Dame Enid Lyons was special at the 1952 Jacaranda Festival.
Dame Enid Lyons was special at the 1952 Jacaranda Festival.

Guess who came to Jaca?

AS WE approach the 85th anniversary of the Grafton Jacaranda Festival, the oldest floral festival in Australia, you can't help but reflect upon the decades of celebrations that came before, its rich and colourful history that was shaped by the community spirit it still generates today.

It's this magical thread that has woven its way through nine decades. Every event and person involved in the festival contributes to its unique personality, one that still shines 85 years later.

Festival Guests of Honour

IN THE early years of the Jacaranda Festival its guest of honour list read like a who's who of the Australian political and cultural landscape.

Among the special guests were some of the country's most prominent and respected people, signalling the importance and prestige the floral festival held nationally.

And while times have changed since the early advent of the event, it is a remarkable legacy to have in the pages of our history.

In 1952, the festival was in its heyday. Grafton City was celebrating its 18th Jacaranda event. That year the guest of honour was Dame Enid Lyons, the first woman to be appointed in the House of Representatives and widow of the late prime minister Joseph Lyons. She was also mother to 12 children and had recently retired from parliament but not public life.

Dame Enid, who, as Daily Examiner excerpts revealed at the time, said "the festival is not just a local institution, it is something worthwhile for the whole of Australia”.

She went onto congratulate Grafton on being "the first centre to inaugurate such a lovely festival”, and sincerely hoped it would "lead to similar happy celebrations throughout the Commonwealth”.

Dame Enid expressed her heartfelt thanks for the invitation to come to Grafton at Jacaranda time and promised she would enjoy every minute of the itinerary set for her visit.

The civic reception at the city's town hall was attended by an "exceptionally large gathering” and Dame Enid was given a warm and hearty greeting according to Daily Examiner reports.

In the company of Lady Page (Sir Earle's wife) and Mrs W.B. Bailey-Tart (the then Daily Examiner editor's wife), Dame Lyons was welcomed by the deputy mayor Ald John Moorhead (and future DEX editor), who officiated in the unavoidable absence of the mayor Ald W.R. Weiley, town clerk Mr Wilfrid C. Cheather and the mayor and mayoress of South Grafton Ald and Mrs WE Crisp.

Dame Enid plants a tree

AFTER addressing women of the Grafton and South Grafton CWA in the Grafton Rest Rooms, Dame Enid adjourned to the parkland adjacent to Market Square where she planted the first tree of a short avenue of Jacarandas, which were to lead from Duke St into Market Square.

The plantings were carried out as part of the policy of the Grafton City Council that when distinguished persons visited the city, their visit would be commemorated by a tree planted in appropriate surroundings.

"It was a joy to come to Grafton where the citizens were so conscious of the beauty of their trees. A joy to look out of any window upon a vista of beauty,” Dame Enid said at the time.

Post Jacaranda

IN RETIREMENT, Dame Enid was a newspaper columnist (1951-54), a commissioner of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (1951-62), and remained active in public life promoting family and women's issues and publishing three volumes of memoirs.

She was made a Dame of the Order of Australia (AD) on Australia Day 1980 and died the following year in Tasmania, the place of her birth.

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