Australian Screen

Australia’s audiovisual heritage online

Empire Day Pageant (c.1915)

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Empire Day pageant education content clip 1

This clip chosen to be G

Clip description

The camera captures a group on a horse and carriage; a woman dressed as Queen Victoria; and various groups of children in costumes. Two girls are dressed as Britannia and other children appear as Indians, Red Cross volunteers and Australian troops, Chinese women, and band members in ‘black face’. A small group of uniformed men with rifles march past the camera from left to right, followed by a band which marches past from right to left. A final group rides on a cannon pulled by a traction engine.

Curator’s notes

Most of the images in this footage are static shots with the people looking directly into the camera. Aside from a brief pan across one group, the camera barely moves. Movement is captured in the final three shots by the subjects walking across the frame, entering and exiting the field of vision.

Britannia is a female personification of Great Britain and symbolises the might of the British Empire. She can be recognised by her distinctive helmet, trident and Union Jack shield.

It is interesting to note that some of the children are in ‘black face’ as part of the Chinese and Indian costumes seen in this clip.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This silent black-and-white clip shows an Empire Day pageant in about 1915. It features a series of locked-off camera shots depicting a horse and dray with men dressed in military uniforms, a woman dressed as Queen Victoria, children in costumes that represent aspects of the British Empire, and boys in ‘black face’ playing instruments. In the final sequence a group of soldiers march by, followed by a brass band and finally soldiers astride a canon pulled by a tractor. The clip may have been filmed at the showgrounds in a country town.

Educational value points

  • Empire Day was introduced to Australia in 1905 to provide a focus for celebrating Australia’s ties to Britain. Empire Day had been initiated in Canada in 1897, and following the death of Queen Victoria (1819–1901) was adopted throughout the British Empire and observed on 24 May, Queen Victoria’s birthday. It was renamed Commonwealth Day in 1958 to reflect the changed relationship between Britain and its former dominions.
  • Although it was a former colony, Australia had ratified the Statute of Westminster in 1931. The Statute had redefined the UK and its dominions as ‘autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations’.
  • Empire Day was mainly aimed at schoolchildren, who were given lessons about the history of the British Empire and performed patriotic recitations and songs such as ‘Rule Britannia’, before having a half-day holiday, often concluding in bonfires and fireworks. In 1984 ‘God save the Queen’, which had been Australia’s official anthem since 1788, was redefined as the Royal Anthem and ‘Advance Australia fair’ was officially designated Australia’s National Anthem.
  • Australia’s celebration of Empire Day indicated its strong ties to Britain at the time. Until 1942 Australia was still part of the British Empire and had no independent foreign policy. Most Australians regarded Britain as the ‘mother country’ and in the early 20th century the Australian population was described as fundamentally British, with 87 per cent being of Anglo-Celtic descent compared with 75 per cent in 2007.
  • Australia’s ties to Britain, which were celebrated on Empire Day, grew weaker after the Second World War partly as a result of the post-War influx of European migrants, and because Australia increasingly looked to the USA in security matters. While the British sovereign is still Australia’s Head of State, migrants no longer need to swear allegiance to the Crown. In 1999 a referendum on a proposed model for a republic failed, with 55 per cent being against the model.
  • This clip was filmed during the First World War (1914–18). Australia entered the conflict after Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914 following German aggression against Belgium and France. The inclusion in the pageant of soldiers and of children dressed as soldiers and Red Cross nurses demonstrated Australia’s involvement in the War and may also have been designed to recruit new volunteers.
  • Two girls in this clip are dressed as ‘Britannia’, a figure who symbolised the might of the British Empire. Britannia is usually depicted wearing white robes and a ‘Corinthian’ helmet, and carrying a shield adorned with the Union Jack and a trident, a three-pronged spear. The trident represents Britain’s maritime prowess, which aided its colonial expansion, and through trade its economic prosperity. In classical mythology Poseidon, Greek god of the sea, carried a trident.
  • By 1905, when Empire Day was introduced in Australia, the British Empire was the largest in the world and included countries such as Canada, Australia, NZ, South Africa, India, Burma, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Singapore, ruling a total of about 345 million people or one-quarter of the world’s population. Britain maintained a presence in former colonies such as Australia which, on obtaining self-rule, usually adopted a British Westminster model of government.

Thanks to the generosity of the rights holders, we are able to offer Empire Day pageant from the historical Empire Day Pageant as a high quality video download.

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australianscreen is produced by the National Film and Sound Archive. By using the website you agree to comply with the terms and conditions described elsewhere on this site. The NFSA may amend the 'Conditions of Use’ from time to time without notice.

All materials on the site, including but not limited to text, video clips, audio clips, designs, logos, illustrations and still images, are protected by the Copyright Laws of Australia and international conventions.

When you access australianscreen you agree that:

  • You may retrieve materials for information only.
  • You may download materials for your personal use or for non-commercial educational purposes, but you must not publish them elsewhere or redistribute clips in any way.
  • You may embed the clip for non-commercial educational purposes including for use on a school intranet site or a school resource catalogue.
  • The National Film and Sound Archive’s permission must be sought to amend any information in the materials, unless otherwise stated in notices throughout the Site.

All other rights reserved.

ANY UNAUTHORISED USE OF MATERIAL ON THIS SITE MAY RESULT IN CIVIL AND CRIMINAL LIABILITY.

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