How did a toy made in 1920s London make its way to the State Library of South Australia 100 years later?
Wooden Noah's Ark toy, circa 1920. Part of the Children's Literature Research Collection.
The Ark is completely hollow to house a full contingent of animals. Alas, all the little figures are now gone.
We also noticed the intriguing peace dove motif above the doors of the Ark which reads ‘War Relief Toy Work’.
It is believed this play-worn Ark was brought to Adelaide after the Second World War by a British migrant family living at the Finsbury (later Pennington) Migrant Hostel. The family donated the Ark to the nearby Pennington Primary School during the 1960s, for their library of play equipment.
Jenny, the lady who salvaged the Ark from the school in 2014, had worked there as a School Services Officer for almost 30 years from the late 1970s. She scrambled to salvage some toys during the demolition of some school buildings and grabbed the Ark as throughout her school career she had seen three generations of children play with it. She said,
During the very early days of my time I recall seeing children playing with a scattering of little wooden animal figures on the carpeted library floor. The activity taught them to identify each animal, discuss their sounds and find their partners before returning them to the Ark via its hinged roof.
Over the years Jenny saw migrant children from the UK, Holland, Spain, Italy, Vietnam, Indo China, Cambodia, Afghanistan, and Sudan all play with the Ark. Many resided at the Pennington Hostel after arriving in Australia.
Of course, we know now that the wooden animal figures were not always returned to the Ark after play. Being so portable they may have been used for other play or taken outside to the sandpit. Perhaps we need an archaeological dig at the old school site!
After many years of storing the Ark in her shed, Jenny decided to offer it to the State Library’s Children’s Literature Research Collection. We were keen to ‘adopt’ and care for the Ark as it charmed us with its interesting story and lovely form.
Did you happen to play with this Noah’s Ark toy at Pennington Primary School? Are you perhaps a person of interest in our search for the missing animals?
If you can help uncover more pieces of this fascinating story we’d love to hear from you by either phone (08) 8207 7250 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Denise Chapman - Curator, Access and Engagement