The compleat pageant experience

Adelaide is really just a giant country town. Everyone knows each other, everyone goes to the show every year, and everyone goes to the annual Christmas parade, or pageant.*

The pageant is a long, long parade, making its way from one side of the old city to the other, and taking about an hour to pass. In our first year here, we headed down town about half an hour before the parade was due to start, and stood in the back row. The girls were entranced. Last year I flatly refused to go: the overnight low was about 25 degrees, and it was due to reach about 30 by the time the parade started at 9.30am. But this year, our last in Adelaide, I thought that I ought to take the girls to see the parade.

We staggered out of bed at 6.00am, got dressed, had a hasty breakfast, gathered up the cushions and chairs and blanket we had organised the previous evening, and headed off at 6.30am. When I say, “we”, I mean me and the girls. Mr Strange Land stayed in bed.** By 7.00am I had parked in the Central Markets car park, and the girls and I had gone down to Victoria Square, and staked out a spot behind the blue honour line. This is a special road marking that exists only for the sake of the pageant, delineating paraders from paradees. Woe betide any school boy who elects to sit over the line; a passing police officer will hustle him back. I had thought that this would be a good spot on the parade route: easy parking, easy access to toilets, not too far from the start (the dancers and marchers and walkers and clowns always look very, very tired towards the end of the route), the chance to sit right on the tramlines, the possibility of excursions to find coffee. The pageant wasn’t due to start until 9.30am, but some people arrived at 4.00am to find a good spot, and by the time we arrived at 7.00, there were only one or two front row spaces left. We were just in time.

We set up our chairs and cushions and blankets, and then I went and got coffee and hot chocolates from the markets. Bliss! After that, the girls engaged in the fine pastime of defacing the streets of Adelaide.

Three girls, drawing on the street with chalk.

Defacing the streets of Adelaide

I thought that this was their best piece of graffiti.

My mum is the best, in chalk, alongside the tramline.

"My mum is the best."

Drawing on the streets with chalk has become part of the pageant ritual in recent years, so much so that the community aid tents hand out chalks to children who have come without. They also gave out water, and sunblock, and balloons. The girls queued for half an hour to get a balloon each. Of the three balloons, two were lost into the sky, and one popped, very loudly. Some children had brought bubble mix and bubble blowers, and hordes of children chased bubbles all over the place. Alas, one bubble popped right in Miss Nine the Elder’s eye, but a very young St John’s Ambulance chap helped her to wash it out. At 9am, we took part in an attempt to set a world record for the largest number of people singing Christmas carols at one time. Ms Twelve has become interested in world records, so she was pleased to have her name recorded as a participant. We listened to announcements, and interviews with pageant participants. I swear that the Pageant Queen must come from Taranaki: her nasal rising inflection as she said, “Hello” was a dead giveaway. Or perhaps it’s just the country connection. I chatted with the people next to us, and did some crochet. The girls asked, repeatedly, “Are we there yet? Is it time yet?”

At last, the countdown began, and at 9.30am, the parade started. 10 minutes later it reached us. Four mounted police officers led the parade, riding stately grey horses.

Mounted police officers

Mounted police

From then on there were floats and marching bands and dancers and clowns. Some of the floats were very hokey indeed. I liked the bands; I loved hearing the snatches of music, and seeing the different people engaged in making music. The girls liked the fairy tale floats, but they were disappointed that the snail float didn’t appear this year (the snail leaves a watery slime trail as it goes). Nipper and Nimble came by – two model horses, each ridden by a very small girl in fairy clothes. Apparently it is a great honour to be chosen to ride Nipper or Nimble, and the politics around the selection is intense. Those who miss out can go and sit on Nipper and Nimble in Santa’s Cave in David Jones, but it’s not the same.

I thought that the panda float was a highly accurate representation of the wretched beasts: the papier mache models did absolutely nothing, just like the real things.

Model pandas, static, of course.

Why is there a kangaroo in the middle?

The nativity scene was much more interesting, preceded by three camels.

Three camels, each ridden by a "wise man".

Camels and kings

After an hour or so, Santa Claus came by, and then it was all over. There was an enormous traffic jam as 300,000 people all tried to head home, but that was to be expected.

So we experienced getting up early, the wait, sitting on tram lines, drawing on the street, takeaway coffee and hot chocolates, getting balloons, losing balloons, getting first aid, taking part in a world record attempt, counting down to the start of the parade, seeing the parade go by, and long delays in the traffic on the way home. Later on that day, I checked the photo gallery on the local paper’s site, and there we are in the background of one of the shots. It was truly the compleat experience.

* About 300,000 people, or nearly 1/3 of Adelaide’s population.

** And later got up to carry on with the mountain of work he has at present.

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9 responses to “The compleat pageant experience

  1. I love the drawing with chalk bit, I presume it’s a tradition that has grown over time from some spontaneous beginning? (Don’t disillusion me if not!)

  2. What about the record – did you break it and for how long did you have to sing?

  3. Wow, not a fan of these things myself but your girls will almost certainly remember this one all their days
    Speaking of which, are we counting down?

  4. We are! 37 days to go. We’ll be home by Christmas.

  5. Given how early you have to get there these days I wonder how it is affecting one of the other traditions of the pageant – the trek from country towns. I have only been to the pageant once and that is when I was a child and we left home just as the sun was coming up. I think it was even more of a rite of passage for country children than city ones. I guess they drive up on Friday night now and stay at a hotel on Glen Osmond rd, but it would be interesting to know (not interesting in a ‘someone should do some research’ just interesting).

  6. Some people do come the night before, and stay in a hotel. The woman sitting next to me had come in from Noarlunga that morning, but her neighbours had come in the night before.

  7. Oh memories… It used to be the John Martins Christmas Pageant. Santa’s Cave and Nimble and Nipper were also in John Martins, a now-defunct department store. N. and N. were my favourite part of the pageant, as a pony-mad child and sitting on them, not Santa’s knee, was definitely something to look forward to in Santa’s cave. Or Father Christmas as he was called then.
    *Grabs walking frame, toddles off*

  8. Oh, I missed reading this last weekend! How vividly you describe it – I tended to live in towns too small for this sort of thing when I was a bairn, so no actual nostalgia though. What a great day for you all.

  9. I can’t believe you let Mr Strange Land get away with that double asterisk. He LAY ABED.