Wattle Day – 1st September. A day to remember the patriotism that unites us as Australians with a sprig of wattle – our national floral emblem. First use of Acacia as a “National emblem” occurred in Hobart (Town), Tasmania, in 1838, where organizers of a commemorative regatta advocated that participants wear sprigs of ‘silver wattle’ (presumably Acacia dealbata). But amid all the fanfare of Wattle Day I celebrate the knowledge that Agnes Kettlewell, nee Storrie was one of the instigators who forged the revival of Wattle Day and the recognition of wattle as our national emblem. Agnes was my great grandmother’s (Bessie) sister.
Agnes Louisa Storrie was born on the 23 August 1864 at Glenelg, South Australia, the sixth child of Scottish parents James Storrie and Agnes, nee Tassie. My great-grandmother Bessie was their eighth child and just two years younger than Agnes. James Storrie was a well-respected merchant in Adelaide from the time of his arrival in 1849 aboard the “Anna” until his death in 1897. The family was staunch adherents of the Congregational Church and advocates of education for all thus Agnes and her sisters all received an education equivalent to that of their brothers. It was this education that has given the Storrie women such strength and wisdom.
The Advanced School for Girls began in Adelaide in 1879 and was the first school to prepare women for matriculation and entry into university even though university degrees were not allowable for women until 1880. Agnes was one of the first students to enter this new school in the two-storey former residence of Dr Lambert Butler, Franklin St. Strangely, it was Thomas King, Minister for Education 1878-1881 who greatly assisted this new innovation of education for women – he was my great-great-grandfather and the father-in-law of Bessie Storrie. For sure, Agnes knew this gentleman. The only other school prepared to educate girls at a higher level, was a small private college, Miss Martin’s, and Thomas King’s own daughters attended this school. The very best news about writing this blog is that I have made a connection to a mystery photograph in my family’s treasures – Blanche Scott pictured left with Agnes is the lady in the photograph that has perplexed me for many years, so an addendum pending…..Mystery Photograph–
The Storrie family were already involved in the Glenelg Literary Society and the South Australian Literary Society Union – Agnes received a second prize for her poem “What the Overseer Told Me” in 1887and first prize for her Short Story “Grapes from a Thorn”. In 1888 she won second prize for her novelette “Where is it?” and was by now an Associate with the South Australian Literary Society Union and she was soon writing pieces for the Australian – “Dorothy Dreaming” was her first in 1889. During this decade, Agnes began using the pen-name “Senga” being the reversal of “Agnes” in her correspondence for the newspaper.
Agnes married in 1890 to John Wilson Kettlewell and they resided in Sydney. Her writing career continued and her new venture into prose was serialised in the Australian. Still she wrote as “Agnes L. Storrie” although her husband was the publisher of her book of poetry and well-known in publishing circles becoming manager for William Dymock, book seller.
In Sydney, Agnes and John produced three children – Rhoda, Joyce and John(Bryan). Both her daughters entered into journalism and worked for Sydney newspapers and also Rhoda was assistant secretary at the Wattle League. Her son died at aged 19 years. Agnes continued short stories under the name of ‘Senga’, and ran a newspaper column, ‘Home Topics’ in Dalgety’s Review (1907) followed by “Society Doings in Sydney” in the Australasian.
In 1908, Agnes set her mind to the Wattle Club when Archibald Campbell advocated the honouring of an official Wattle Day throughout Australia and that the Wattle become our National Floral Emblem. The next year, Joseph Henry Maiden (Director of the Sydney Botanical Gardens), Hannah Elizabeth Clunies-Ross and Agnes Kettlewell called for a public meeting in Sydney aimed at forming a Wattle Day League. The creation of the League led to the revival of the Wattle Day movement and the League advocated the recognition of an official national Wattle Day and that a species of Acacia should become the Australian national flower. This followed the establishment of the South Australian and Victorian formation of the League and the first official Wattle Day as celebrated in Sydney on the 1st of September, 1910. Queensland joined the League in 1912, and other states followed but the move to have our national flower proclaimed were delayed due to the interference of World War 1. Instead, the Wattle League concentrated on raising funds for the men away at war and promoting patriotism at home.
Agnes was a busy lady – In 1913 she and her daughter Rhoda travelled to England with a stop-over at Adelaide and Fremantle. Agnes was the Secretary of the Wattle League in Sydney (between 1909 and 1919) and she took the celebrations of Wattle Day to London and sprigs of wattle adorned many buttonholes and hats to show the pride of our nation in London and at home. Extensive wattle tree planting took place in Centennial Park, Sydney and at Taronga Zoo the following year.
At home, Agnes and the Wattle League pushed the Australian Defence Force to adopt a wattle badge to be worn by our Service men.
A WATTLE BADGE.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE HERALD.
Sir, — It may interest your readers to know that the Wattle Day League is taking steps to obtain from the Minister for Defence permission for the Australian troops that have been accepted for service by the British Government to wear a wattle blossom badge. It is confidently believed that there is no Australian heart that will not be cheered and uplifted in whatever hour of bitter stress by the sight of the dear little golden emblem of his native land. And it will be a proud moment for us when, among the bays of victory that shall, God grant, crown England at the end of this awful conflict, there shall be twined a little sprig of wattle. It is proposed, should permission be obtained, that a suitable badge or button shall be designed, and presented to the troops, and that the cost (estimated at about £100) will be subscribed by the public, unless there should come forward some patriot who desires to bear the proud responsibility himself.
I am, etc,
AGNES L. KETTLEWELL,
Hon. Sec., Wattle Day League, N.S.W. Branch.
(Sydney Morning Herald, 15 Aug 1914)
The First World War Mothers’ and Widows’ Badge was issued to the mother and/or widow of all members of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) or the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force who had been killed in action, died of wounds or other causes while on active service, or who, after discharge, had died of wounds or sickness directly attributable to that service.
The black ribbon was machine-embroidered in gold with wattle sprigs, a Rising Sun badge and the words “For Australia”. The badges were suspended from a white metal bar which bore laurel leaves. Stars were added to the bottom bar, each indicating the death of one man. The badge was promulgated under Military Order 64 of 1919. https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/encyclopedia/badges/mothers_widows
Wattle Day celebrations gained momentum with returned servicemen being presented with a sprig of acacia on landing and given permission to pin it to their uniforms. Shops and offices were decorated and honour boards at service clubs adorned. With over 500 hundred species of acacia in Western Australia there was an abundance of blooms and new plantings secured this state. Its incidence can be traced through its genus of Gondwanian origin being on this land for over 35 millions years. Although Agnes resigned as Secretary in 1919, her association as a committee member continued for many years. Wattle Day waned after World War Two, but a resurgence again in the 1980’s resulted in the green and gold being proclaimed Australia’s official colours and the golden wattle (Acacia Pycnantha) proclaimed our National Floral Emblem in 1988. Australian stamps have printed the floral depiction of wattle many times over the years. In 1992, the 1st of September was announced as Australia’s National Wattle Day.
Bessie was very proud of her sister Agnes. While living at Renmark, Bessie lent her dainty copy of Miss Storrie’s book of verse to the Editor of the Renmark Pioneer who deemed her poetry as being as good as the literary prowess of Adam Lindsay Gordon, also a South Australian by birth. At the inaugural meeting of the Poetry Recital Society in Adelaide, Agnes’s book of verse was presented to Lady Bosanquet as a memento of the occasion. Today, that hardcover edition of the 1909 poems is advertised on Amazon for $647.00 – oh I wish!!!!!
Acacia Kettlewelliae, an erect or spreading tree/shrub was named for Agnes and her work for Wattle Day.
Agnes Louisa Kettlewell died on the 20th of August, 1936 at her home in Point Rd, Woolwich. Her remains were cremated and returned to the earth.
“To the native-born Australian the Wattle stands for home, country, kindred, sunshine and love – every instinct that the heart most deeply enshrines… Let Wattle henceforth be a sacred charge to every Australian… Let us rouse our young people’s sense of chivalry, and make the Wattle synonymous with Australia’s honour. ” Agnes L. Storrie
To all who love our National flower – with its glossy wealth of golden glory, and leaves of lovliness – The Wattle. This work is humbly dedicated by A Wattle Lover.
Twenty Gallons of Sleep
MEASURE me out from the fathomless tun
That somewhere or other you keep
In your vasty cellars, O wealthy one,
Twenty gallons of sleep.
Twenty gallons of balmy sleep,
Dreamless, and deep, and mild,
Of the excellent brand you used to keep
When I was a little child.
I’ve tasted of all your vaunted stock,
Your clarets and ports of Spain,
The liquid gold of your famous hock,
And your matchless dry champagne.
Of your rich muscats and your sherries fine,
I’ve drunk both well and deep;
Then measure me out, O merchant mine,
Twenty gallons of sleep.
Twenty gallons of slumber soft,
Of the innocent, baby kind,
When the angels flutter their wings aloft
And the pillow with down is lined.
I have drawn the corks, and drained the lees,
Of every vintage pressed;
If I’ve felt the sting of my honey bees,
I’ve taken it with the rest.
I have lived my life, and I’ll not repine;
As I sowed I was bound to reap;
Then measure me out, O merchant mine,
Twenty gallons of sleep.