Not many people know this, but it was the visit of a famous Greek athlete who really brought the handbag trend to Australia. It’s true! And you can read all about it in my debut non-fiction novel Handbags: No Slouch in Australia.
See, for most of history, Australians had carried everything around in sacks that they slug over their backs. That was a common sight a hundred years ago, and it had been since Australia’s founding: everyone walking around with sacks. Men, women, children…all sacks, all the time. Just dump everything in the sack: beauty products, your lunch, a few cats, workman tools, anything. We were far from the society of slouch bag lovers that we were in the modern era.
But everything changed when for the first, and probably the last time, Alice Springs was chosen to host the world games. Suddenly there was an influx of foreign modernity, and one popular race walker made headlines with the black leather bag that she wore to the opening ceremonies. It was actually just supposed to be a convenient method of holding her Greek flag to pull out at the right moment- it was a very large and heavy flag, and she didn’t want it to get dirty or creased on the way out- but the new innovation of televisions in homes allowed everyone to see an athlete open her black leather bag, unfurl the Greek flag and wave it proudly. I’m sure there was a moment when everyone glanced at their hessian sacks, piled up in the corner where they were dropped at the end of each trip outside, and thought…there is a better option.
Truly, great changes were wrought upon Australia from then onwards, and now we have a thriving industry supplying soft leather shoulder bags to all. Old carry methods practically vanished overnight, besides one small town in Western Australia who still celebrates Hessian Day. It’s just one day, though, and sometimes it’s good to remember what came before. Even if it was way worse.