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The perfect Mother’s Day gift – just add a ribbon

“Go on! Spoil her!” is the tone.

I don’t recall whether the gifts for Father’s Day were similarly linked to household tasks. Perhaps there was the odd car-cleaning kit, but I also seem to remember that a bottle of whiskey was considered the more popular way to keep the old boy going for another year.

Of course, none of this was an invention of the 1970s. Despite claims that Mother’s Day is a recent import, it’s been on the Australian calendar for the more than a century,

Searching local newspapers on the National Library’s Trove website, the earliest Australian mention I can find is 1910. By 1911, the Pioneer newspaper from Yorketown South Australia had declared the “second Sunday in May is now being recognised as Mother’s Day”. Indeed, says the paper, “now Mother’s Day is kept up throughout the whole civilised world.”

It’s true it was an American import, but certainly, Australia embraced the idea with enthusiasm, with readers instructed to buy white flowers, in particular carnations.

The Bendigo Independent explained why on May 13, 1911: “The white carnation has been specially chosen as the emblem denoting purity, chastity, charity, faithfulness and love, all of them qualities being found in a true mother.”

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To the modern mind, chastity and motherhood appear an unlikely combination, but I assume they’re allowing for some limited hanky-panky within the bounds of marriage.

The newspapers of 1910 and 1911 also suggest people compose letters of appreciation to their mothers, which they should send “by letter or wire”. They also argue that the day is designed “to commemorate the virtues of mothers in general”, so, if their mother is not close by, they should seek to “help cheer and brighten” the life of somebody else’s mother.

Certainly, The Sydney Morning Herald was an early supporter: “Empire Day is an established fact now”, the paper argued in 1910, “and it is to be hoped before long Mother’s Day will be universally kept throughout the world, because, while honouring our Empire, it is only proper we should honour the Empire builders – the good mothers.”

The complaints about commercialisation took a few decades to emerge. In the Sydney Sun of May 1946, a reader, who signs herself “Appreciative Mother, Artarmon”, writes: “It is be deplored that Mother’s and Father’s Days have been commercialised and exploited by our commercial world, which has killed the true spirit of the day.”

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Her view is that the mother should be given no gifts, but instead merely asked how she wishes to spend the day.

In her case, all she wanted was to attend church, and she was lucky enough to be taken by her two young sons, “a proud little man on either side”.

Maybe that’s the answer for my friend and all those others who are troubled by the expense. Offer a free trip to church, and if that doesn’t float your mother’s boat, throw in a toaster as well.

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