Rhodo Festival

The Blackheath Rhododendron Festival’s highlight is the parade on the first Saturday in November involving a procession of floats ornately decorated by local organisations and by pupils of the local school. The procession is usually headed by a marching band and by a fleet of vintage cars, trucks and fire engines, and is capped off by a float honouring the Festival Queen. To view many more photos of past festivals see flickr.

The inaugural Festival was held between October 31st and November 8th, 1953 and was officially opened by Dame Pattie Menzies, the wife of Australia’s longest-serving Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies. She was appointed OBE Dame Grand Cross some months later in the New Year’s Honours in 1954.

Dame Pattie Menzies, second from left in front row. Kath Johnston, one of the founders of the Blackheath Kookaburra Kindergarten, is far right.

The Blue Mountains Gazette described the occasion in a retrospective article posted on October 12 2019 by Robyne Ridge:

.. All week, activities entertained locals and visitors alike: square dancing, Dutch and Norwegian national folk dancing, a campfire concert at the Scouts camp, a golf tournament, hikes through Porters Pass, trips to Mount Wilson, a baby show. The Blackheath Musical Society performed, “The Gondoliers” nightly. Wentworth Street hosted a billy cart derby.

Highlight of the week, the Rhododendron Festival and Armistice Ball at the Victory Theatre, saw the Rhododendron Queen ceremonially crowned. Two orchestras entertained the dancers.

Start of the parade held on Saturday, October 31 1953

The Blackheath Musical Society had been using the Victory Theatre for fundraising concerts during and after World War I and was performing Gilbert and Sullivan operettas in the theatre well into the 1950s. Performances over two nights of The Gondoliers (1953), The Mikado (1954) and Ruddigore (1955) were promoted as part of the annual Rhododendron Festivals.

Blackheath Musical Society production of The Gondoliers in 1953

1956 Rhododendron Festival

L to R / T to B: Festival Queen float at the start of the procession; Girls Life Brigade float; Wards in costume

1957 Rhododendron Festival

1961 Marching Girls; photo courtesy of Larraine Home

Larraine Home (née Hynes, 1962 Festival Queen) organised a 25th Anniversary Festival Queens float for the 1978 parade. The next two photos are courtesy of her:

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