1st September, “Wattle Day”

Text: Liz Hansman
Images: Liz Hansman, see text ,  “romseyaustralia.com
“Early Settlers’ Homes and Bush Huts in Australia”

Acacia Pycnantha – Golden Wattle by Cheryl Hodges.
Golden wattle tree, family Fabaceae,  is native to Sth Eastern Australia, growing as an understory plant in Eucalyptus forests in NSW, ACT, Victoria, South Australia.

Wattle Day is a day of celebration in Australia on 1st day of September each year, which is the official start of the Australian Spring. This is the time when many Acacia species are in flower…The day was originally intended to promote patriotism for the new nation ..” becoming popular in the early years of Federation.

However, much earlier in Hobart, on 1st December,1838,  in the first Hobart Town Anniversary Regatta, a triumphal arch decorated with wattle blossom was used to celebrate the discovery of the island by Abel Tasman in 17th century. The November flowering Black Wattle (Acacia meansii) was used and the custom of wearing a sprig of wattle for this occasion continued until 1883.

Wattle Day, 1869

Several “Wattle” organisations arose such as the South Australian chapter – begun as a women’s branch – of the Wattle Blossom League inaugurated by W.J.Sowden in 1890. The aim was to encourage patriotic sentiment among women of Australia and love of Australian literature and music.

The Wattle Club, was initiated by  the ornithologist and field naturalist, Archibald James Campbell in 1899 .

He wished to promote appreciation for the more than 1000 species of wattles, and of Australian nature in general.  He gave a speech in September 1908 suggesting a dedicated Wattle Day.

The Wattle Day League formed on 13th September 1909. They wanted to present a unified proposal for a national day to celebrate wattle blossom and the new nation. They agreed on 1st September for the special day and in early 1910 Sowden was asked to form a branch in SouthAustralia.
The first celebration of Wattle Day in more than one state on the same day took place on 1st September 1910, in NSW, Vic, and S.A.

“On 1st September 1911 Adelaide was described as a “city decked with gold”

Queensland followed in 1913 and that year Sydney celebrated by planting 200 Wattle trees in their Centennial park.

The wattle painting used on the dinner menu on Sunday 31st August 1958 , on the liner “Oronsay”, showing they were also aware of the celebrations for Wattle Day.

Golden Wattle (Acacia Pycnantha) was incorporated into the design of the Australian Coat of Arms in 1912.National Wattle Day , 1992:

There are over 1,200 different species of wattles belonging to the genus Acacia. About 99per cent of these are endemic, that is, they only occur in Australia . No wonder it is Australia’s national flower!

It took much effort,  particularly by Maria Hitchcock of Armidale, NSW who, with the support of Ian McNamara of the ABC, campaigned to have Wattle Day formally gazetted by the Government. Finally on 23rd June 1992, after many letters of support being gathered, Bill Hayden, Governor General of the Commonwealth of Australia, declared that 1st September would be observed as National Wattle Day.

“2010 marked the centenary of the celebrations of Wattle Day on 1st September 1910 in NSW, Victoria and South Australia”.
The Australian Geographic magazine urged the public to use the opportunity to celebrate again.

Queen Elizabeth 11 and the Wattle Brooch.
This beautiful brooch was presented to the Queen by Prime Minister Robert Menzies during her 1954 Commonwealth Tour.  It was a gift from the government and people of Australia.  Made by Budapest born jeweller Paul Schneller, commissioned by William Drummond & Co of Melbourne,  it holds 150 white and yellow diamonds. It is thought to be one of the Queen’s favourite pieces of jewellery as she is pictured wearing it on many occasions over the years.

When the British first came here they quickly found that the wattle trunks and branches lent themselves perfectly to make the “skeleton” supports for simple wattle and daub houses.
In places where wattle was abundant and clay or mud also available, the two combined to create worthwhile shelters.

Wattle and Daub Walls under construction

In Britain, “The typical English method consisted of vertical rods of hazel sprung into prepared grooves in the framing, between which thinner rods were woven in and out horizontally to form a basketwork, and both sides of the basketwork daubed with a mixture of clay, water and straw, sometimes with cow dung.”

“The first European settlers who arrived  in Sydney Cove in 1788 soon found the small acacia trees were suitable for wattling  and plastering with clay.
The trees became known as wattles and the building process , wattle and daub.

From the “Hobart town Almanac of 1836:
“Wattle and daub… you then bring home from the bush as many sods of the black or green wattle (acacia decurrens or affinis) as you think will suffice.
These are platted or intertwined with the upright posts in the manner of hurdles, and afterwards daubed with mortar made of sand or loam, and clay mixed up with a due proportion of the strong wiry grass of the bush chopped into convenient lengths and well beaten up with it, as a substitute for hair”

Another up market version suggests:
“The most usual style of knocking up a house is that called wattle and daub.
Strong uprights of wood are driven into the ground, and long narrow sticks are then woven across these, like the twigs of a wicker basket. Moist clay, or earth, well mixed up with chopped hay or straw, is then plastered over this and finished off with a trowel. The whole is then white-washed inside and out….”

In Sydney:
“In 1790 Governor Philip and surveyor Augustus Alt laid out a town plan ……
George street was 63 m wide and 1.6 km long. On either  side of the street huts were to be at a distance of 18.5m from each other, with a garden area allotted at the rear of each hut. The huts were to be built of wattle and daub and the roof thatched and were to be 4 by 8 metres .
The new street and the huts were built by the convicts from July 1790.”

Better than no shelter at all, the wattle and daub buildings could be rather delicate!
“An old history of Melbourne relates that the first hospital,  constructed of wattle and daub, was knocked down  by a bull owned by John Batman.
The animal scratched its shoulder against it, and the building collapsed. …..
The High Court …expressed yesterday the bull was a trespasser. Had he gently rubbed his nose against the wall there would probably have been no trespass. ( Argus, Melbourne, Friday 10 October, 1924”)

Of course, Australia’s original inhabitants had made similar house structures for thousands of years. “Building with earth was not a new thing …. the indigenous Australian aboriginal people developed appropriate dwellings for their lifestyle and environment…. The materials used for the construction of homes varied across geographic regions of the continent and depended on the availability and supply of materials……
In the Lake Eyre region,…..the explorer Eyre wrote …”we found a village of thirteen huts near Mount Napier, they were cupola shaped, made of a strong wood frame covered with thick turf”

Wattle in Plympton, Adelaide

J.H.Maiden says in “Useful Native Plants” (1889)
“The ordinary name for species of the genus Acacia in the colonies is “Wattle”. The name is an old English one, and signifies the interlacing of boughs together to form a kind of wicker- work. The aboriginals used them in the construction of their abodes, and the early colonists used to split the stems of slender species into laths for “wattling” the walls of their rude habitations”

Our State Library sources say,
“ The first dwellings in South Australia consisted of tents, huts made out of bush timber, prefabricated buildings and crude wattle and daub structures with earth floors”.

A wattle and daub cottage built around 1863 formed the basis of Glenalta House, built in 1880 in the Adelaide Hills, by former South Australian Premier, Sir John Downer.

Other examples of early wattle and daub dwellings are found throughout the Adelaide Hills.

“Faehrmann’s House “ in the main street of Hahndorf was originally owned by Johann Christoph Liebelt , farmer and shepherd, in 1839, who built “ a two roomed cottage of wattle and daub”.  His daughter Eleonore, and her husband Carl Friedrich Faehrmann, a blacksmith/ carpenter,  lived  in the small house many years before building the present house.
(Extracts from ‘A Picture Book of Hahndorf”, by Anni Luur Fox

And so our beautiful acacia trees have not only been the means of supplying shelter for many a weary person over thousands of years, they have become the  “Green and Gold” – symbol of Australian joy and pride !

Extracts from “romseyaustralia.com
“Early Settlers’ Homes and Bush Huts in Australia”

If you have any information about Wattle Day in the Adelaide Hills, or of your own or your relatives involvement, we would be most interested to hear from you.

Contact us at mldhsgateways@mtloftyhistoricalsociety.org.au or drop into the History Centre at the Coventry Library, 63 Mount Barker Road, Stirling.