Dawn Matthews


Dawn Matthews

Interviewee: Dawn Matthews, born 1947

Interviewer: Frank Heimans,
            for Baulkham Hills Shire Council

Date of Interview: 1 Aug 2001

Transcription: Catherine Sapir, May, 2006

History of the Orange Blossom Festival

Founded in 1959, the Orange Blossom Festival had its roots in a humble Footpath and Garden Competition. The following year a one day festival was combined with this competition. In September 1969 Council held a 10 day Orange Blossom Festival in conjunction with the Footpath and Garden Competition to “stimulate the social, cultural and sporting activities within the Shire”. This then became an annual event. The festival name stemmed from the beginnings of the Hills District and recognised the importance of agriculture, particularly the citrus industry, to the region especially in the 19th century. George Suttor of Baulkham Hills was the first person to sell oranges commercially in Sydney in 1806. In the 1890s Bella Vista Farm was one of the leading producers of citrus in NSW. In 1995 the Orange Blossom Festival Board developed the concept of an awards program for youth called the Excellence in Youth Awards. This represented a revision of the Orange Blossom Festival Princess Quest which had run for 25 years prior to 1995.

Another volunteer, Dawn Matthews, was invited to join the Orange Blossom Festival Quest and Ball committee. It was something that she had not envisaged when she came to live in this Shire in 1980. What was it like living in Baulkham Hills in say the early 1980’s?

It was lovely. It was very much like living in the country, it didn’t take a lot of getting used to compared with what I'd had. I was only here for a few months when I was invited to join the Orange Blossom Princess Quest and Ball committees. It was aimed at girls between the ages of 17 and 25 and they had to live or work within a 5k radius of the borders of the Shire I think it was. We used to teach the girls a lot of finishing. We taught them deportment, we taught them how to sit and how to stand, what to do with their handbag and so forth in a job interview. We also taught them public speaking and self presentation. We taught them a lot about the Shire and the history of the Shire, but ultimately they were judged on their presentation, their social skills, their local knowledge and their public speaking ability and the final object of the whole thing was to find an ambassador for the Shire. At the end of the Quest, when the Princess was announced, it was done at a Ball. It wasn’t a beauty pageant by any manner of means but we did also run a charity side to it too. We had an Orange Blossom Princess and we had an Orange Blossom Charity Princess.

What was your role in all of this. I mean, you joined the committee. Firstly were you a bit apprehensive about joining this committee?

Oh yes, absolutely. I had never attended a formal meeting before and was quite nervous about it. The girls gained a lot – a lot of self-confidence, a lot of poise and they had to develop a sense of responsibility as well. And ultimately most of them did conform very very well. We used to quite often laugh at the cars that were following us with all their boyfriends in because obviously we had to sort of keep the girls together so the boyfriends would have this very hangdog look and follow around behind the bus in their cars.

What was the prize for the winner of the first Princess Quest or the early ones?

That was interesting. I did a lot of research but eventually I found the first Princess. She remembers riding on the back of a truck in the parade, which she found to be so exciting and her prize was a trip to the Grafton Jacaranda Festival on a Greyhound bus and along with that she was given a beauty case. So she said she just thought she was the bee’s knees and then when she got to come home on the Greyhound bus she got to sit on the back seat.

When did the Quest actually end. What brought about its end?

I think with the change in society’s attitudes, we were told that it really wasn’t politically correct to have a Princess Quest as such. People were becoming aware of the need for some sort of recognition for the youth of the area rather than just for the females of the area, so ultimately it gave way (in 1995 after 25 years of the Princess Quest) to the Excellence in Youth Awards which would encompass both males and females.

How long were you actually associated with the actual Quests?

17 years.

So what do you think it did for you personally?

It broadened my outlook on life. It made me more aware of the youth of the community. I met a lot of people and went to places that I normally wouldn’t have been to.

With the Princess Quest at an end, Dawn next volunteered as Festival Secretary of the Shire’s Annual Orange Blossom Festival.

My role actually became more than just a secretarial role. I had to organise a lot of things. Council actually gave me an office and they were very supportive to me. I used to have to do any banking and taking the minutes of the meetings and printing up and sending out the copies and all that sort of secretarial stuff but I also did a lot of the organisational stuff, for example all the printing that was done, all the entry forms for different functions of the festival had to be done through my office. I had to work a lot with the media and organised a lot of sponsorship. I had to liaise with umbrella groups.


Pippa, the Orange Blossom mascot, and friends 2005

Did you pick up a lot of organisational skills as a result of doing this?

Oh yes, yes. I benefited incredibly from it. I went into it not having any self-confidence or self-esteem at all but ultimately I gained incredibly from it. I learnt to work as part of a team. I learnt tolerance, patience, yes I learned a lot from that. From being just a housewife and mother for so many years, it was a great thing for my morale.

Did it give you a sense of achievement?

Oh absolutely, yes. I think the Festival is quite a valuable thing to the community. It’s very big. The largest community run Festival outside of the Festival of Sydney, but it gave all the people in the community a chance to come out and show people what they were all about and say hey, here we are, we’re part of this community, come and share with us what we have to show you. People do say to you when you are a volunteer, people say to me you must be a wonderful person – all these things you do and I say well no there’s really not much wonderful about me at all. Volunteers only do what they want to do and they do it when they want to do it. They get a lot of fun out of doing it or a sense of achievement out of doing it, so really I’m not wonderful, I’m quite selfish, I only do what I choose to do. I meet people and I go places and I learn and I grow as a person, so there’s a lot in it for me.