Toowoomba Carnival Of Flowers Unveils 75th Anniversary Program And The Inaugural Carnival Queen Shares Her Memories

April 3, 2024

Breanna McCarthy at the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers' 75th program launch

Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers unveils 75th anniversary program and the inaugural Carnival Queen shares her memories

Seventy five years ago a bullock team led a street procession that stretched three miles in length through Toowoomba. This was the first Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers, an idea that bloomed as a way to use the “Garden City” reputation to generate economic prosperity following the hardships of war.

Fast forward to 2024 and this event is now the toast of the country. Just two weeks after being crowned the best major event in the nation at the Qantas Australian Tourism Awards, the 75th anniversary program has been revealed and it features more than 77 events over four petal-filled weekends from 13 September to 7 October, with the fitting theme, It’s A Party.

 Petal-fuelled showstoppers this year include the full Queensland Symphony Orchestra performing under the baton of Chief Conductor Umberto Clerici, a 75th Memorabilia Exhibition, exciting new dining experiences and the return of another record year of #trEATS, the expansion of the popular Teddy Bears’ Picnic into the Thrive on Arts four-day event at the Empire Theatre, the return of beloved Carnival Queens to share their memories, and more than 40 million petals on display across the city’s famous parks and public spaces.

A jaw dropping 83 events and activations (making up a combined total of 1025 days) will be on offer this year across four jam packed weekends of floral fun!

Toowoomba Regional Council Mayor Cr Geoff McDonald said the entire region was excited about the 75th anniversary of the event.

“What a year for Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers and what a year for everyone who has ever taken part, walked in the parade, wandered the gardens, danced at the festival, and worked as a volunteer or team member!” he said. “It’s your time to party!”

“We know what Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers means to the region – recent statistics from Tourism and Events Queensland unveiled a fresh milestone for last year’s event with a record-breaking attendance figure of 417,517—an impressive 14% surge compared to the 2022 results and the first time we have topped the 400,000 mark. Importantly, this also means direct and incremental spending across the region reached a total of $24.54 million, another record for the event.

“This year we are focusing on celebrating what the event brings to the region culturally and socially, with the theme being It’s a Party.  There are special accessibility programs and itineraries for 2024, to allow absolutely everyone to experience the beauty of the flowers.

“We are also calling on anyone with memorabilia to allow us to share it at a dedicated exhibition, and we’d love past Carnival Queens and Quest entrants to get in touch!”

Announcing the program today in Toowoomba, Cr McDonald was joined by the inaugural ‘Queen of the Carnival of Flowers’ from 1950, Fay Clayden (nee Ryan) who made the trip from Brisbane, and said she had no idea the impact the Carnival would have on the Garden City and its community over the next seven decades (see the interview below).

“When I think about the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers, I am flooded with happiness, a sense of achievement and feelings of pride and privilege. I was very honoured and still am to have received the title of Carnival Queen at the inaugural Carnival of 1950. That first Carnival of Flowers was a great success and a happy occasion for many – a carnival for the people, by the people. For me, the memories of that first event have lasted 75 years. Overall, being in the right place at the right time and having this wonderful experience that took place and continues to do so in the beautiful garden city of Toowoomba – a slice of paradise – has become in my mind a golden memory.” – Fay Clayden.

When Fay Clayden (nee Ryan) earned the title of inaugural ‘Queen of the Carnival of Flowers’ in 1950, she had no idea the impact the Carnival would have on the Garden City and its community over the next seven decades.

Fay has vivid memories of the first Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers and fondly reflects on her unlikely path to become that first ever Carnival Queen.

She was 19 and working as a ticket seller at the local Princess Picture Theatre when she first heard mention of the proposed Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers, and her unexpected nomination for Carnival Queen.

“I remember it vividly. We were in the dining room of the Canberra Hotel in Russell Street, which my family managed, when my mother returned from the meeting of the licensed victuallers (now called The Hoteliers Association) and told me I’d been nominated to be sponsored by the Association!”

Fay’s well-remembered reply was a cautious, “Doing what? Nominated to do what?”

After her mother explained the Association wanted her to be their sponsored contestant in the proposed Carnival Queen competition, her initial reaction was horror.

“I said, ‘It’s not one of those beauty pageants is it? If so, I don’t want to be in it’.” Relief flooded in when my mother laughed and quickly responded with, “It’s a competition to raise funds. Whoever raises the most money wins the contest and becomes the Carnival Queen. Quite simple really and it is all for a wonderful cause.”

The good cause being two nominated charities – The Bush Children’s Health Scheme and Legacy.

Fay was still not convinced. But her mother ignored her protests saying, “You’ll do it well and enjoy every moment, you will have no problems raising money as you must know half the people of Toowoomba.”

That was how Fay Ryan became the nominated Carnival Queen contestant for the Licensed Victuallers.

Three other candidates were sponsored for the first Carnival Queen competition. The R.S.S.I.A.L.A (Returned Soldiers) sponsored Dawn Hillocks; Table Tennis Association sponsored Patricia Power, and Rotary sponsored Fiona Stewart.

Concerned as to how she was going to raise the money, she asked her father who succinctly replied, ‘Chook raffles and chocolate wheels!’

With ambitions greater than chocolate wheels, Fay began fundraising through local dances, donation boxes in hotel bars and meat tray raffles.

“Then came a couple of brilliant ideas that left locals agog,” Fay recalls. “We organised a rugby football match between the Ladies of Toowoomba and the Ladies of Warwick. My Dad came up with the idea for the curtain raiser at this big event to be a rugby match between the Toowoomba jockeys and the Brisbane jockeys, as he was well connected in the horse racing community. The football match was an amazing event and created great interest.”

“To keep up local enthusiasm the Carnival Committee erected a gigantic barometer atop Coles, with the four contestants’ names and their monetary success shown on a moving indicator. I became concerned when my name barely moved from the bottom. Expressing this concern to my mother she became evasive. Her explanation was, “Fay, carnivals and competitions are like a game of poker. You don’t show your hand!”

“It was not until the night of the final announcement when she went down to the Carnival office with bags of uncounted money that it was discovered that I had raised as much as the other three contestants combined!”

Fay recalls clearly the first Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers parade, which culminated in her crowning ceremony.

“I was walking along the bridge to my ‘coronation’, trying to manage my train, orb and sceptre, quite nervous as the crowning was to be done by Dame Annabelle Rankin, who was a Senator at the time. Even I was surprised by the formality of it all! When all of a sudden, someone in the crowd shouted “Good onya Fay!” which caused me to laugh and made me realise that no matter what I was pretending to be, I was really still just Fay!”

Whilst the only prize she gained from her win was a small certificate (and a trip to Katoomba donated by Mr McCafferty from McCafferty buses) she believes the experience of winning Carnival Queen made her confident, and more aware of the importance of civic duties.

She went on to win the RSL Girl in a Million Quest in Rockhampton a couple of years later and she has returned to Toowoomba for the Carnival every decade since.

Fay moved from Toowoomba in 1951 and now lives in Bellbowrie, where she has created a magnificent garden inspired by her time in Toowoomba. She is the mother of five, grandmother of 16 and great grandmother of 10.

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