02 Nov 2020

Happy Birthday Nellie!

The 88th National Pharmacies Christmas Pageant will this year celebrate 70 years of Pageant favourite Nellie the elephant.

Nellie was first invented by Mr F. Stuart of Thaxted in England in 1950 and was originally named Mary. She gave rides to hundreds of children at a famous seaside resort and was featured in films where the public grew to know and love her. Mr Stuart planned to make eight mechanical elephants but only three were made.

Founder of the Christmas Pageant Sir Edward Hayward purchased Mary in the same year so she could feature in the Pageant. He paid 1500 pounds for her, which ended up nearly doubling once freight and customs costs were accounted for.

Once Mary arrived in Adelaide, she was renamed and has been known to South Australians as Nellie ever since. At an impressive height of 8 feet 6 inches and 12 feet long, Nellie is made up of 9,000 mechanical parts all tucked away behind her felt skin. Hidden within Nellie is a 10 horsepower engine which means that because she is operated by a motor, she is registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles as an eight-wheeled vehicle! Not only does she carry a fire extinguisher with her on the route, she also has a registered number plate on her rear-end.

Nellies mechanics became a problem over the years and she often had trouble making it to the end of Pageant route without assistance. Tram lines were an unknown surface to her wheeled toes and she often struggled to make it across them. Nellie was causing disruption in the flow of the Pageant which made Pageant organisers impatient.

Nellie happened to have an admirer, My Alby Hill, who believed he could help fix Nellies mechanics. In time for the Golden Anniversary Pageant in 1983, Nellie had a new motor and her mechanics were now working smoothly. By this time her hide was also looking worse for wear, so it was replaced with a weatherproof elephant-grey vinyl.

Nellie has since had a few more mechanical hiccups along the way but has successfully made it to 70 years. This year you will be able to see Nellie and celebrate her 70th with her. Although she won’t be making her way around the Adelaide Oval route like the other floats due to the surface of the temporary road, she will still be a feature of the event. Happy Birthday Nellie!

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