Santa on a see-saw

Santa on a see-saw
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This clip includes five-year-old Wally being picked up and hugged by his parents; an older man dressed as Santa Claus; children on a seesaw and playing ring-a-rosie; Wally being pushed on a swing by his mother and then father; guests and family members standing in the garden; children dancing; Wally standing on a table spread with cakes and sweets about to cut a cake; and Wally blowing bubbles towards the camera.

Summary by Poppy De Souza

A home movie filmed by the Albion family of a children’s Christmas party in the 1920s. Most of the footage focuses on five-year-old Wally and takes place over a single afternoon.

The three minutes of 35 mm silent footage includes: the birthday boy, Wally, being picked up and hugged by his parents; an older man dressed as Santa Claus; children playing on a seesaw; children playing ring-a-rosie; Wally being pushed on a swing; guests and family members standing in the garden; children dancing; Wally standing on a table spread with cakes and sweets about to cut a cake; and Wally blowing bubbles towards the camera.


Albion, Douglas: Children’s Birthday Party synopsis

A tinted home movie of family scenes in a garden and a children’s party celebration in the mid 1920s.

It begins with a shot of the Albion family posing portrait style for the camera and then shows the father blowing bubbles with his young child Wally. Other scenes include an older child dressed as a clown and the young child in a flower bed with his mother.


Albion, Douglas: Children’s Party curator's notes

This is a beautiful example of early movie making in 1920s Australia. It is one of three reels of film that chronicles significant events and celebrations in the Albion family’s garden. In this film, Albion’s camera carefully frames each scene and uses a combination of still and panning shots to record what is either a Christmas or birthday celebration. The shots mostly centre on Wally, a young child with curly blonde locks, but they also show other family members and friends. It captures the elaborate decorations including Chinese lanterns and Australian flags as well as children’s swings and a seesaw.

It was filmed on 35 mm nitrate film stock – rare for home movies at the time – on a windy day in a suburban backyard in Sydney. Home movie making at this time was a relatively expensive hobby and as a result the films represent a narrow segment of society. This footage is similar to Wally’s Fifth Birthday Party and appears to have been made around the same time. The five-year-old Wally remains fascinating and enigmatic in both reels. In this reel, he often appears uninterested in the celebrations surrounding him, yet there is a thoughtfulness which shines through. Apart from his name, there is little information available about Wally or his family and friends. The stories and histories connected with the people and events in early footage such as this often disappear over time, as family members pass on and artefacts become detached from their owners.

This footage was rediscovered by Douglas Albion (Wally’s younger brother) decades after it was filmed. It was saved from being thrown out when Albion heard of a search for source material to be used in the production of Our Century – a 25-part television documentary series that chronicles Australia’s history from 1900 to 1999. The original picture negative is preserved, along with the family’s two other 35 mm home movie reels, at the National Film and Sound Archive.

Notes by Poppy De Souza


Education notes

This silent black-and-white clip shows scenes from a 1920s Christmas party that also appears to be a celebration of Wally Albion’s fifth birthday. The party is in the garden of the Albion family home in Sydney. Among the guests are a large number of children wearing party clothes and an older man playing Santa Claus. Various scenes show children on a seesaw, skipping around a Christmas tree and performing dances in costumes. Wally stands on a table to cut his cake and in the final scene wears an elaborate costume and blows soap bubbles at the camera.


Educational value points

  • The clip provides a glimpse into the ways an affluent Australian family celebrated Christmas and a child’s birthday in the 1920s. The abundance of toys and food and the quality of the clothes worn by the guests suggest wealth. The children behave in an orderly way as they stand together and play organised games, demonstrating the expectation of good behaviour at the gathering.
  • Wally’s appearance reflects the style of the just-past Victorian era in which boys under the age of 5 often wore dresses and had long hair. At about 5 they began to be dressed in short trousers or ‘breeches’. Wally’s long curls and short-panted knickerbocker suits indicate that at 5 he is still being dressed as a very young child.
  • The filmmaker has constructed a narrative featuring Wally as the central character in a celebration. The camera focuses on Wally – alone and in the various group activities – beginning with a staged awakening as he is lifted out of a miniature bed. He participates in the entertainment provided for guests and is the focus of attention in the cake-cutting scene. The story ends with Wally in costume blowing soap bubbles in a scene staged for the camera.
  • Young girls in the clip put on various dance performances, demonstrating accomplishments learned at a time when a good marriage was seen as the main goal for young women. Girls’ education emphasised 'lady-like’ qualities such as graceful movement, elegant deportment and educated speech. Young upper-middle-class girls attended private girls’ schools where etiquette, deportment, elocution and dancing were seen as important skills.
  • This intimate recording of a domestic event is a rare example of a 1920s home movie and it provides information about Australian cultural life and traditions of the time. The staged scenes, the participants’ awareness of their roles in front of the camera and the mounted camera set in place to record the unfolding events show a high degree of professionalism on the part of the home filmmaker.
  • The tableau at the end of the clip that has Wally sitting on a stool and blowing soap bubbles through a clay pipe indicates the influence at the time of a particular visual image, ‘Bubbles’ by John Millais (1829–96). Wally’s hair is in golden curls and he wears what appears to be a velvet suit with a white ruffled collar. His pose and appearance have been carefully constructed to resemble the child in Millais’s painting, used in a long-running Pears Soap advertisement.

Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia