Inside the Collection

Celebrating Christmas with Australian flowers

When was Australian flora first used to celebrate Christmas?

Christmas bells floral design, Plate, porcelain by Reginald Austin for Royal Worchester, England
Collection: Powerhouse Museum.

(Image: from Christmas bells floral design, Plate, porcelain by Reginald Austin for Royal Worchester, England , retailed by Flavelle Bros Ltd, Sydney, 1912-14.)

Letters from settlers in the colony of News South Wales in the 1830s described the use of Australian native plants like Christmas bush and Christmas bells. They replaced the traditional red and green of European holly and ivy. Louisa Anne Meredith, a writer and artist visited the colonies in the 1830s and describes Christmas at Parramatta

“We used to meet numbers of people carrying bundles of beautiful native shrubs to decorate the houses, in the same way we use holly and evergreens at home… it is a handsome verdant shrub, with flowers, irregularly flower shaped and go from green to crimson in colour” *

Australian natives are significant as ‘Christmas plants’ in various parts of Australia. Many Australia homes feature bunches of red Christmas bush as decorations for the festive season.

The Museum’s collection reflects the use Australian flora in a range of decorative and applied arts like glasses, cups and plates (such as the one above), bowls and this card case.

Cardcase, sterling silver, delicate Christmas bell motif on the front
Collection: Powerhouse Museum

(Image: A1707 Cardcase, sterling silver / enamel /leather, Christmas bell motif, Germany, 1912)

Adorned with Christmas bells this case was exhibited by the Museum at the Panama Pacific International Exhibition, San Francisco, 1915.

It was acquired by the Museum for its spectacular ‘Australian Flora in Applied Art ‘ exhibition of 200 decorative arts objects made mostly in England, for the Australian market. The exhibition opened in 1906 with new objects added until the 1930s.

Australian flora was also used in building ornamentation like this stained glass design.

Building ornamentation stained glass design, including Waratahs, Christmas Bells and leafy vines creating a boarder
Collection: Powerhouse Museum

(Image: Stained glass panel, eucalyptus, waratah, flannel flower and Christmas bush design, lead, glass, made by George Hulme, Sydney Technical College, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1900-1907)

This beautiful glass consists of sinuous tendrils of eucalyptus framing sides and bottom. The central portion is a columnar arrangement of waratahs, flannel flowers, Christmas bush and native fuchsia (elopea speciosissima R Br., Acinotus helianthi, Ceratopetalum gummi ferum, Epacris) in shades of red, green, yellow, pink and brown.
The Museums collections also houses botanical models, like this one of a Christmas bush.

The models were used as educational tools showing in detail the workings of plants. You can also see an earlier 20th century version of this Museum’s label with it.

Botanical model, fruit of Christmas Bush one branch
Collection: Powerhouse Museum

(Image: D10202 Botanical model, (fruit of Christmas Bush), mixed media, modelled by A E Rice, coloured by Charles Toms, Sydney Technical College, Sydney, Australia, c. 1900)

*126-127 notes and sketches of New South Wales during a residence in the colony from 1839 to 1844,Mrs Charles Meredith, Sydney Ure Smith and national trust, 1844

5 responses to “Celebrating Christmas with Australian flowers

  • Hi Anni, You article is beautiful and informative.It would be great if Australians would make the Christmas bells our official Christmas flower.
    I am working on a project for the Bourke and Wills anniversary. Some botanic artists with the Friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens have travelled to Menindee to locate species found by Dr Beckler who was the Dr for B & W. He identified and named 150 species around Menindee. We have had our first expedition there and found and painted 15 of the species he found. We are looking for a sponsor to assist with funding our next expedition in October
    All plant materials collected are being given to the Herbarium of Vic and NSW.
    Can you help us find an organisation or person who could help with the funding? Thanks Jan

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