All the Fun of the Heatherton Carnival

Gymkhana at the Heatherton Recreation Reserve with A Follett President of the Carnival Committee, R Suggett MLA, Cr D Blackburn, W Follett secretary, K Follett treasurer and Cr G Gleeson

Courtesy: Moorabbin News

In 1921 the Heatherton community had a recreation reserve and a hall which they considered too small to meet their growing needs. The major problem in correcting the situation was finding the necessary money to build something larger. While £100 was in hand a new hall was expected to cost £700. Where was the additional money to be found? Given the community was not a wealthy one, with the majority of members being market gardeners, the answer was seen to be in holding a carnival and gymkhana. This was a common solution adopted by other local communities needing to raise cash.

Heatherton Gymkhana and Carnival Jubilee. Brian Duncan, 4, competing in the miniature turnout with Mr Vic Perry front, and Mr Ben Kelly, members of the original committee.

Mordialloc News

A November program of fun and entertainment was designed by the committee of men and women, for a Friday and Saturday. An advertisement was place in the Moorabbin News describing the event as ‘The Carnival of the Season’. A bazaar of local products in the small hall was opened on the Friday evening by O R Snowball the local Member of Parliament. Entrance was free. Admission to the carnival was by a one shilling button. People travelling from Cheltenham were able to catch a cab from the railway station for two shillings return. 1

It was during Saturday afternoon that the program reached a peak, drawing in people of all ages. A juvenile fancy dress procession began the afternoon with generous prizes being awarded. The gymkhana involved many equestrian events including the novelty of a draught horse race. For the athletes there were foot racing events in which they competed for ribbons and prize money. For others there was the spectacle of all these activities as well as the enjoyment derived from listening to the Great Black Swash Band from St Kilda playing the latest jazz land hits.

Based on the success of the 1921 event, the committee replicated the activities the next year when once again the festivities commenced with a fancy dress parade for the under sixteens, marshalled by Harry Follett. Mary Kelly and Tom Kelly each won a first prize of ten shillings. Mary appeared as a nurse while Tom was a courtier. A beauty contest for children under six years was won by Kathleen Mancy and Neil Booker. It was Miss L Follett who won a section of the cookery competition with her Swiss Roll, while Mrs Wilmot was awarded a prize for her Victoria Sandwich. Mrs Kingston won the fruit cake section.

There were many different stalls in the marquee on the reserve. They were all gaily decorated and displayed an extensive selection of goods. There were flowers, refreshments. cakes, fancy goods, produce, sweets, ice cream, ribbons, and dolls together with a display of vegetables drawn from the district. At four o'clock in the afternoon these vegetables were sold. While all this business progressed the Ladies' Scottish Pipe Band from Collingwood provided entertainment as did the Moorabbin Brass Band, although in the latter case the committee was disappointed that there was not a full complement of members. 2

A major focus of interest during the day was the racing events. There was the boys' and girls' race for those under 16 and the 120 yard Sheffield Handicap for adult males. Footballers could also compete in their own 100 yard event while there were separate events for married women and single ladies. There were also prizes for kicking a football and bowling at a wicket. For the amusement of the spectators and the enjoyment of the participants there was the Gretna Green Race, a race where couples sprinted to the end of the track, disentangled a set of clothes, dressed and ran to finish back at the point at which the race commenced. Along with these athletic pursuits there were also events for the horse owners and horse lovers; musical chairs on ponies, an equestrienne turnout, potato races on ponies, a flag and barrel race, pony over hurdles and the maiden trot. The draught horses featured again, but in a walk and trot event. The day's activities were concluded with a grand carnival concert in the evening and a confetti battle which drew a crowd that could not be accommodated in the marquee. Overall the committee were very pleased with the gross takings of £250 after what was described as a ‘perfect day’. 3

Mary Kelly at the Heatherton Carnival, in fancy dress as a nurse.  She won first prize of 10 shillings.

Damian Smith

The carnival the following year, 1923, did not rate the same acclaim. While the weather was good the income for the day was down with the gross takings amounted to £200. The decline was attributed to the day being marred by the actions of young men described by some as “hooligans who came from other suburbs.” 4  Thomas and John Nelson together with Ralph Nicholls were charged at the Cheltenham Court with assault and riotous behaviour, charges to which they pleaded not guilty. The court thought otherwise as the chairman imposed a fine of £5 on each charge plus costs amounting to £7/2/‐. The newspaper report highlights the confused situation pointing to people being knocked down, men being chased, individuals falling over tent guide ropes, men being jumped over and being ‘accidentally’ struck by a boot, teeth being knocked out and bottles being thrown. Thomas Nelson said he was standing watching the sport when he noticed the disturbance. He claimed there were about twenty people fighting. Seeing his brother was on the ground he went to his aid but in doing so he was hit on the ear so he hit back. Thomas said he was a teetotaller but his brother and Ralph Nicholls while denying they were intoxicated admitted they had had four or five drinks at a hotel before arriving at the carnival.

Features of earlier carnivals were again evident in subsequent years with lengthy programs of sports events, involvement of children and teenagers in fancy dress parades, and a concert at night with a confetti battle that attracted many participants. The year 1924 saw the use of the new hall for the first time. Both local politicians, Francis and O Snowball, spoke at the opening ceremony highlighting the cooperative spirit of residents. Indeed the ongoing success of the carnival was due to the involvement of local people in its planning and operation. A Hibberd was the first secretary with J Parry, and C Connelly taking on that role in later years. A list of the names of others involved staffing stalls, attending gates, judging events, acting as handicappers and starters, reads like a roll call of district pioneers including; Kelly, Swallow, Booker, Sullivan, Stooke, Brownfield, Longmuir, Stayner, Hooton, Brewer, Castle, Hallinan, Marriott, Kingston and Follett,

In 1925 the whole floor of the new enlarged hall was devoted to the jazz palais with the latest modern music being provided by Cahill's Orchestra. The old hall became the supper room. It was claimed the dance floor in the new hall was the finest in the district. 5 For that year prize money for all events had been increased. Most events had an entry fee of 2/6 with first prizes of two or three guineas. The cost was two shillings to enter the Old Buffer's Race with the chance of winning one guinea for first and ten shillings and six pence for second place. For the boys' and girls' races the entry fee was 6 pence with a first prize of ten shillings. The highest entrance fee was five shillings for the Fairbanks Hunters Plate but it carried the largest prize money of five guineas. For that year the net proceeds amounted to over £125. 6

During the Second World War the annual carnival continued to be held although the program did not appear to have the vigour or the variety of early years. An understandable situation given that many of the men of the community were serving in the armed forces. Nevertheless, some of the old favourites were still present. It was in 1939 that the Parma waltz competition was introduced with a prize of ten shillings going to the winners. While 1942 saw wheelbarrow and sledge races it was also the year that a first aid team demonstrated the bandaging of casualties, how to handle incendiary bombs, methods of decontamination and surviving poison gases. That year fifty percent of the profits were contributed to the local Comfort Fund, a fund raised to enable ‘comfort parcels’ to be sent to seventy five Heatherton men and women serving in the military forces. Advertisements for the 1944 carnival included twenty five horse events plus two novelty events. One was a slow bicycle race and the second the greasy pig event. It was this latter event that drew a sharp response from V Cupit in the next issue of the Moorabbin newspaper. 7  The plan was to place a pig rubbed all over with soft soap and released in the centre of the oval. The person who was successful in catching and holding the pig kept it as the prize. V Cupit described the event as a barbarous affair and one which he would do his best to prevent occurring. He thought the carnival committee was lowering itself to a despicable level in terrorising dumb animals. He suggested the idea be tried out with a member of the committee acting as the pig.

At the annual meeting of the Carnival Committee in 1965 three Folletts were elected to the positions of chairman, secretary and treasurer with a letter of best wishes being sent to Mr and Mrs Ron Follett, given their past involvement, as they moved from the district to Keysborough.8  It was at that same meeting that the decision was made to distribute half the profits of the carnival to the Recreation Reserve Committee and half to charity. 9 This was the pattern of distribution followed in earlier years. 10  At the May meeting the committee agreed to send a letter to the Heatherton School Committee expressing concern over the lack of support received from them and from the parents of children attending the school 11 The Heatherton School Mothers' Club had been a beneficiary in previous years. 12  At the last meeting for the year the treasurer reported the gross receipts for 1965 carnival amounted to £832‐10‐11 and after the payment of sundry accounts a profit of £276‐16‐4 was struck. From this profit some money was retained as ‘working capital’ while £143‐15‐0 was paid to the Heatherton Recreation Reserve Committee and £28‐15‐0 was donated to each of three charities ‐ Mordialloc Cheltenham Hospital Auxiliary, Clarinda Auxiliary of the Alfred Hospital and the Institute for Deaf Children, Moorabbin Auxiliary. 13  In 1966 the Heatherton State School was restored as a beneficiary of the carnival profits and continued to receive money while the annual carnival continued. From 1967 the Institute for Deaf Children was replaced with the Moorabbin Community Ladies Hospital Auxiliary as a recipient. 14

The committee continued to review the success of each carnival and were very active in searching for new activities and entertainments that would draw crowds of people. Ron Blaskett and his talking doll was suggested one year and the replacement of the Miss Heatherton program with a Mrs Heatherton event on another. The trampoline and roller bicycles from Bruce Small were introduced in 1968 along with a children's art competition, darts, quoits, hoopla and mini golf. In February 1969 the committee agreed that the name of the annual event should be changed to the Heatherton Horse Show but in August of that same year the committee rescinded that decision, but the cooking competition, the children's races, slow bicycle race and stepping the distance were deleted from the program. It was also decided there would be no official opening like that which had taken place since the carnival's inception. 15

While over the years of the carnival's operation the key executive positions were filled by men there were a number of women on the committee who made important contributions. Some of the women involved were Mrs K Follett, Mrs G Mickelburough, Mrs R Mickelburough, Mrs E V Le Page, Mrs L Le Page, Mrs H Kinley, Mrs W Follett, Mrs J Oke, Mrs R Schubach, Mrs Giblin, and Mrs Polkinghorn. In several cases the husbands of these women were also committee members.

At the December 1970 meeting of the committee there was a lengthy discussion on whether the carnival of that year was a success or whether more could have been done. The carnival committee distributed $480. Eighty seven dollars seventy nine cents was held as working capital but the remainder was distributed; $240 to the Recreation Reserve Committee and $60 each to the Mordialloc-Cheltenham Community Hospital, the Clarinda branch of the Alfred Hospital, the Heatherton branch of the Brotherhood of St Laurence and the Heatherton State School Mothers' club. At the following meeting in March 1971, the viability of the annual carnival became a major topic of discussion. Should the carnival be held in 1971? After much discussion it was moved by Mr V Le Page and seconded by Mrs L Le Page that owing to the lack of support from the local residents the Carnival Committee disband. The motion was defeated on the casting vote of the chairman and it was moved that the meeting adjourn to a date to be fixed by the secretary.

At a meeting of the executive of the Carnival Committee held four months later it was resolved there would not be another Heatherton Carnival and it was left to the secretary, Len Le Page and the treasurer, Keith Follett to pay any money left in their account to the Mordialloc-Cheltenham Hospital. This was done. 16  After forty nine years a major community event that raised money to support a local recreation facility and important local charities was ended.

It must have been a difficult decision for individuals who had worked so hard over forty or more years to see the carnival come to an end. But all the participants were getting older and they found it difficult to stir the community to come to their aid. It was better, in their view, to stop at that time rather than continue and watch the event slowly die from lack of attention and support. Besides by 1971 the carnival had achieved vastly more than raise money to finance the building of a larger hall, the original objective.

  • 1. Moorabbin News, 12 November 1921.
  • 2. Moorabbin News, 2 December 1922.
  • 3. Moorabbin News, 2 December 1922.
  • 4. Moorabbin News, 1 December 1923.
  • 5. Moorabbin News, 21 November 1925.
  • 6. Moorabbin News, 19 December 1925.
  • 7. Moorabbin News, 1 December 1944.
  • 8. A J Follett, chairman; W A Follett, secretary and K R Follett, treasurer.
  • 9. Minutes, Heatherton Carnival Committee, 13 April 1965.
  • 10. Minutes, Heatherton Carnival Committee, 26 June 1956.
  • 11. Minutes, Heatherton Carnival Committee, 11 May 1965.
  • 12. Minutes, Heatherton Carnival Committee, 7 March 1957.
  • 13. Minutes, Heatherton Carnival Committee, 14 December 1965.
  • 14. Minutes, Heatherton Carnival Committee, 12 December 1967.
  • 15. Minutes, Heatherton Carnival Committee, February 1969.
  • 16. Minutes, Heatherton Carnival Committee, June 1971.
18 March 2013
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