Canberra's City Renewal Authority launched its Christmas in the City program this month, promoted as being the "biggest Christmas program ever". An art installation, decorations that include an iconic Gang Gang cockatoo in City Walk, and a performance by the Canberra Symphony Orchestra are all included in the program. Of course, there is also a Christmas tree with a new translucent design and an interactive installation to help create a festive atmosphere.
Organised celebrations of the festive season have been a long tradition in Canberra. Each year the Department of Territory and Municipal Services was heavily involved with the public Christmas celebrations. Prior to self-government, it fell upon City Parks Administration to arrange festive lighting and an annual Christmas tree. This tree was usually sponsored by a business or charitable group.
During the 1960s the Quota Club of Canberra would sponsor a "Giving Tree" in Australia's first shopping mall, the Monaro Mall. An ArchivesACT file titled "66/115F - Forestry - Christmas Trees - Sale of - 1966-1968" documents the Quota Club's annual requests to the Department of the Interior's Forests Section (later Parks, Conservation and Lands) for a tree.
This file begins in 1974 with the National Capital Development Commission constructing a steel-lined hole on Alinga Street (Garema Place) for the erection of a large Christmas tree each year. Since then, there had been regular calls from local shop owners for the planting of a permanent pine tree in Civic. They hoped to reduce the recurring costs of erecting a cut tree each year and minimise Occupational Health & Safety concerns when erecting the tree and spray painting the tree in a pedestrian mall. Temporary trees required two coats of paint to aid in maintaining colour and preventing them from drying out.
In 1966, the cost of trees was 60c, while a fine for illegally removing trees from the forests was $10.
Up until 1980 the government covered all costs associated with erecting the tree in Garema Place. From 1980 onwards, local businesses and community groups have sponsored the tree. The Canberra Times sponsored the 1980 Christmas tree, joined by the Salvation Army and Canberra Scout Association in 1981. The Scouts crewed the tree and accepted gifts and donations on behalf of the Salvation Army. There appears to have been no trees in 1982 and 1983, as the NCDC was not approached to erect one in those years. 2CA sponsored the 1984 tree, with its location moved from Alinga Street to the median strip on Northbourne Avenue to give it a more prominent location. Concerns were raised over the damage to the median strip this tree placement would create. However, the use of a smaller tree sourced from near the Albert Hall alleviated this problem and reduced the estimated cost of $3000 down to $952.
One constant feature of Christmas over the years is the sale of Christmas Trees by the Scout Association of Australia. A Forests Branch file contains documents relating to the supply of Christmas trees by the Department of the Interior's Forests Section dating back to 1945. Churches, schools and kindergartens were supplied trees free of charge while the Boy Scouts Association oversaw the sale of the trees to the public. In 1947, a tree cost 2/6 and it was even possible to hire a potted tree at a rate of 5/- per week. With decimal currency arriving in 1966, the cost of trees became 60c, while a fine for illegally removing trees from the forests was $10. The Boy Scouts sold 6454 trees this year. It was also the year that the Girl Guides Association applied to sell Christmas trees. The application was rejected as it was thought that "the handling of bulky Christmas trees would be a more appropriate task for boys than girls".
Other files contain a selection of Christmas cards distributed in the 1980s by the Secretary for the Department of Territories, John Enfield (1983-1987).
In 1984 John Enfield selected a card produced and sold by the National Library of Australia featuring a painting by Joseph Wolinski of the Ainslie Post Office in 1912. This building stood near the present junction of Ainslie and Limestone Avenues and served as Canberra's post office from 1863 to 1913.
For those of us getting ready to set up this year's Christmas tree and decorations, the ACT Consumer Affairs Bureau produced a pamphlet in 1983 to "inform consumers about the safety of their Christmas purchases". Tips included placing trees away from heat sources and not connecting lights to a power source until fully set up.
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