A Girl’s Fancy Dress Message

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BY Michaela Launer


Picture this: you are unemployed during the depression.

A girl’s parents entered a fancy dress competition, the dress containing a desperate message. The painted dress has images and slogans promoting the work of the Heidelberg Unemployment Bureau and the girl’s father’s availability for a job.

The dress is a reminder to all of us of the hardship and desperation that a lot of the families were facing during the depression years.

Patricia Chalcraft’s parents emigrated to Australia from Wales with a three-year-old Patricia, in 1926. They settled in Heidelberg, Melbourne, hence the dress’ name, the Heidelberg Dress.

With the coming of the depression, Patricia’s father had lost his job at the Shell Company. Desperate to make ends meet, the Chalcraft’s had become involved in the Heidelberg Unemployment Bureau. A lot of the unemployed people went to the bureau which had brought them together to offer odd jobs to the local community.


Most Original Prize

Patricia’s parents had made the dress for her to wear at a local fancy dress party when she was about eight years old.

The prize for the best costume was cash and Patricia’s parents planned to buy her shoes if they won.

Her mother had made the dress out of an old curtain and her father decorated the dress with old oil-based household paints. But unfortunately for Patricia she didn’t win the cash prize, but a book voucher for the most original fancy dress costume.

The dress was not just decorative, but an advertisement for the unemployed.

A lot of effort went into the dress to make it was colourful and decorated with elaborate images. The dress was her father’s hope, not only for himself but for his friends and fellow unemployed. He hoped to help himself and others by advertising for work.


Heidelberg Unemployment Bureau

The drawings and captions on the dress show the activities undertaken by the Heidelberg Unemployment Bureau, to assist the unemployed. The bureau held weekly meetings at Barkly Hall.

The dress describes various odd jobs the bureau was trying to find for it’s members at the time. Many of the drawings are of women’s activities and writing on the dress advertises that women want the “odd jobs” that were provided to men.

Australia experienced a severe Great Depression during 1929-1932. Unemployment peaked at 32% and without work and a regular income many men found it difficult to support their families. Families lost their homes and many men became itinerant workers, moving to where ever work may be. Charity groups and soup kitchens attempted to feed masses of hungry people in the cities and major towns.

The dress represents the desperation of one family to buy essential items.

1 Comment

  1. The Jewelry Store

    23/03/2015 at 3:54 AM

    Cool article, It was inspiring.

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