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Bringing Christmas Into the City for 80+ Years

Updated on May 4, 2017
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Cecelia has researched H.P. Lovecraft, and also Fairy Tales. Working in Kindergartens, Cecelia became interested in speech development.

The Magic Cave Christmas displays

When I was a child I looked forward to a trip into Rundle Mall which was the heart of the central business district around Christmas time because the major department stores would compete with each other to create artistic Christmas scenes in their large glass windows.

This transformed the city into a wonderland of fantasy scenes for the festive season.

My Mother and I would brave the queues to visit every Santa and I would sit on his lap, to perhaps have my photo taken and be given a small plastic bracelet or other novelty.

On a quiet morning, we would brave the queue to enter the legendary John Martin's Magic cave.

This was a fantastic place featuring moving figures of elves, snow white and the dwarves, two giant rocking horses called Nimble and Nipper that were available for momentary riding pleasure, and a fascinating room full of trick mirrors...

Something for the children...

Leenan (2007:ix,3) claims that “The Magic Cave” in John Martins, Adelaide, South Australia, was one of the first displays organised specifically for children in a department store setting.

Commencing in 1896, Mr. Edward W. Hayward decorated the basement of the store with the assistance of the store’s engineer John Lewis Saulie, who had outstanding carpentry skills. (Harrods is recorded as hosting a visit from Father Christmas in 1908 and arranged a specific area in the toy section for Father Christmas and his fairy in the 1930s.)


The Magic Cave featured a huge Christmas tree with surrounding areas designed to mimic English snow scenes. Murals depicted nursery rhymes and fables, and several rideable animals were constructed. Other scenes were designed and added over the years. Many featured mechanical animations and lights.

Eventually the cave was moved to a more prominent position on the second floor. (pp.4-9)


A pageant too

A Christmas pageant was initiated in 1933, this featured Father Christmas who rode through the city accompanied by a number of bands and floats before taking up residence in the Magic Cave. (pp.4-9)

This delightful tradition continues to the present day, with the pageant being considerably more commercial in appearance and currently sponsored by the Credit Union.

To look at the official site which includes historical photographs, and the date of this years pageant, visit

This pageant will be 80 years old in 2013, although it looks like many celebrations were held in 2012 in anticipation of this event.

Pageant route 2012


Pageant History

1896: Magic Cave launched

1933: World Depression - first pageant to cheer people up. Costumes made of crepe paper.

1935: Lord Mayor's Float added to raise money for underprivileged children.

1939-40: Pageant Queen introduced to raise funds for war needs.

1941-44: No pageant during the war.

1945: Victory Pageant - broadcast on radio.

1946: Orphans party.

1949: Pageant Queen becomes regular.

1969: Televised to other states.

1983: 50 years. Creator Sir Edward Haywood died.

1984: State Bank of SA joins sponsorship.

1993: 60 years.

1995: Sold to Government of South Australia. Credit Unions become sponsors.

2002: 70 years.

2012: nearly 80 years.

(See 2012 media kit)

Footage of the 1955 Pageant by Ron Axer

The cave has moved...

I tried to recreate the Magic Cave experience this year by going to town, but I noticed that many of the shop windows featured normal merchandise displays with a few streamers or baubles added.

Miniature Christmas trees did sit amongst the merchandise, and one or two large decorations had survived over 30 years since I was a child, however, the tradition of creating fantastic snow scenes, or Santa and his sleigh or a workshop of elves appeared to have been discontinued.

The magic cave had also moved across the road from the family friendly John Martins (which is no longer trading in the mall) into the exclusive David Jones department store. Some people feel this is not the same, but it may still be worth a look for its attempt to carry on South Australian history.


Leenan, L. 2007, The Legendary Magic Cave and Christmas Pageant, Peacock Publications, Norwood, S.A. documents/gallery-and-media/2012-media-kit.pdf documents/pageant/2012-credit-union-pageant-program.pdf the-magic-cave/12296/


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