Re published with permission of Brighton Historical Society

This dressing gown, made from a double bed crazy quilt, shows the work of many hands over many years, from around 1860 to 1915.  Initiated by the family of Emerald Hill hoteliers William and Polly Hodgens, the quilt became a communal work featuring contributions from relatives, friends and guests. Together, they filled the colourful patchwork with images and figures from their everyday lives, offering us a unique insight into both the journey of the Hodgens family and the comings and goings of early Melbourne.

Dressing gown, c. 1860-1915 silk, satin, velvet, paper Brighton Historical Society

A journey

Design aspects of this quilt suggest its construction may date from as early as 1860, a significant time period for the Hodgens family.  In 1861, William and Emily (Polly) Hodgens married in England before embarking upon a voyage to an unknown future in Australia. News of opportunity in the 1850s Victorian goldfields likely influenced their decision as in 1864 they were living in the Victorian town of Daylesford.

Thousands made the journey to Australia by sailing clipper or auxiliary steamship, an arduous journey of several months. Quilt-making was encouraged aboard ship, the craft having risen in popularity since the 1840s as industrially produced textiles became increasingly affordable. The ‘crazy quilt’ patchwork style became fashionable in the late nineteenth century. These quilts were often constructed of exotic garment remnants such as silk, satin and brocade and embellished with drawing, painting and embroidery.

Womens and mens fashions 2

Left: Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Empress Eugenie of France, 1855 Centre left: Dressing gown detail, portrait of a women with hairstyle of low side buns and dress with open ruffled neckline, painted and embroidered Centre right: Alexander Bassano, Portrait of Edward, Prince of Wales, c. 1871 Right: Dressing gown detail, portrait of a man, ink

Ships composition 3

Top left: Thomas Robertson, Marco Polo, 1959. State Library of Victoria Bottom left: Dressing gown detail, sailing clipper, painted Top centre: Paterson Bros. [photographers], Captain Gray and the Great Britain (detail), 1870. State Library of Victoria Bottom centre: Dressing gown detail, auxiliary steamship, embroidered Top right: Charles Nettleton, The Melbourne and Hobson’s Bay United Railway Company’s Pier, 1873. State Library of Victoria Bottom right: Dressing gown detail, anchor, embroidered

Lola and music hall draft 2

Left: John Michael Skipper, Lola Montez (“Spider Dance”), 1855. State Library of South Australia  Centre left: Dressing gown detail, an embroidered figure reminiscent of Lola Montez Centre right and right: Dressing gown details, depictions of dance and music

We know little about the Hodgens’ life in Daylesford, but one infamous figure of the goldfields is seemingly represented in the quilt: an embroidered dancing woman bears a resemblance to international star of the stage Lola Montez. Lola arrived in Sydney in 1855 for a yearlong tour of Australia, including the goldfield towns of Ballarat, Bendigo and Castlemaine, where her erotic Spanish-inspired ‘spider dance’ earned her both notoriety and fervent admirers. Dance halls and music were popular respite from the hard labour of gold mining.

New beginnings

Around 1875, with the gold rush in decline, William, Polly and their five children, Emily, Daniel, Ada, William and Mabel had moved to the prosperous, growing settlement of Emerald Hill and established the Adelphi Family Hotel in Ferrars Street, just south of the junction of the St Kilda and Port Melbourne train lines. This close proximity to the train line offered commercial opportunity with access to people, industry and shipping. In 1886 William applied for a victualler license, which would allow him to supply food, beverages and provisions to shipping crews.

Businesses essential to the basic needs of a growing community were soon established nearby, including J. Kitchen & Sons’ soap and candle factory, an abattoir, boiling down works, manure and glue factories. Residential areas were set aside, with low-cost housing constructed. Designed to attract “persons of the artisan class”, “labourers, firemen, boilermakers, mariners and shipwrights”, these “neat two roomed cottages and land” were set upon flood-prone mudflats alive with insects and wildflowers.

Sandridge and Emerald Hill

Left: Map of Hobsons Bay and central Melbourne area, 1879. The location of the Adelphi Hotel is marked with a green star. Melbourne Harbour Trust, Works of improvement recommended by Sir John Coode in his report of 17th. Feb. 1879. State Library of Victoria Centre top: William Burn, Train to Sandridge Port Melbourne (detail), 1870, La Trobe Picture Collection. State Library of Victoria Centre bottom: Dressing gown detail, a painting, apparently of a landscape of trees with a house visible between two convergent picket fences Top right: Photo, Emerald Hill and Sandridge, South Melbourne, c. 1875. State Library of Victoria Bottom right: Julian Rossi Ashton, The Floods, 1880, wood engraving. State Library of Victoria

Birds animals insects and plants

Dressing gown details: Wildlife, domestic pets and wildflowers in and around Emerald Hill

Life and community in Emerald Hill

By 1883 William and Polly had nine children. The last four, Alfred, Helen, August and Eulalie, were born in Emerald Hill after 1875, with little Helen passing away in her first year. The completed hotel offered ten rooms for guests in addition to those occupied by the family and staff.

In following years, the family’s daughters invited friends and guests to contribute to the continued creation and decoration of the quilt, recording people, events and surroundings. Particularly striking are several painted portraits, which are credited to daughter Ada Hodgens and feature human hair.

Far-flung countries are represented and bereavements and celebrations recorded. When two Hodgens sons established a brewery business, “Bravo”, in Warrnambool around 1896, the occasion was marked with several embroidered patches – as was the appearance of Halley’s Comet, on its 75-year visitation cycle, in 1910.

Personal Portraiture

Dressing gown details: portraits of women

Five international flags featured on the dressing gown Top left: Pan-Slavic flag (c. 1848-1918) Bottom left: House flag, Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company, (c. 1847-1914) Centre: Two Swedish flags Top right: American flag Bottom right: American flag image reversed to show correct orientation Inset: Punch, "Souvenir and Official Programme: American Fleet Reception", 29 August 1908. Public Record Office Victoria

Top left: Pan-Slavic flag (c. 1848-1918) Bottom left: House flag, Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company, (c. 1847-1914) Centre: Two Swedish flags Top right: American flag Bottom right: American flag image reversed to show correct orientation Inset: Punch, “Souvenir and Official Programme: American Fleet Reception”, 29 August 1908. Public Record Office Victoria

People and work 2

Left: Woman at work Centre left: Ink illustration of a fisherman Centre: Ink illustration of a man Centre right and right: “Bravo” beer

Love death and the universe 2

Dressing gown details Left: Cupid, embroidered Top centre: Inscription, “Memory of Our Charming Friend M.H.Coalfleet 11/7/[18]94” Bottom centre: Inscription, “Little Stuert 11.7.[18]94” Top right: Halley’s Comet, embroidered Bottom right: Shooting star, embroidered

The close of an era

Records show that Polly Hodgens remained in charge of the hotel as late as 1913. She died soon after in 1915, with William following in 1916. Family lore states that around this time the pub was sold to the Railway Corporation as part of further rail development. The quilt was passed through the family, reinvented into a dressing gown in the 1970s, before ultimately finding its way to the Brighton Historical Society archives.


The legacy

Through an act of shared craft, we get a sense of how individuals might have connected within a community. In this way, a simple quilt becomes a record of belonging to a certain place in time, a gift to the future offering an image of early Melbourne.


Annabel Butler, 2019

Adapted page design for Brighton Historical Society by Jessica Curtain


‘Announcements’, The Australasian, 1 December 1883, p. 11,

‘History of Rail in Australia’, Australian Government: Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities, and Regional Development

 ‘Victorian Railway History 1839 – 1899’, Australian Railway Historical Society Victorian Division Inc

‘Victorian Railway History 1900 – 1924’, Australian Railway Historical Society Victorian Division Inc

Brick, Cindy, Crazy Quilts: History, Techniques, Embroidery Motifs, Voyager Press, St Paul, 2008

Capper, John, The Emigrant’s Guide to Australia, George Philip & Son, Liverpool, 1853, excerpted at State Library South Australia,

Carroll, Brian, Melbourne, An Illustrated History, Lansdowne Press, Melbourne, 1972

City of Port Phillip , ‘History of Port Phillip’, City of Port Phillip Heritage

City of Port Phillip, ‘Montague the Lost Community’, City of Port Phillip Heritage

Dabbs, Christine, Crazy Quilting: Heirloom Quilts: Traditional Motifs and Decorative Stitches, Rutledge Hill Press, England, 2000

‘Arthur Wesley Hughes’, Discovering Anzacs

Gilmour, Joanna, ‘You Beauty’, National Portrait Gallery, 1 September 2010,

Grogan, Robert, ‘A brief history of South Melbourne’, Streets of South Melbourne, 2007,

Montano, Judith, Elegant Stitches: An Illustrated Stitch Guide and Source Book of Inspiration, C&T Publishing, California, 1995

 ‘Journeys to Australia’, Museums Victoria

‘Sandridge Railway Trail’, Museums Victoria

‘Crazy quilt no. 913AK’, National Quilt Register

‘The “Night Owls” on Tour’, Prahran Chronicle, 25 April 1896, p. 4,

Public Record Office Victoria, ‘Railway Pier c1872’, Flickr, 4 August 2015,

‘Emerald Hill Police Court’, The Record and Emerald Hill and Sandridge Advertiser, 29 December 1876, p. 3,

‘Annual Licensing Meeting’, The Record and Emerald Hill and Sandridge Advertiser, 5 December 1879, p. 3,

Sands & McDougall’s Melbourne and suburban directories

Sovereign Hill Museums Association, ‘Lola Montez and her Notorious Spider Dance’, Culture Victoria, 2011,

‘Shipboard: the 19th Century emigrant experience’, State Library New South Wales

 ‘Vicfix: Halley’s Comet’, State Library Victoria

‘St Kilda Railway Station (Former)’, Victorian Heritage Database, 2008,

Victorian Post Office Commercial Directory, 1891-2

Waugh, Andrew, ‘Victorian Railway Maps 1860 – 2000’, Victorian Railways Resource



This research was funded by a Local History Grant from Public Record Office Victoria.
Brighton Historical Society Costume Collection Project, 2018-2019.

Originally published at 20 October 2019

Re published with permission of Brighton Historical Society

The winning entry in the 1963 Gown of the Year competition, this ball gown is a sumptuous creation of French guipure lace embroidered with silk ribbon and hand-beaded with pearl crystals and French paillettes. Designed by Lorna White for local fashion house Hartnell of Melbourne, the dress represents a key point in Australian fashion history and tells a story of the age-old battle of art versus commerce.

Lorna White for Hartnell of Melbourne, Melbourne Evening dress, 1963 silk, lace, glass, plastic Brighton Historical Society

The Melbourne fashion industry of the 1950s

With the shadow of war receding, Melbourne was booming economically and the fashion business was now highly profitable. Imported European goods were highly valued, along with fine quality local design and manufacture. Social events had formalised dress codes, reflecting social values and an increased breadth of affluence across society. With the advent of television and suburban growth came an increased emphasis on home improvement, entertaining, and demonstrating one’s social position.

Flinders Lane and Collins Street were the throbbing heart of the garment and textile industry, with many businesses owned by a tight-knit group of European families, including numerous post-war migrants who brought their own skills and aesthetic to the developing Australian fashion industry.

Among these was Melbourne-born Ralph Samuel.  Ralph had trained a jeweller prior to serving in the Second World War, and upon returning home in 1945 he joined his father-in-law Joseph Slonim’s textile business, establishing the fashion house Hartnell of Melbourne.  Ralph’s passion was designing high-fashion evening gowns inspired by Hollywood goddesses and European high society, but early on his ambitions were stifled by a post-war shortage of luxury fabrics and strict government quotas on textile imports.

Left: Hartnell of Melbourne cocktail dress, c. 1952. Silk, tulle. Brighton Historical Society. Centre left: Hartnell of Melbourne evening dress, c. late 1950s – early 1960s. Silk, plastic beads, metal. Brighton Historical Society. Centre right: Hartnell of Melbourne evening dress, c. early 1960s. Lurex, silk. Brighton Historical Society. Right: Hartnell of Melbourne evening dress, c. late 1950s – early 1960s. Silk, metal, plastic beads. Brighton Historical Society.


Opportunity came in the guise of adversity when, in 1952, a large fire broke out in Hartnell’s Flinders Lane workshop, resulting in 250,000 pounds worth of damage. Struggling to replace his lost textiles, Ralph had the idea to apply for a quota exemption, enabling him to buy the fabric he needed from Europe.  He was approved, and in the process became one of the few local clothing manufacturers on the market with access to large amounts of top quality imported textiles.  Ralph seized this advantage to establish Hartnell as a premium haute couture brand, using silks and laces from Europe’s best fabric houses.

hartnell scrapbook fire1

Newspaper report on the fire, The Argus, 20 May 1952. Clippings from Hartnell’s of Melbourne Scrapbook, late 20th century, Melbourne, Australia. Jewish Museum of Australia Collection 10129. Reproduced courtesy of the Jewish Museum of Australia.hartnell scrapbook fire2

The Gown of the Year

The following year, 1953, marked the inaugural Gown of the Year competition.  Organised by the Australian Mannequins and Models Guild, the Gown of the Year quickly became an important event in Melbourne’s social calendar. It offered models an opportunity to hone their craft, designers and makers to stretch their creative and technical talents, and businesses an opportunity to build new markets.

Throughout its 54-year history, the competition withstood many changes and controversies. Ultimately it was subject to the market forces of the time, with the 1963 Hartnell of Melbourne gown marking a pivotal moment in the story of both the competition and the Melbourne fashion industry.

T0076.1 4 All items front VC

Brighton local Margaret Cooke had this dress made for the 1958 Miss Summer Festival competition fundraiser. She took inspiration from a Women’s Weekly article featuring photos of Gown of the Year entrants.


‘Glamor line-up at Gown of the Year’, Women’s Weekly, 27 August 1958. Bottom left: gown inspiration. Top right: Hartnell of Melbourne 1958 Winning Gown.

In the early years of the competition, couture houses, textile mills and models collaborated to create and show spectacular gowns.  However, over time differing motivations led to clashes and disagreements.  For businesses, entry was an opportunity to put the quality of their garments and designs on show with a view to gaining prestige and increasing commercial sales. Flush with the wealth of the post-war boom, they would invest substantial resources in producing a single dress.

On the other hand, many in the Mannequins and Models Guild saw the purpose of the competition as rewarding technical and creative excellence. They believed that the gowns should be judged primarily upon creativity and ingenuity, and were frustrated by the lavish amounts of money and resources being spent on the competition, believing it led to an unequal playing field. Dress design, they felt, had become a servant to the fabric.


Model Marien Brindley (right) wearing Hartnell of Melbourne’s award-winning gown. Flair magazine, January 1964. Courtesy Tom McEvoy.

Hartnell and Gown of the Year

In 1963 Hartnell of Melbourne entered this stunning gown, given the name ‘Directoire’. Designed by Lorna White to showcase a beautiful expensive imported lace from Marescot of Paris, it features intricate beadwork and superb workmanship. The judges remarked with delight at their difficulty in identifying the placement of the zip, which had been artfully concealed by overlapping lace segments. The dress reputedly took 300 hours to construct, with work beginning only four weeks before the ceremony.  The finished product weighed 6 kilograms and cost an estimated 3000 pounds, an enormous financial outlay at the time.

Such lavish creations had been common for Melbourne couture houses during the late 1950s and early 1960s.  But by 1963, the industry was approaching a tipping point.

A new generation was now coming of age, young people with no interest in dressing like their parents, and a new set of designers was rising to meet the demand with fresh, modern and affordable styles.  Established fashion houses that had previously been secure in their dominance were now under pressure to adapt to a vastly different landscape.

Between the changing fashion market, tightening competition and rising manufacturing costs, Flinders Lane businesses were forced to think pragmatically.  Most came to the conclusion that the Gown of the Year competition no longer made good commercial sense: for all the visibility it brought them, they could no longer justify spending hundreds of pounds creating a single dress that would not necessarily sell.  1963 was the last year most Flinders Lane fashion houses would participate in the competition.

Ford GOTY advert

Ford Fairmont advertisement, Women’s Weekly, 29 September 1965, featuring Hartnell of Melbourne’s 1963 Gown of the Year. While the competition gave Hartnell opportunities for exposure, such as this one, it did not necessarily lead to more commercial sales.

At Hartnell of Melbourne, Ralph Samuel recognised the need to shift with the times and embrace the emerging youth market, along with the importance of fostering young design talent. In addition to his own youth labels such as Miss Hartnell, helmed by his son Brian and designer Christine Hooker, he housed influential young designers such as Felicity Fitchett and others within Hartnell House.

From 1964, the Gown of the Year competition moved in a new direction. The next few years were characterised by an increased emphasis on innovative use of inexpensive materials, such as wool and new synthetics, and novel modern design. Art and creativity were prioritised over commercial outcomes. This move was in line with a fashion industry and society that were evolving, with growing interest in youth style and ready-to-wear, high street fashion.

We can see this progression in another Gown of the Year entrant in the Brighton Historical Society collection.  Commissioned by the Australian Wool Board in 1966, it was designed by the Melbourne fashion house Jinoel and echoes in style the old-school glamour of earlier years, but takes a more experimental approach in its unconventional use of wool lace.

Coral Knowles

Right: Brighton model Coral Knowles wearing the Jinoel dress on her wedding day, 18 June 1966. Courtesy Coral Knowles.

Jinoel Gown of The Year entry

Left: Jinoel, South Yarra, wedding dress, 1966. Wool, tulle, beads. Brighton Historical Society.

By 1969 the competition had firmly entered a new era, turning its focus to fostering  rising, innovative talent and providing opportunities to students and non-professionals designers and makers. The tone of designs was young, fresh and modern, with appreciation for unusual fabric treatments, hand beading and fashionable shapes.  This winning John Claringbold entry of 1969 is an excellent marker of the new direction of both the competition and the Australian fashion aesthetic. Its reported cost? Seven dollars.


Illustration of John Claringbold’s award-winning 1969 design, reproduced in Barbara Permezel, A Crucible of Creative Fashion Talent, SDA, Melbourne, 1993. The dress is held by the Griffith Regional Gallery, whose Couture Collection includes award-winning garments by designers Ross Weymouth and John Claringbold.

In the age-old battle or art versus commerce, ultimately neither side is right or wrong.

Ralph Samuel and his colleagues’ commercially-motivated investment in the early Gown of the Year competition enabled the creation of intricate and beautiful garments like Hartnell’s 1963 gown, which remains a superb example of design and workmanship. After business trends led them to part ways with the competition, they went on to build a retail landscape of affordable, high quality and attractive clothing for everyday people.

Meanwhile, the Gown of the Year  remained as a forum for creative exploration and boundary-pushing, away from the constraints of commercial necessity.  From its early days until its last, the competition provided a platform for many designers who became household names, including but not limited to: Hall Ludlow, Henry Haskin, Dame Zara Holt of Magg, Charlotte Blau (Charlotte of Fifth Avenue), Van Roth, Jinoel, House of Nefertiti, Aldo Terlato, and J’Aton designers Anthony Pittorino and Jacob Luppino.

Art and commerce: both vital ingredients in shaping the Australian fashion landscape we know today.

Annabel Butler, 2019

Adapted from page design created for Brighton Historical Society by Jessica Curtain

Additional photos by Jessica Curtain


“Winning gown back in fashion”, Brighton Southern Cross, 18 November 1987.

“Best gown”, Canberra Times, 13 November 1963.

English, Bonnie and Pomazan, Liliana, Australian Fashion Unstitched: The Last 60 Years, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, 2010.

Gigliuto, Helen (Gown of the Year entrant, winner and judge), personal interview, 28 November 2018.

Joel, Alexandra, Parade: The story of fashion in Australia, Harper Collins, Sydney, 1998.

Permezel, Barbara, A Crucible of Creative Fashion Talent: Australian Gown of the Year 1953 -1993, Shop Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association, Melbourne, 1993.

Rosenthal, Lesley Sharon, Schmattes: Stories of fabulous frocks, funky fashion and Flinders Lane, Lesley Sharon Rosenthal, South Yarra, 2005.

Samuel, Brian (son of Ralph Samuel and manager of Miss Hartnell), personal interview, 22 February 2019.

Valenta, Tom, Remember Me, Mrs V?: Caring for My Wife: Her Alzheimer’s and Others’ Stories, Michelle Anderson, South Yarra, 2007.

Wallis, Barbara, “The Gown of the Year: Second triumph for designer”, Woman’s Day, 2 December 1963.



Thanks to Tom McEvoy, fashion historian and RMIT Masters student, for sharing his both his knowledge and image collection; to the staff of the Jewish Museum of Australia for providing access to their Hartnell of Melbourne collection; and to Helen Gigliuto and Brian Samuel for generously sharing their knowledge and recollections.

This research was funded by a Local History Grant from Public Record Office Victoria.
Brighton Historical Society Costume Collection Project, 2018-2019.

Originally published at 20th October 2019

Re published with permission of Brighton Historical Society

In difficult times the need for love and romance prevails, offering hope and distraction from events. Family and community are an important source of support and sharing of resources.  Worn by three Brighton brides between 1941 and 1948, this wedding dress holds a local story of love, family and sharing in the midst of wartime austerity.

dress angle

Wedding dress, c. 1941 synthetic crepe, glass Brighton Historical Society

War and austerity at home

From September of 1939 Australia was once more at war. The memory of the First World War remained close and since Armistice in 1918 the Australian people had experienced only a brief period of joy and prosperity before descending into an economic Depression that had caused extensive hardship for many. While the Australian public was spared rationing longer than their British counterparts, by June of 1942 the Australian Government introduced austerity measures, rationing key commodities to ensure their availability for military needs and fair distribution amongst the population.

When the public first suspected rationing may be on the horizon, stores were besieged with shoppers intent on stockpiling supplies. Those with financial resources to hand were best positioned to stockpile. Those with well stocked wardrobes were also better placed to make selective use of coupons.


Clothing ration card issued to R. P. Abry, Brighton, 1948 paper Brighton Historical Society

Along with rationing of supplies, the National Council of Clothes Styling was established to regulate the design of clothing items in order to minimise fabric usage, reserving stocks for war requirements. These doctrines included a maximum length allowed for skirts and bans on voluminous sleeves and accessories other than belts, with belt widths limited to less than 5 centimetres. Buttons, cuffs and tails were also restricted.

Ration coupons were issued to each individual annually, with 112 clothing coupons in two six-month allotments. These had to cover everything: dresses (typically 13 coupons), blouses (6 coupons), skirts (7 coupons), overcoats (27 coupons), hats (3 coupons), shoes (8 coupons), underwear (4 coupons), stockings (2.5 coupons), nightdresses (12 coupons), to say nothing of household linen, sewing thread, fabric and yarn. It could all add up very quickly.


Treadways department store advertisement, The Argus, 6 October 1944


Buckley & Nunn department store advertisement, The Herald, 6 February 1943

The Advocate

Nan Carr advertisement, The Advocate, 2 July 1942

Once your ration was spent, the only options were to “make do and mend”, swap, loan or source goods via the black market. This impacted behaviour and expectations, with people forced to adopt more flexible and austere clothing conventions.

Love in difficult times

Births, deaths and marriages carry on despite world events, in good times and bad. Romance is a great distraction from the toils of the everyday, and in difficult times a sense of hope, contribution and community can help to carry people through. War brought an upsurge in marriages, with many couples keen to seal their commitment prior to the groom’s departure for military service or whilst on leave from service. Love, whether it be among friends, family or romantic partners, is a key part of human nature and the glue that bonds individuals together.

Pre-rationing, brides were still seen in more opulent gowns. These two gowns in the Brighton Historical Society collection were each worn twice, with the first wedding taking place before rationing commenced and the second after. The stylistic details and textile choice are typical of more opulent pre-rationing wedding fashions.


t0310 front

Wedding dress, 1940, silk. Worn by sisters Floss and Vera McMinn in 1940 and 1942, respectively.

t0130 front

Wedding dress, 1941, cotton and net. Worn by sisters Ella and Eileen Sutcliffe in 1941 and 1943, respectively.


These three brides would seem to have enjoyed a loving family relationship as they participated and shared in each other’s weddings. Bid, our first bride, married in 1941, two years after the beginning of the war but prior to the beginning of rationing. Despite this, Bid’s dress is notably understated, with an elegant simple bead embellishment to the heart-shaped neckline, modest fullness to the head of the sleeve, a slim silhouette, shorter length, and no train. From our archival photos we can see that Bid wore a floral hair piece, veil, simple pendant necklace and elaborate bracelet, and carried a simple elongated bouquet. Bid’s twelve-year-old niece Jocelyn, daughter of her sister Doreen, served as her bridesmaid.

Left: Wedding dress, c. 1941, synthetic crepe and glass beads. Brighton Historical Society Centre left: Bride Eva Elizabeth ‘Bid’ West (nee Harvey) with bridesmaid Jocelyn Mary Hickey, 2 October 1941 Centre right: Bride Jocelyne Dorothy Harvey (nee Taylor) with groom John Carlisle ‘Carl’ Harvey, 30 June 1944 Right: Bride Jocelyn Mary O’Donnell (nee Hickey) with groom Gerard Leslie O’Donnell, 1948

Bid’s brother Carl was next to be married, in 1944, to his Rangoon-born fiancé Jocelyne. Burma, a British colony at this time, saw considerable fighting between British and Japanese forces after the Japanese invasion in 1942. This conflict may have brought Jocelyne and Carl together in Australia. For her wedding Jocelyne wore Bid’s gown, along with a veil, hair piece and bouquet similar to Bid’s. She accessorised with a simple Christian cross pendant and long white gloves. Bid and Carl’s niece Jocelyn, now aged fifteen, served as bridesmaid to her uncle’s bride.

By the time it was Jocelyn’s turn to marry in 1948, the war had ended three years earlier and rationing was either soon to end or recently ended. Whether it be for fiscal reasons or sentiment, Jocelyn chose to also wear Bid’s gown for her wedding. Jocelyn’s choice of pearls and long white gloves is in keeping with fashions heading into the 1950s.

All three marriages took place in the same local Catholic church, St James, still in active service at 73 North Road, Brighton. This story poses a lovely example of common practices of war time frugality and sharing resources on the home front.

Annabel Butler, 2019

Adapted from page design for by Jessica Curtain

Additional photos by Jessica Curtain


Australian Bureau of Statistics, “Clothing and food rationing”, Year Book Australia, 1944-45, cat. no. 1310.0, Canberra, 1944,

“Australia under attack: Rationing and the man who killed Santa Claus”, Australian War Memorial, 2017,

 “Rationing of food and clothing during the Second World War”, Australian War Memorial

Butlin, Sydney James Christopher Lyon, War Economy, 1942 – 1945, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1977,

Clouting, Laura, “8 Facts about Clothes Rationing in Britain During the Second World War”, Imperial War Museums UK, 4 July 2018,

Hallemann, Caroline, “The True Story of Queen Elizabeth’s Wedding Dress”, Town and Country Magazine, November 8 2017,

Joel, Alexandra, Parade: The story of fashion in Australia, Harper Collins, Sydney, 1998.

“Dress – Wedding of Elaine Colbert nee Smith, Cream Satin, 6 Sep 1947”, Museums Victoria Collection

Robson, Jennifer, “Buttonholes for a Royal Bride: What it was like to help make Queen Elizabeth’s 1947 Wedding Dress”, Time Magazine, 19 November 2018,

“The Queen’s wedding and coronation dresses to be displayed together for the first time to mark Her Majesty’s 90th birthday”, Royal Collections Trust, 27 May 2016,



This research was funded by a Local History Grant from Public Record Office Victoria.

Brighton Historical Society Costume Collection Project, 2018-2019.

Originally published at on 20th October 2019


Re published with permission of Brighton Historical Society

Contemporary material culture reflects the world in which it exists. World events, technological advances and exposure to new ideas all influence social change and consumer choice. We reflect upon our own experiences and align ourselves with selected ideas, people and communities, ultimately creating a sense of connection to our world.  These individual actions collectively form recognisable trends, tribes or styles which can be given an identifying name, such as the one we have here: Art Deco.

umbrella top

Parasol, c. 1922-35 cotton, wood, metal Brighton Historical Society

An item that speaks of world events and local fashions of its time, this circa 1922-1935 parasol in the Brighton Historical Society collection features images of the Giza Plateau, including the Great Sphinx, pyramids, palm trees and camels.  It tells a story of the changing society of the twenties and a burgeoning Egyptomania that would feed into the wider Art Deco movement.

umbrella side

Parasol, c. 1922-35 cotton, wood, metal Brighton Historical Societycanopy detail

Travel, exotic tales and service far from home

In Europe and Britain in the early 19th century, tales and artefacts from new territories and ancient histories were highly prized. Archaeological work was taking place in the desert sands of Northern Africa and in 1817 efforts were made to investigate what lay below the shoulders of the Sphinx of Giza. This battle was lost to the desert until Egyptian archaeologist Selim Hassan successfully excavated the site between 1929 and 1939, revealing the Sphinx’s lion-shaped form. Tourism to Egypt was popular, but with the advent of World War One these activities ceased until peace resumed in 1918.

North Africa was soon to receive visitors of a different kind, as many troops served in the Middle East campaign, with training and operations in Cairo, the Suez Canal, the Sinai Desert, Palestine, Gaza and Jerusalem. The opportunity afforded by war to travel abroad was initially seen as exciting despite the realities faced. Souvenirs were popular among servicemen, who sent photos, postcards, embroidered textiles and messages  to loved ones in Australia. Images of soldiers posing with pyramids, the Sphinx, national flags and local people and animals were shared with people at home, increasing awareness and interest in exotic foreign cultures and far off lands.


Cushion cover, “Souvenir from Egypt, Cairo”, Egypt, 1915 silk, cotton Brighton Historical Society

Celebration of life and newfound freedoms

With so many men away, World War I brought new opportunities for women on the home front. Women stepped outside their domestic duties and into roles traditionally held by men. This autonomy and responsibility increased self-confidence and a sense of freedom which was not readily relinquished at war’s end. Having experienced great loss, and now living in a society with a dearth of young men, many women’s perspective on life was altered. A sense of living for today prevailed and amid newfound peace, prosperity and income to spend, interest in fashion and fun was high. Accessible public transportation, automobiles, dancing, cigarettes, alcohol and outdoor pursuits such as swimming and sunbathing fuelled the burgeoning youth culture.


Weigel’s Journal of Fashion, November/December 1923. Reproduced in Peter Cuffley, Chandeliers & Billy Tea: 1880-1940, Five Mile Press, Victoria, 1994 (first published 1984).


Group at the seaside, c. 1920s. Gelatin silver photograph, State Library of Victoria. Public Domain.

A time rich in culture and design

Tourism was also flourishing. Travel to North Africa increased with the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb by Howard Carter and Lord Carnavon near Luxor, Egypt in 1922. This spectacular find sparked a new wave of Egyptomania, a fever-pitch interest in all things Egyptian and Egyptian-inspired. Tourists would typically tour Cairo and its museum, visit the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx on the Giza Plateau, and then make their way south along the Nile to the Valley of The Kings and Tutankhamun’s tomb.

Not only was Egyptomania high, prosperity and a rapidly widening spectrum of cultural influences created a heady mix of stylistic elements, which came together and developed into the recognisable style of Art Deco. Borrowing freely from the Orient, Eastern Europe, and North Africa, the materials and forms of the machine age, art movements such as the Bauhaus, abstract art and jazz music, Art Deco carried on despite the economic crash of 1929 and the subsequent Depression.

Influences of Art Deco

A selection of Art Deco items in the BHS collection demonstrating several design influences of the time. From left: Cloak, c. 1920s – Eastern European exoticism Jacket, c. 1930s – Japanese orientalism Jacket, c. 1920s-30s – Egyptomania and the machine age Cloak, c. 1920s – Bauhaus geometric design and the machine age ‘Flapper’ dress, c. 1920s – Egyptomania and Jazz music culture ‘Assuit’ wrap, c. 1920s – typical of those made in Asyut (Assuit) between Cairo and the Valley of the Kings, a popular tourist souvenir. Made from handcrafted tin on net with Egyptian motifs.

The legacy

Egyptian-inspired imagery and motifs were prevalent in many western goods.  Parasols were standard use in the sun and were even sold beachside at times. At Brighton, swimming and sunbathing were increasing in popularity. Sea baths now offered separate enclosed swimming for men and women, swimming training and competitive events. Leisure time on the beach was a popular pastime with people travelling across Melbourne facilitated by easy access by car and public transport. Brighton was establishing itself as a popular destination.

While we do not know the provenance of this parasol, its presence in the BHS collection indicates that it was used locally and is indicative of an awareness and interest in global events or potentially travel taken to exotic locales.

Brighton Beach 1920s

Left: Crowds and Bathing Boxes on Hampton Beach, c. 1930. State Library of Victoria. Right: Image detail showing women with domed cotton parasols and flat Chinese paper parasols.


Annabel Butler, 2019

Adapted from page design for Brighton Historical Society by Jessica Curtain


Australian War Memorial, “First World War 1914– 1918: Australians at War”, Australian War Memorial

Carroll, Brian, Melbourne, An Illustrated History, Lansdowne Press, Melbourne, 1972.

Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, “Howard Carter: British Archaeologist”, Encyclopedia Britannica, 2019 (first published 1999),

Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, “Art Deco”, Encyclopedia Britannica, 2019 (first published 1998),

Fletcher, Dr. Joann, “The ‘Death in Sakkara’ Gallery: The Journey to Egypt”, BBC History, 17 February 2011,

Fogg, Marnie (ed.), Fashion: The Whole Story, Thames & Hudson, London, 2013.

Hadingham, Evan, “Uncovering Secrets of the Sphinx”, Smithsonian Magazine, February 2010,

Handwerk, Brian, “Valley of the Kings”, National Geographic, 2010,

Hassan, Fekri A., “Selling Egypt: Encounters at Khan El-Khalili”,  in Consuming Ancient Egypt, edited by Sally McDonald and Michael Rice, Routledge, London, 2016.

Hennessey, Kathryn, Fashion: The Ultimate Book of Costume and Style, Dorling Kindersley, New York, 2012.

Jenkinson, Jo, The Lure of the Beach, Brighton Historical Society, Brighton, 2015.

Mace, Lindsay, Brighton Recollections – 1920s-1930s, Lindsay Mace, Brighton, 2003 (first published 1994).

Mascort, Maite, “Close Call: How Howard Carter Almost Missed King Tut’s Tomb”, National Geographic, 12 April 2018,

McKercher, Mary E. and Fazzini, Richard A., “Egyptomania: Sphinxes, Obelisks and Scarabs”, Encyclopedia Britannica, 2010 (first published 2007),

Seeling, Charlotte, Fashion: 150 Years: Couturiers, Designers, Labels, H. F. Ullman, Germany, 2014.

Tikkanen, Amy, “Great Sphinx of Giza”, Encyclopedia Britanica, 2017,

Victorian Ministry for Conservation, Victorian Environment Protection Authority and Port Philip Authority, Port Philip Coastal Study, Government Press, Melbourne, 1977.



This research was funded by a Local History Grant from Public Record Office Victoria.

Brighton Historical Society Costume Collection Project, 2018-2019.

Originally published at 20th October 2019

Republished with permission of Brighton Historical Society

For those living through the World Wars and financial hardship of the early-to-mid twentieth century, hard work and sacrifice were all too familiar. Through its design, wear, tear and repair, this 1940s grocer’s dustcoat innately reflects the interwoven world events and their impact on the everyday lives of ordinary people.

An item distinctly indicative of its time, through its scars it tells a story of a changing retail landscape, life during a difficult period in Australian history and the role of ‘uniform’ in communication of professionalism.

Apex, Myer Store for Men, Melbourne and Adelaide Dustcoat, c. 1948 cotton, metal, plastic Brighton Historical Society


Frederick Alister Jennings, 1909 – 1970

Frederick Alister Jennings, 1909 – 1970 was born in Nagambie, Victoria on 6 August 1909, later moving with his family to Brighton, where he met his future bride, Margaret Jean Hughes.  The couple were married in December 1934, both aged 25, but lived separately for several years until Frederick moved into Jean’s parents’ home around 1937.

These were difficult times.  The Wall Street crash of 1929 had sent Australia plunging into an economic depression from which it would take almost a decade to emerge, with unemployment peaking at 32% in 1932.

sustenance workers

Victoria, “Sustenence” workers breaking up trees, Porepunkah, 1932 gelatin silver photograph State Library of VictoriaMany men sought government sustenance work to survive the Great Depression, undertaking hard labour on infrastructure projects in harsh conditions.

In the midst of this, the world went to war.  Like so many Australian men, Frederick enlisted in the military, serving in the Royal Australian Air Force from 1942 until 1945.  Following his discharge, he worked at his father-in-law William Gardiner Hughes’ grocery store at what was then 510 Point Nepean Road (now Nepean Highway) in East Brighton, near Centre Road.

For those fortunate enough to return from service, productive work was an important aspect of recovery from the trauma and horrors of war.

William Hughes was familiar with the hardships of war.  After being declared physically unfit for military service in 1916, he made multiple petitions to the City of Melbourne requesting permission to provide for himself through the sale of fruit and flowers in central Melbourne. In his letters he requests a “small rental”, promising cleanliness and respectability. His letters lay bare his difficult position, seeking to provide for a young family while contending with chronic health issues that prevent him from undertaking laborious work.

Letter from W. G. Hughes, 30 March 1916 Public Record Office Victoria


His plea was denied. Nevertheless, he found ways to manage and, by 1941, aged 65, he had purchased the Point Nepean Road store from grocer D. H. Corstorphan. At the time it was part of a row of shops, including an ice works, service station, butcher, fruiterer, ladies’ hairdresser, bank, post office and a second grocer.

Wartime rationing was lifted in 1948, and in the subsequent years Australia saw renewed prosperity, bringing great change, including to the world of grocery retail.

The family sold the grocery store around 1951-55, by which stage William Hughes was in his late seventies. Frederick, now in his mid-forties, appears to have returned to his pre-war occupation as a commercial traveller, remaining in Brighton until his passing in 1979, aged 70.

Point Nepean Road, 1979, looking from East Brighton towards the city. A service station stands on the corner of Point Nepean and Centre Roads; William Hughes’ grocery store would have stood next door. Courtesy Ivo Lawson.

These circumstances paint a clear picture of the difficulties many people faced during years of economic depression and World War. The hardship lasted for decades and had substantial impacts on the lives of ordinary Australians.

The grocery business in Brighton

From its early years, Brighton and the land stretching towards the Mornington Peninsula were productive market gardening regions. Point Nepean Road was lined with businesses serving the local community and tram tracks ran down the middle to transport produce from the Peninsula to the central city by horse-drawn tram. The grocery store was a staple business, and many were dotted throughout Brighton.

J. B. Carr’s East Brighton Tea, Coffee & General Provision Store, c. 1867. Brighton Historical Society.

Service & Elliott grocery store, corner of Dendy Street and Point Nepean Road, c. 1914. Standing in front of the shop are Mr Williams, grocer (in white apron) with Charles Service, Bess Service and pet dog Tiger. Brighton Historical Society.

Service & Elliott was a grocer operating on the corner of Dendy Street and Point Nepean Road from 1911 until the 1930s.  As with most grocers of the time, goods were sold over the counter by shopkeepers offering personalised service. The storemen would call on regular customers each morning before returning to the shop to weigh and package each order, ready for delivery by horse and cart in the afternoon.  In addition to household groceries, the shop sold iron goods, coal, seeds, straw, chaff, grain and manure, all in regular demand in an area still dominated by agriculture.

As a child in the late 1920s and 1930s, Mavis Kinsman loved visiting the Glass brothers’ grocery on the corner of Point Nepean Road and New Street. She recalled in 2014,

“There were no self-service stores in those days. You would ask for a pound of butter and there would be this huge slab of butter on a marble slab. He would pat it into shape and that was your pound of butter. Or some biscuits – he had a whole row of tins of biscuits; you would ask for a pound of mixed biscuits and he would go into every tin and get a few out of each. It was a great shop.”

The shop had a high chair where customers could sit while waiting to be served. Because Mr Glass knew Mavis and her family from their church, he would often give her a few lollies in a twist of paper with their order.

Church Street, Brighton, c. 1921.  A grocery cart can be seen at the far right, outside the grocery business emblazoned with the name “W. P. FRANCIS, GROCER”. Brighton Historical Society.

The Blight brothers’ grocery store, corner of Union Street and Point Nepean Road, East Brighton, circa 1934. Note the “SELF SERVICE” signs painted large on the front windows. Courtesy Ivo Lawson

Ivo Lawson also lived in Brighton in the 1930s. Writing in 2004 he recalled the two Blight brothers, who ran a grocery store on the corner of Union Street and Point Nepean Road. They were “tall and thin” and always wore the same thing, “a long white apron that [reached] well below their knees”. He remembered the shop vividly.

“The shop and the Blight Brothers I would guess would be about the same age, the 1880 vintage. The shop was built right on the corner, one window facing Point Nepean Road, the other facing Union Street, the entrance door with a big bluestone step between the two windows. Many years ago, signs for Robur Tea, and Velvet Soap, had been painted on the inside of the windows, and now, after countless washes and cleaning, the background paint had become thin and threadbare and like the rest of the shop, very tired looking.


“The floor was six-inch Baltic pine boards, that over the years had worn much more in some places than others. The big countertop that the Blight Brothers served across was scrubbed almost white. From the twelve-foot-high wooden ceiling hung fly blown signs, advertising tea, biscuits, soap and all manner of grocery lines. They must have hung there for years.”

Inside H. W. Hemsley’s grocery store, New Street, Brighton, c. 1940. Grocer Horace Hemsley, speaking to a delivery boy from behind the counter, wears a white coat with a collared shirt and tie. Brighton Historical Society.

Joe Wood (buyer) and Allen Wood (assistant) in the entrance to the Brighton District Grocers Association, 243 Bay Street, Brighton, 1950. Brighton Historical Society. Joe, as the buyer and manager, wears a professional collared shirt and tie with a knit cardigan and professional but hardy pants. Allen, whose role as assistant clearly involves more outdoor and physical activity such as deliveries and warehousing, wears a dustcoat resembling Frederick’s.

The language of uniform

Grocers, like many skilled professions of this period, had an unofficial uniform of sorts, coded clothing which served to identify them to others and communicate an understood set of values and professional standards.  A pharmacist’s coat was clinically white. Commercial travellers projected respectability with their suits.  Butchers commonly wore a white shirt and dark coloured or white apron, indicating cleanliness and inspiring trust in an area of work where hygiene was important.

Storekeepers and grocers often wore a white or beige coat: white for inside the store and beige when working in the warehouse or conducting deliveries. The coat would be combined with a collared shirt and tie, indicating the professionalism and stature of a businessman combined with the practicality and serviceability of laborious duties.  The wearing of a collar and tie was regarded as important to set oneself apart from unskilled labourers.

Frederick Jennings’ dustcoat speaks to us of his role on the road, visiting customers, taking and fulfilling orders and delivering the goods.

W. P. Francis & Sons delivery truck, with driver Fred, in front of the Brighton District Grocers Association, 242 Bay Street, Brighton, c. 1948-49. Brighton Historical Society.

Self-service and changing times

Throughout this period, it was common for small family grocers to band together, forming local cooperatives of twenty to forty businesses, including the Brighton District Grocers Association, which was established in the 1930s. This maximised their buying power and enabled the small businesses to be more competitive against chain stores such as Moran and Cato.  But times were changing.

Self-service stores originated in America in 1916, with the first Australian store opening in 1923.  Transition took time, but by the 1950s the move away from serviced counters was taking hold. Shoppers now loaded trolleys with their chosen goods and queued to be processed by cashiers. No longer were personalised service and the grocer/customer relationship valued in the same way.

Mr Guest, grocer, inside his shop at 115 St Andrews Street, Brighton, 1951. His store operated here until 1960. Brighton Historical Society.

Mr Guest delivering groceries in Brighton during a rare snowstorm, 1951. Brighton Historical Society.

As store environments grew less personalised, breaking down the familiarity of the relationship between customer and service provider, alongside a rise in the culture of individualism, the use of coded clothing such as this dustcoat also evolved. Over the second half of the twentieth century, small local grocers were increasingly supplanted by large self-service supermarket chains, which developed their own corporate branding and uniforms for staff.

The scars of industry, time in service

The wear and tear of this coat speaks volumes of the work that it has seen and the stories it could tell. But what is most striking, and most tender, is the considerable evidence of careful repair, extending the life of this well-used, utilitarian tool of service and toil.

Sometimes images speak louder than words.


The artefacts of work inform us of the world in which they existed. The industry of work is a vital aspect of life. It gives us purpose, occupation, community.  If we are lucky it also offers prosperity, interest and amusement.

Annabel Butler, 2019

Adapted from page design for Brighton Historical Society by Jessica Curtain


Dunn, Bill, Uniforms, Laurence King, London, 2009.

Jones, Roger, ‘Was your ancestor a commercial traveller?’, State Library of Queensland, 26 August 2015,

Kinsman, Mavis Allison, oral history interview with Di Reidie [transcription], 2014, Brighton Historical Society.

Lawson, Ivo, Now & Then: Arthur’s Seat Road, Brighton; Western Port Road, Brighton; Point Nepean Road, Brighton; Nepean Highway, Brighton, Brighton, 2004, unpublished manuscript.

Mace, Lindsay, Brighton Recollections 1920s-1930s, Lindsay Mace, 2003.

‘Great Depression’, National Museum of Australia

‘Letter from W.G. Hughes, 1 April 1916’, PROV VPRS 3183/P1 Unit 268, 1848, Public Record Office Victoria

‘United Commercial Travellers Association of Australia’, Wikipedia

Wood, Allen, ‘Brighton District Grocers Association’, Brighton Historical Society Journal no. 139, Summer 2006-7.



This research was funded by a Local History Grant from Public Record Office Victoria.

Brighton Historical Society Costume Collection Project, 2018-2019.

This story was first published at 20th October 2019