Empire Day was first celebrated on 24 May 1902 after the death of Queen Victoria in 1901.1 The day was celebrated across the British Empire with parties, festivals, and patriotic dances. In Australia, the celebrations didn’t really start until 1905.2
Schools played a large role in the celebrations. At Taree Superior Public School in 1905, Empire Day was observed with the Union Flag being raised in the morning and patriotic songs being sung. In the afternoon, students wore purple rosettes (the King’s colour) and marched through Taree led by the Taree Brass Band.3 In 1921, Taree Intermediate High School, celebrated with a large picnic and an afternoon of sporting events.4
But Empire Day wasn’t entirely normal. There were some crazy things that happened. In 1954 Taree held a large night parade with people holding 60 lit torches. The parade finished at Fotheringham Park where there was a large bonfire and fireworks. Hundreds of children were supplied with fireworks and members of the fire brigade showed off their skills by sending rockets into the sky.5 At Taree West Public School, each child was asked to bring along fireworks for the bonfire!6
In 1958, Empire Day was renamed ‘Commonwealth Day’ and in 1966 the name and date was changed to the official date for the birthday of Queen Elizabeth II which is now called the ‘Queen’s Birthday’ holiday held on the second Sunday in June each year.7
Authors: Alicia Rooimans and Taylah Brown, Year 5, Taree West Public School.
1 Empire Day, https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofBritain/Empire-Day/.
2 NSW State Archives and Records, https://www.records.nsw.gov.au/archives/magazine/galleries/empire-day/commonwealth-day.
3 Manning River Times and Advocate for the Northern Coast Districts of NSW, 27 May 1905.
4 Manning River Times and Advocate for the Northern Coast Districts of NSW, 25 May 1921.
5 Manning River Times and Advocate for the Northern Coast Districts of NSW, 26 May 1954.
6 Manning River Times and Advocate for the Northern Coast Districts of NSW, 20 May 1953.
7 NSW State Archives and Records.