A visit to Santaland in 1946

BY BETH TAYLOR

When Robin Voigt was three years old, she met Santa Claus for the first time.

Sixty-nine years later, she still remembers visiting Santaland at Anthony Hordern’s department store in Sydney. ‘Everything was twinkling and there was a big sparkly Christmas tree right next to where he was sitting’, she says. Robin’s cousin Carolyn Fischer was also there and remembers Santa sitting on a golden throne.

Robin and Carolyn’s visit to Santaland in 1946 is recorded for all to hear, thanks to it being part of an unidentified radio broadcast, most probably from Sydney radio station 2GB:

Advertisement from The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 November 1946

Advertisement from The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 November 1946

The children are introduced by an unidentified male announcer with a smooth and authoritative voice. As was popular in Australian radio at the time his accent is based on the standard BBC (Southern English) radio accent. The rest of the recording is vérité. We get to eavesdrop on a conversation usually only heard by Santa and the child sitting on his lap.

This broadcast, which would probably have seemed unremarkable at the time, now gives us a window into the beloved toys of the moment and the tradition of children telling department store Santas what they would like for Christmas. Robin asks Santa for a dolly and a rattle, Carolyn (six years old) requests a fairy frock and Peter (aged five) wants an electric boat.

It wasn’t all smiles though. You can hear from Robin’s voice in the recording that she is put off when Santa asks whether she wants a dressed dolly because, ‘You don’t want a dolly in the nude do ya?’. Such talk wouldn’t pass muster with today’s Santas!

Santa promises he won’t forget them, and goes on to dispense some timeless advice: ‘Go to bed early’ and ‘Do what Mummy and Daddy tells ya’.

The advertisement (above) from The Sydney Morning Herald is for the Santaland that Robin, Carolyn and Peter visited. Apart from getting to speak with Santa Claus, other enticements included a treasure ship, snow palace and magical caves.

Sound archivist Tamara Osicka says, ‘There is something so evocative about being able to hear a person, without seeing them. It allows you to create a picture in your mind of, in this case, three tiny children standing in wonder in front of Santa’s Cave, talking to someone they regard as a magical being.’

Tamara adds, ‘Although our collection contains a lot of recordings of important historical figures, it also contains the voices of ordinary Australians. These recordings can tell us a lot about times past. This recording is a beautiful example of the many hidden gems in the NFSA’s audio collection.’

Robin and Carolyn were included in the broadcast thanks to being the children of early radio royalty. Their grandparents William and Eunice Stelzer worked at 2GB. William was in charge of the station’s advertising and Eunice was an announcer and musical advisor who also founded the charitable 2GB Happiness Club. Robin is also the daughter of radio presenter Rion Voigt (from Algy, Esme and Rion) and the granddaughter of Emil Voigt – the founder of commercial radio station 2KY in Sydney (now Sky Sports Radio).

Robin donated the radio transcription lacquer disc containing the recording to the NFSA in 1990, along with other memorabilia collected by her father Rion.