Country meets city for nuptials
Old-and-new 1950s wedding of Tom and Dorothy Cook
THESE days, weddings are often years in the planning. The grounds of Greenmount Homestead make for a popular wedding venue; our brides book their wedding sometimes over two years in advance as they save and plan for their special day.
When Tom Cook married Dorothy Drysdale they didn’t choose Greenmount for their wedding but neither did they spend two years on preparations.
Their engagement was announced on November 8, 1949, and later that month Dorothy was in the early stages of arranging their 1950 Brisbane wedding from her home, the Canberra Hotel in Brisbane.
The Canberra was a Temperance establishment – built by the Brisbane Prohibition League – which meant that it was completely alcohol free. The Lamplight Bar at the Canberra was the first non-alcoholic bar in Queensland and was claimed to have the widest range of non-alcoholic beverages in Australia.
As it did not serve alcohol, it was a popular choice for school formals and Methodist weddings. The wedding of Joh and Flo Bjelke-Petersen was held at the Canberra in 1952.
When Dorothy lived there it was just over 20 years old; the original 1927 five-storey building having been extended twice to add a further five storeys by 1934 – making it at that time the largest hotel in Australia.
Between 1930 and 1935 it welcomed 445,001 guests through its doors.
Like many millennial brides Dorothy was a working woman, in fact, she ran her own business – a ladies’ salon called Nanette where she worked alongside her sister Olwyn and their mother Hannah.
With no computers, smart phones, internet or other modern means to communicate, Dorothy and Tom relied very much on letters to make their arrangements and Dorothy was a prolific letter writer – her correspondence to her husband-to-be was at least weekly and sometimes more frequent than that.
These weren’t short letters either – often nine or 10 pages of her close and looping handwriting, detailing her active social and work life in Brisbane, and her ongoing arrangements for their wedding.
Moving from city life in Brisbane to a very different existence in rural Queensland was doubtless a challenge for Dorothy.
Concerned that Tom might be spending too much money on the requests of his city-side wife-to-be, Dorothy writes: “there are only three things that I would really like, and that is firstly my own little bathroom, complete with bath, septic and basin, and if possible, our own bedroom suite and carpet, and the Aga stove”.
Tom conceded to all three requests, although the original 1915 bathroom was refurbished rather than replaced, with a new, more modern bath replacing the old free-standing one.
The wedding venue was chosen as St John’s Cathedral in Brisbane – believed to be the last Gothic cathedral in the world to be completed – with work still ongoing in 2008, 100 years after it was designed by architect John Pearson.
On November 29, 1949 Dorothy writes “by now you will have received my wire (telegram) re definite wedding date Tuesday 31st January 1950” she continues “I am enclosing the form (from the church) that has to be filled in by both of us”.
She also includes the cathedral “regulations” which detailed the wedding licence cost – 3 pounds and 3 shillings, with an additional 10 shillings for the verger, and 4 pounds and 4 shillings for the organist and choir boys.
Just two months out from their wedding the arrangements are made quickly and efficiently by Dorothy: “The deposit has been paid and all arrangements have been made for the wedding reception at Whytecliffe. The wedding cake is ordered and tomorrow I see the photographer – Noel Maitland – who will come out to Whytecliffe and take our photos”.
The newly married Cook’s reception venue Whytecliffe was a beautiful homestead high on a hill in Brisbane’s Albion Heights, built in 1876. Constructed for Queensland’s first Crown Solicitor Robert Little, the building has had a long and varied history.
After the Littles vacated the property it was used as a boarder’s residence for the Brisbane High School for Girls; Von Koenigswerder’s Naturopathy Sanatorium occupied it in the early 1900s; and it was then run as Mrs Rosendorff’s guest house in the 1920s and 1930s, during which time it became quite the hub of social activity.
Whytecliffe was commandeered by the Australian Women’s Air Force (AWAF) during World War II, but became a popular venue for wedding receptions post war and was Tom and Dorothy’s choice for theirs in 1950.
Dorothy describes Whytecliffe in another of her November letters to Tom: “the appointments (at Whytecliffe) are truly lovely. There is a lovely lounge and cocktail bar and a separate room for the (wedding) breakfast. There is a beautiful piano and a pianist to go with it. So, of course, I have arranged for this… all the lovely grounds at Whytecliffe will be flood-lit, so should be quite nice – don’t you think?”
Whytecliffe survives to this day, after having gone through a period of neglect this heritage property has a new lease of life as part of a “gracious living” retirement village.
As for the bride’s dress – Dorothy makes mention of that – “re wedding gown, will know, definitely, whether this can be done on Saturday”. The final choice of dress was a shimmering white lame creation teamed with an antique Brussels lace veil, this last being over 100 years old, and loaned to Dorothy by a friend.
Dorothy’s experience in dressing her customers stood her in good stead with making arrangements for her own wedding.
She writes to Tom, again in late November, with detailed instructions for the measurements she needed to have Althea Cook’s bridesmaid dress made in time for the wedding.
No wedding would be complete without a honeymoon of course, so Tom suggested a trip to Tasmania for himself and his new bride. Their journey to Hobart was to take several days.
The wedding took place at 6pm on 31st January as planned and Tom and Dorothy went on their honeymoon shortly afterwards.
Whilst Dorothy continued to commute between Brisbane and Mackay for some time after her wedding to Tom, to assist in the management of Nanette, her new home at Greenmount was to form the next large chapter of her full and interesting life.
A beautiful bride – Dorothy Cook, January 1950.
St John’s Cathedral (John Oxley Library).