Scenes from the National Australian Film Archive video of the Jacaranda Festival in 1949.
Scenes from the National Australian Film Archive video of the Jacaranda Festival in 1949. National Australian Film Archive

A peek into the history of jacaranda

THERE was dancing in the street and tea on the river front when the Jacaranda Festival sprung to life in the last week of October in 1949.

The Jacaranda Queen was the "most popular and prettiest girl in town" and the whole of the Clarence Valley descended on Grafton for the festival.

A video has been circulating on social media since the Jacaranda Festival finished for 2018 of the festival in 1949 when Fay Schafer was crowned queen.

A film from the Film Australia Collection, made the the National Film Board and directed by John Keating, the video is a peak into the history of our spectacular festival.

The video description reads:

Every year, when the Jacaranda trees flower, the citizens of Grafton hold their festival. Visitors from all over Australia visit the town; the carnival spirit works to a climax when there is dancing around the flowering jacaranda which grows so superbly in the Grafton Streets. A Queen of the Festival is crowned. This colourful ceremony is depicted in this film. Grafton's Jacaranda Festival Week started in 1934, long before most country towns organised their tourist trade around a yearly festival. This film, made soon after the war, shows preparations in the town, busloads of visitors arriving, and many celebrations framed by jacaranda branches. It portrays the multicultural aspect of Grafton as many different migrant groups celebrate in their traditional ways.

Current Jacaranda Festival president Jeff Smith said the video surfaced for the first time three or four years ago.

"It's a great little snapshot into that era," he said.

"Even some of the language is weird... like 'the jacaranda queen is the most popular and pretty girl in town' it's so politically incorrect. It was never that way anyway.

"It was a big deal, the schools all really got involved, I've spoken to a few older people about it.

"The stuff in the groundsheet was a huge effort, but it was also a time when there wasn't entertainment on your phone."

Mr Smith said it was interesting to see how many people pine for the past when everyone was dancing in the street and Jacaranda seemed like such a joyous time.

"It was very different then," he said. "We're not going to spontaneously folk dance in the street any more because culture has changed. Back then, it was something that everyone actually got involved in.

"Now, we will all happily come to an event, but as part as getting up and getting involved, people don't do that any more."

Mr Smith said it was wonderful to see how the festival looked so many years ago.

"There was some great stuff in there, like the maypole, that went on for years," he said. "Just the fashions and how it was all presented with everyone getting off the bus. It was obviously staged, but it was such a crack up."

He did say the festival committee had looked at bringing elements of the old festival into the 21st century.

"We've like to reintroduce some of the creative parts," he said.

"We've talked about this and we touched on it a few festivals ago, having some maypole dancing or some folk dancing by dance schools going on."

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