In the 1920s, guesthouses spearheaded Katoomba’s New Year’s Eve celebrations. Their merriment overflowed into the streets where thousands of day visitors partied.
Katoomba Street closed at 8pm between Waratah and Main, allowing those “dressed in fancy costume, Sheiks, cowboys, princesses, Turks and others to mingle in kaledioscopic array” (Blue Mountains Echo, 6.1.1928).
In 1924, during the festivities, at Katoomba Station 150-pounds was deposited in the strong room but it disappeared.
Rain in 1929 dampened, but did not destroy, the revelries.
Throughout the Depression, Katoomba still celebrated the arrival of the new year with “merry madness” (Katoomba Daily, 3.1.1936). Special trains from Sydney carried thousands of revellers.
Celebrations focused on the procession. Guesthouses and business and community organisations created floats. Individuals dressed up.
In 1935, a battleship with smoking funnels and a garden of young ladies, brightly frocked as living flowers, were among the attractions majestically sailing down Katoomba Street.
That year made radio history. A description of the parade and the countdown to midnight were relayed to 2CH in Sydney by 2KA, Katoomba, the first occasion a country station relayed a program to city listeners.
In the sombre war years, fewer revellers gathered in Katoomba’s streets. Celebrations were dampened by austerity measures and the constant threat of war.
In January, 1942, the Blue Mountains Advertiser (BMA) noted that “the gloom and quietness helped to emphasise the national peril and that all else must be subordinated to the demands of war”.
New Year’s Eve, 1944, saw an horrific bushfire in Leura and Katoomba but the visiting crowds thought nature had provided a free show. Thousands of holiday makers at Echo Point watched the fire emerge from Jamison Valley. The combined efforts of 400 people fought the fire but five homes were destroyed in Olympian Parade and three in Jersey Avenue, a disastrous start to 1945.
At war’s end, Katoomba was excited to celebrate New Year’s Eve but the procession was cancelled because lighting restrictions still applied. If householders could only have one light in a house until 9pm, lights could not be used for frivolities.
In 1946, Katoomba decided to hold a “Monster Bathing Beauty Contest” (BMA, 13/12/1946) on New Year’s Eve. Contestants could wear any style swim suit, even a “French Swim Suit” (bikini). Mayor Freelander became famous by stating that married men wanting to act as judges had to produce a written permit signed by their wives. No permit, no officiating!
Unfortunately, the Vice Squad intervened. No French swimsuits! Police from Sydney proceeded to Katoomba to monitor the contest.
Everything else went ahead. 80,000 visitors enjoyed the festivities. Katoomba was again the place to be on New Year’s Eve.
- Robyne Ridge is publicity officer for Blue Mountains Historical Society.