Ring-a-ring o’ roses

Ring-a-ring o’ roses
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This clip, shot by the Archibald family, shows a little girl’s birthday party in the early 1930s. Girls, all dressed in white dresses and with bobbed hair, play 'Ring-a-ring o’ roses’ and 'Oranges and lemons’ before they sit down to eat party food. This film was donated to the National Film and Sound Archive by Helen Phillips, the daughter of John Ernest Archibald. Summary by Elizabeth Taggart-Speers

The camera holds a number of long and steady close-ups of the children’s faces.
The stark contrast between the dark background and the girls white dresses may not have been intentional but gives a dramatic effect.


Archibald Family: Family Scenes and Outings in Sydney synopsis

This home movie produced by the Archibald family in approximately 1932, features a variety of scenes illustrating their family life. These include beach scenes, a young girl’s birthday party and shots from onboard a boat on Pittwater, Sydney.


Curator's notes

Archibald Films is the name accredited to a string of home movies and short films made in the 1920s and 30s by one family, the Archibalds.

Home movie making became possible with the invention of 16mm film in 1923. However it was still an expensive hobby and, as a result, home movies were made by those who could afford to buy a camera. So while collections such as this are only narrowly representative of Australian society it does mean we have insight into one family’s experiences of the period.

As a home movie, it is both a family record and a document reflecting our national identity. Much like a family album, this home movie collection records events over a period of time. From baby shots in the backyard, to outings at the beach.

Filmed with a hand-held camera, much of the editing is 'in camera’ – that is as a result of simply turning the camera on and off.

This home movie collection has suffered from napthalene syndrome – a condition that can cause the film to shrink. The National Film and Sound Archive have preservation wound this film to a tension where the film holds its shape. It is also stored in a cool dry acclimatised vault to help its preservation.

Notes by Elizabeth Taggart-Speers


Education notes

This silent black-and-white clip shows the arrival of five young girls at the grounds of a large house for a birthday party and games in the gardens. The girls are looked after by two women, possibly their mothers, and three female Asian servants. There are shots of the girls playing games and the clip finishes with the children sitting at a table being served food and drink.


Educational value points

  • The clip illustrates the British influence on bourgeois family life in the 1930s and highlights the close ties that Australians maintained with Britain in the period. Many Australian-born citizens still thought of England as 'home’ and emulated British culture. The sedate and formal 'tea-party’-style gathering held as a celebration was a British tradition. The games the children play are centuries-old British games.
  • Footage is included of children holding hands and moving in a circle, playing the nursery rhyme game 'Ring-a-ring o’ roses’. This nursery rhyme was inspired by the 1664–65 Great Plague of London. The 'rings’ describe the raised red plague rash, and the 'posy’ ('A pocket full of posies’ in the second line) is the small sachet of herbs that people of the time believed would ward off the disease. The last two lines 'A tissue, a tissue / We all fall down’ refer to the fact that sneezing was a symptom of the illness. Falling down represents the victims’ deaths.
  • Children are shown walking under the joined arms of two people, playing the popular nursery rhyme game 'Oranges and lemons’. 'Oranges and lemons’ lists the chimes of London’s inner-city churches. The 'Great bell at Bow’ timed executions at Newgate Prison and the action of bringing down the arms in the game simulates the beheading of prisoners.
  • The existence of the movie itself, the clothing, the activities and the surroundings indicate wealth at a time when most Australians were experiencing hardship as a result of the Great Depression. By mid-1932, 32 per cent of Australians were out of work, with many thousands of people losing their homes, becoming itinerant or living in shanty towns, in stark contrast to the lifestyle recorded in this footage.
  • The presence of the Asian servants is intriguing and indicates that this footage of Australian family members was possibly taken in Malaysia or Singapore.
  • The clip depicts feminine ideals of decorum and appearance in upper-middle-class families in the 1930s. Such ideas and expectations changed over the course of the 20th century, with the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s attempting to free girls and women from such mannered stereotypes. Concepts of childhood fun also altered with the more relaxed attitudes of the 1960s and 1970s.
  • Typical features of the home movie genre are exemplified. The camera is hand held, with resulting instability of the image. Editing is achieved simply by turning the camera on and off. Content is shown in real time. 'Actors’ are aware of the camera and look directly into it, making no attempt to pretend the camera is not there. Family members in domestic settings were common subjects for early home movies.
  • Although historically regarded as amateur and technically flawed attempts, of interest only to their creators and immediate family, home movies such as this have gained the status of historical documents. With the 20th-century explosion in film culture and the dominance of the moving image, home movie footage has increasingly been sought out as archival footage and used to construct history, for example in documentaries and museum displays. Family film collections, such as this one, have been mined for their 'authenticity’ and 'spontaneity’ as they are perceived to be less prone to professional manipulation.
  • The clip is an example of a film form that is increasingly becoming appreciated as a genre. Home movies are now studied, debated and analysed, even as works of art in their own right, with links being made between 20th-century modernist and expressionist film and the work of home filmmakers, for example, in the absence of a constructed narrative.

Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia