physical strength required of gripmen, and the agility required of conductors. The union opposed their advancement – it threatened male employees, who earned one-third more for equal work. As women took on more roles in the workforce during World War I, the Melbourne Tramway and Omnibus Company flirted with the idea of hiring conductresses, but swinging along the footboards outside the tramcar was dismissed as unsuitable for women. Come World War II, conductresses were employed, thanks to manpower shortages and evolution in tramcar design. Preference was given to wives of male employees on active service, and to protect existing employees’ rights, women were paid the adult male rates, an Australian first.
Winston Churchill demands (and receives) a platypus
1943 was the height of World War II, and though British prime minister Winston Churchill presumably had a lot going on at the time, he still took the time to write to Australia to demand a live platypus. He had a passion for exotic pets and, being the PM, he got what he wanted. Sadly, the platypus died just days before the ship carrying it from Brisbane docked in Liverpool — likely from shock when its ship was shelled, or because its ration of worms ran short on the journey. Saddened but undeterred by the death, Churchill had the platypus stuffed and mounted on his desk — where it became a prized display.
Muscle men pose in body covering swimwear
Bathing costumes have come a long way since Australian Annette Kellerman courted controversy in 1907 by wearing a men's bathing costume that – shockingly – left her arms and legs bare. Kellerman went on to design the first one-piece swimsuit for women. Here, a 1940s lady models a then-contemporary one-piece, surrounded by others in beach attire that was dated even back in those days. The contrast between the one-piece and the trousered outfit (far-left), acceptable in the Victorian era but not mainstream until the 1920s, is stark. Swimwear would continue to evolve: After cutting a one-piece in half in 1936, Paula Stafford became the first local manufacturer of bikinis in 1947. The look would not begin to dominate beaches until the mid-1960s.