One day in early 2011, a gentleman came to the Quaker Shop to give us a large suitcase of clothes. He explained that his wife had died over six years ago and it had taken him until then to start to sort out her belongings. He had heard of the Quakers and had come from Jamestown in the State’s mid-north to give us this case of her clothes.
He left without giving us his name. When we opened the case, we realised that its contents could not go out on our racks for sale. They were a life-long collection of special, beautiful clothes, preserved and cared for by their owner and packed very carefully, with a handwritten inventory on the top. From ball gowns, to her ‘first and last bikini’, they were all there!
We thought long and hard about where they should be placed. First of all we had to find out more about their owner. Over time, she came alive in our imaginations, as we thought more about a woman who worked with her husband on the farm, and also took care to wear such beautiful clothes.
Tucked into a corner of the case was a little, hand-made green hat, with a nametag sewn into it. A search of the Telephone Directory, using that name, and ‘Jamestown’ produced only one entry. When we rang the number, it was answered by an elderly man in a nursing home who was quite sure that he had not taken a suitcase of clothes ANYWHERE. A dead end.
Then we told him the name on the hat. ‘Oh, she was my daughter, but she died years ago.’ He gave us the name of his son-in-law, and we had found our donor!
When we rang ‘Alex’ he was very pleased to tell us about his wife, whose death had obviously affected him greatly. He sent us some photos of her (one wearing one of the dresses in the suitcase) and a short summary of her life. She had lived all her life on farms in the Yunta-Jamestown area. She had combined life and work on the farm with a keen interest in fashion. Most of the dresses were custom made for her by a dressmaker in Adelaide, or bought from a shop there, which had specialised in clothing made by well known Melbourne designers.
The History Trust of South Australia has accepted the entire donation to be preserved as a collection of clothes made in the 60s and 70s in South Australia. They are delighted to have such a complete provenance for the collection.