Monthly Archives: February 2018

February 2018

A digest of buttons and stories from February 2018


These cards of pearl buttons date from 1960-65, which is late for pearl shell buttons. Perhaps Beutron was using old stock hat had come from General Plastics late foray into the industry just before the merger with G. Herring.


Buttons from New Zealand:


Whale teeth buttons:

Whale teeth were once used to make buttons. There are some in the collection of the Australian National Maritime Museum.  If they are from teeth (see below) then they may be from sperm whales, which are the largest of the toothed whales (as apposed to baleen whales).

Date: 19th century “A whale tooth button most likely made from a whale caught in waters off South Australia. Whalebone was a popular medium used to make decorative and functional items as it was both strong and yet able to be polished and carved.”
Note that the description uses the term whale tooth and whale bone interchangeably, which is a little confusing. Historically the term “whalebone” usually referred to the baleen rather than the actual bones of whales.


 Australian National Defence League:

In 1905 the National Defence League of Australia was formed in New South Wales to press for compulsory military training, and soon spread to other states. They believed that with modern travel and changes in the political climate, Australia’s relative physical isolation was no longer a barrier to the potential for invasion, and that Australia’s defence was woefully inadequate.

They would lobby parliament and other groups.  As WW1 approached, they were teaching drill and firearms handling to the public, and lobbying for conscription.

Between the wars the League continued  but petered out by around 1930.  A new  League was  established in 1933, but was short lived and/or ineffective.  By 1938  a new  “National Defence
League of Australia” was established with 3 main objectives:

The Sun (Sydney), 23rd October 1938.

Several months after the new league’s formation a women’s auxiliary was formed. Women signed up for courses in first aid, elementary nursing, physical culture and transport (ambulance and truck driving and maintenance). Later on subjects such as map reading, signalling and drill were added. From 1940 until 1945 they hand-made camouflage netting for the military, each net taking 8-22 hours to make. They also reconditioned clothes and water bottles for the troops, repaired anti-gas eye shields, made comfort packages, and sorted salvaged material. They raised funds for hospital equipment. In 1942 the auxiliary opened a canteen and rest rooms for service women.

From Australian War Memorial: Members of the National Defence league Women’s Auxiliary removing buttons ans clips from old Clothes before despatching them to the waste manufacturers.

Nepean Times, 5th April 1942;  C.W.A. report.

In Sydney, the women’s committee of the Lord Mayor’s Patriotic and War Fund depot were knitting socks and “sewing buttons for soldiers whose tunics are in a state of disrepair” as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald. (Men couldn’t possibly sew on their own buttons, now really!)

Native Police Button:

Although made in Britain, this button in the MAAS museum has an unique, if troubling, Australian story. 

According to the description given in Trove, it dates to 1842-1856:  ‘The name ‘New Holland’, which was not widely used to describe Eastern Australia after 1840, suggests that the button dates from the early years of the native police. If so, the button would come from either the native police force that operated in Port Phillip until 1852, or more likely the force that operated in the northern frontier of N.S.W. from 1848.’

Native Police uniform button: from Powerhouse Museum collection.

The British used armed indigenous forces  throughout their colonies. Native patrol troops, usually under a white officer, were used as cheap, brutal and effective forces. Such troops were set up in all mainland colonies of Australia in the 19th century. Troops were recruited far from where they were to be deployed to ensure lack of tribal sympathies and to provide a disincentive against desertion. The use of native troops was also a clever ploy to reduce revenge attacks against white settlers.

The first government funded troops were in the Port Phillip District from 1837.  It was hoped that this employment would have a civilising effect for the aboriginals.  Unfortunately these troops were used to commit violence and  to aid in the dispossession of the aboriginal people. Colonisation of the mainland would have taken much longer without these troops. Eventually, the use of these troops were called into question, but not before decades of murderous behaviour.

See also: