Inside the Collection

War Time Dress on the Australian Dress Register

Tinonee Victory Parade Flag dress worn on Australia Day 1919
Tinonee Victory Parade Flag dress worn on Australia Day 1919

The Australian Dress Register (ADR) is a website that celebrates men’s, women’s and children’s dress that has an Australian provenance. Museums and private collectors are encouraged to research their garments and share the stories and photographs on the Register. The Register supports the garments remaining in their locations, but allows the information to be shared with a world-audience. The criteria for contributing to the Register is simple – if an item of clothing has a good story behind it and is put in the social context of the time it was worn, then we’d love to see it on the Register. With the 100 year anniversary of World War 1, it’s a good opportunity to look at what entries are on the Register that are associated with wartime. You can search the browse option or the timeline on the front page. You can do in-depth searches by clothing type, era, location, theme or manufacture details. There are not many uniforms on the ADR, so we would like to focus on this area in the next few years.

There is a wonderful Union Jack dress from the Tinonee Historical Society that was made and worn by Amelia Ellis for the Victory Parade at Tinonee (NSW North Coast) on Australia Day 1919. Like so many small Australian towns, they felt the impact of WW1 and lost 19 men in the conflict. The flag dress was also used by the owner’s family for dressing up and was even used for padding in the upholstery of a chair. This chair was thrown onto a bonfire when the house was cleared out. Someone spotted the dress poking out of a hole in the upholstery when the chair was on the bonfire and it was fortunately saved from burning. The dress was donated to the Tinonee Historical Society and is an important part of the town’s history.

WW1 uniform by Private Charles Moss
Private Charles Moss in his WW1 uniform

There is a WW1 uniform from the Museum of the Riverina on the Register that was owned by Private Charles Moss. He came from nearby Wallace Town and was one of 4 men to enlist from that town. Though his story is not remarkable, he was a keen correspondent and the museum has a wonderful collection (110 pieces) of his wartime experiences with items such as postcards, letters, trinkets, medical cards and his pay book. There is also a fabric talisman pinned to his uniform which is a small piece of cloth cut in the shape of Australia, embroidered with purple forget me nots and has the words ‘Auld Lang Syne’ sewn on it. The cards and letters reveal Charles’s youth and optimism that he would return, which he did, and also tell of his experiences during his service.

Underpants from tram destination roll
Tom Ridley’s underpants made from decommissioned tram destination fabric, 1942

Another garment on the register comes from 1942 and is found at the Museum of Clothing and Textiles in Maitland. It is a pair of men’s underpants that are made from tram destination fabric. It is remarkable that this item survives. In World War Two, Australians had rationing of food, goods and materials. The owner of these underpants, Tom Ridley had the opportunity to obtain some decommissioned tram destination roll fabric. The paint was vigorously scrubbed off the fabric so that it could be made into underpants and worn comfortably. The words Millers Point, Glebe, Petersham and Railway can still be seen on the underpants. The owner’s wife lamented the longevity of the underpants and wondered if they would ever fade.

Please have a look at the ADR to discover more about these and the other fascinating stories on the Register. If you have any items of dress or uniforms that have a good story, please contact the ADR team at: dressregister@phm.gov.au for more information.

The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences will be holding a workshop for members of the public on the ADR Uniforms for History Week. The workshop will take place on September 10, 2.30 – 5.00pm. Please follow the link above for bookings.

Written by Kate Chidlow, Conservator

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