Meet Fay Clayden – The Original Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers Queen

August 2, 2019

The Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers is now one of the most loved events in Australia. Each year it grows bigger and the visitors keep on coming, many returning every year. It has been voted the Best Major Festival or Event at the Australian Tourism Awards for the third successive year plus being inducted into the Australian Tourism Hall of Fame. Yet it is the people behind the success that I find most interesting. One such person is eighty- nine years young Fay Clayden. 

SheSociety spoke to the very first Carnival Queen- Fay Clayden who earned the title in 1950. Fay Ryan, as she was known then , had no idea of the impact the Carnival would have on the Garden City and its community over the next seven decades. She Society caught up with Fay to reflect on her memories, her own love of gardening and some of the ingenious ways she raised money for a couple of wonderful causes.

Fay was a 19 year old ticket seller at the local Princess Picture Theatre when her family first told her she’d been nominated for Carnival Queen. She well remembers her cautious reply, “ Doing what? Nominated to do what? “ Relief flooded through her when her mother explained that it was not, as she’d feared, a beauty pageant, but a chance to raise funds for a wonderful cause. The good cause being ‘ The Bush Children’s Health Scheme’ and ‘Legacy’ . Fay was concerned about how she was to raise the money so she asked her father who replied succinctly, “ Chook raffles and chocolate wheels.”

This was where Fay was far ahead of her time for her ambitions were far greater than chocolate wheels. Fay began fundraising through local dances, donation boxes at Hotel Bars and meat tray raffles. Fay remembers, “ Then came a couple of brilliant ideas that left locals agog. 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 a big event that was a rugby match between the Toowoomba and Brisbane Jockeys. The football match was an amazing event and created great interest.” Can you imagine the stir such an idea caused at the time? It must have worked though,  for in total , Fay raised as much as the three other contestants combined. 

She well remembers the first Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers Parade, which culminated in her crowning ceremony. Fay recalls the day, “ 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. 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 still just Fay.”

I asked Fay to look back and tell me how she felt at the time. She says, “ Whenever I think of my time as Carnival Queen I am filled with pride and happiness. It was such a privilege to be involved in that first Carnival of Flowers and I’m so glad my mother convinced me to do it. It is right up there with my other treasured roles, that of mother ( to 5), grandmother ( to 16) and great grandmother ( to 6).” Fay believes being a part of the Carnival, “ helped me improve my public speaking skills and gave me more confidence. It also made me appreciate the value of civic duties.

Fay has headed back to the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers each decade. “ I have been delighted to have been invited back to participate in the activities, which has been such a joy. A few times as a judge, sometimes as a guest speaker ( at the 50th) and at the 60th I was honoured to open the Carnival. It was my swansong.”

Fay is nearing ninety and  still lives at her home in Bellbowrie. She proudly tells us , “I have a very large garden with beautiful big trees and roses. I adore roses! It could be argued that I have created my very own Toowoomba Garden in my backyard. I hurt my shoulder some time ago, so it put me out of action. I’ve recently been given permission to get back into the garden and I’ve started mowing again. My daughter jokes that I spend half my life watering the garden and lawn, but I just love it.”

It’s clear that the first Carnival in 1950– a Carnival for the people and by the people, has lived on for 70 years, as a special memory for the lovely Fay Clayden. She says, “ That first Carnival of Flowers was a great success and a happy occasion for many. 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.”

The Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers is the longest running Festival of its kind in Australia. It will be running from 20 – 29 September, 2019. Thanks to the lovely Fay Clayden for sharing such wonderful memories of the very first Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers. As Fay told me , “ I was not expected to carry out any official duties after becoming Carnival Queen ( largely because I don’t think they knew whether there would be a second Carnival!). “ What a joy for Fay to have seen this event then grow and prosper for 70 years! It seems that gardening might well be one of the keys to a happy, long and memorable life well lived. 

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