Blue skies: Brisbane's Warana Festival programs

If you turned on the radio in 1962 you’d probably hear Elvis Presley singing Good luck charm or Ray Charles’ I can’t stop loving you. Logie award winning variety show Theatre Royal (produced here in Brisbane at BTQ 7) was on the box, and tennis champion Rod Laver was slamming his way through Wimbledon, the US Open and the French Open.  

1962 was also the first year of Brisbane’s Warana festival. Following on from the successful Centenary of Celebrations in 1959, the time was right for a local large scale community festival. To whet the appetites of Brisbane locals, a competition was held to name this fabulous new festival. The name Warana was selected from the 15,000 entries being, we are told in the inaugural program, derived from an Aboriginal word meaning ‘blue skies.’ 

Parade float in the shape of a winged roller skate taking part in the Warana Festival, ca. 1965. B. R. Thiele (Bevan R.), 32989 Brisbane city lights and Warana Festival slides, 1959-1966, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

State Library holds a variety of items from the many Warana festivals held over the years, including some spectacular images from the popular street parade. Included in the collection are festival programs – from 1962 through to the 1990s, when Warana transitioned into the Brisbane Festival (1995-6).   

These early Warana programs (1962, 1968 – 71) reveal some great insights into a cultural landscape that was yet to fully burgeon, one that was conservative, traditional but charmingly community focused. The events and activities on offer were wide ranging and numerous.  

In the 1962 Warana program, then Premier Frank Nicklin, encouraged Brisbanites to get on board “It is excellent for the spirit to join with others from time to time in exuberantly expressing some real joy in living.” A rather roundabout way of saying – get out there and have a good time.  

Official programmes - Warana Spring Festival. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. 

A special Message for Warana from the Premier of Queensland, Frank Nicklin. Page 5, 1962 Official programme - Warana Spring Festival. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Aside from lining the streets of Brisbane for hours watching, cheering and waving on float after glorious float in the Pageants Parade, what else was there for the early Warana punter to experience?   

A comprehensive program of trotting, detailed at the top of the 1962 program, offered the horse enthusiast many hours of entertainment. If eels were your thing, you could enter the eel fishing competition at Lowood. Events such as organ recitals, fence painting competitions and indoor bowling extravaganzas took place across Brisbane. A theatre production called Lets Go and the very first Warana Writers Convention planted the seeds for a more culturally sophisticated future. 

Programme of Events, Brisbane Warana Festival, 29th September - 6th October 1962. Page 11, 1962 Official programme - Warana Spring Festival. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Programme of Events, Lowood and District, Warana Festival, 29th September - 6th October 1962. Page 28, 1962 Official programme - Warana Spring Festival. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Jump forward to 1968 and the community events are getting exciting! There’s a bit more money around. More sponsors – Esso, Mobil, Caltex and various tobacco companies. The indoor bowls championship is sponsored by Craven Filter.  The Australian Rally Championship took place on over 600 miles of “ideal roads” in south-east Queensland and attracted “top interstate drivers” such as ‘Gelignite’ Jack Murray.  Then there was always the festival shoot held at Belmont and the very popular Air Race.  

These sporting events were complimented by an increasingly exciting cultural program. A not to be missed fashion event themed Throughout the Ages from the Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt to the Space Age, was compared by Mr. Bernard King and Mr. Robert Boughen at Brisbane City Hall.   

Competitions include public speaking competition; floral decorating and baby judging. There was also something special for Brisbane’s most talented dogs – an obedience competition in New Farm Park that concluded with pooches participating in the Hoop of Fire finale.  

Our Generous Sponsors. Page 75. 1968 Official programme - Warana Spring Festival. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Our Generous Sponsors. Page 76. 1968 Official programme - Warana Spring Festival. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

At Warana 1969, Sydney painters David McInnes, Jennifer Marshall and Graham Blondell were featured at Gallery One Eleven at Red Hill and Carl Plate’s solo exhibition was at the Johnstone Gallery at Bowen Hills. Warana 1969 also launched the Queensland Theatre Company on 1 October. 

The Warana Ball at Cloudland was an exclusive affair that included the crowning of Miss Warana. If an eight-dollar ticket was beyond the reach of some, the 1969 program invites punters to attend the lavish event as a spectator and “witness the Ball.” 

Those that didn’t quite make the cut as Miss Warana, could always try their luck in the lovely legs competition – open to entrants from 16 to 60 years old. The winner received $30 prize money, pantyhose and the opportunity to ride on the Quata Club float in the Pageants Parade.  

A new decade heralded bigger and better events like the bathtub derby, the 4IP beer festival, a cat championship and the coo-ee competition. The coo-ee competition in Queens Park, George Street invited the general public to come forward and call a Coo-ee. Each Coo-ee was measured on a noise meter. The person with the loudest Coo-ee received $20 prize money and the possibility of their winning bellow being recorded and replayed on 4BK breakfast program. 

Miss Warana, Julie Younger. 32078 Julie Younger Miss Warana Photographs, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. 

31886/5 Don Finlay motion picture collection - film 5 - Warana (1980?). John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

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