When the ‘flappers’ of the1920s took up the exuberant Charleston, a London medico declared the new dance craze a risk to life and limb. Writing in the Daily Graphic in 1926 he said;

Women are the chief victims of the Charleston, for the dance necessitates a tremendous amount of work with the heels, and the shocks to the body, greatly magnified by women’s high-heeled shoes, may displace the heart and other organs. Indeed, serious injuries necessitating grave operations, and in some cases resulting in death, have been reported, both in this country and America. ‘Charleston knee’, an exaggerated form of water on the knee, paralysis, and total collapse due to the contortions, shocks, jolts and jars of the Charleston are, he added, ‘quite common’. (Casino Courier June 16 1926)

In due course the Charleston arrived in Australia, where the appendix was the organ of concern, ‘It is reported that a young girl now lies at the point of death in Sydney hospital, suffering from peritonitis, as a result of the Charleston craze. One medical man declares he has performed ten operations on girls suffering from appendicitis, due to the same cause. (Daily Mercury Nov. 6 1926)

Dancer performing the exuberant Charleston.

The craze even spread to Tasmania, but for the small community of Ulverstone the Charleston threatened not medical, but moral danger….. to be avoided at all cost.

Up stepped Mr Hubert Nichols; local councillor and State Member of Parliament.

Hubert Nichols, whose ban on the Charleston came back to bite him.

The much discussed Charleston dance is to be brought before the Leven council. Cr. H. A. Nichols, M.L.C, has given notice of his intention to move at next meeting that it be banned from any public hall over which the council has control.

He then went on to denounce the dance craze in such emphatic terms that his comments were reprinted in newspapers around the country;

Cr. Nichols says that having seen it, he is able to say that it is crude, and ungraceful from an artistic point of view, and ‘the lowest conception it is possible to image.’ ‘It is not properly speaking a dance,’ he added, ‘but a wriggle in such a form as to disgust any person of ordinary artistic taste. To observe two couples, one walking gracefully and the other dancing the Charleston, is to see the contrast between the high point of civilization and the most remote conception of an ancient race allied to the monkey tribe.‘ (Advocate, Sept. 15 1926)

In conclusion he said that he hoped its introduction into Ulverstone would be ‘unthought of’ as he considered it a most objectionable exhibition and repugnant to those with the finer feelings of responsible citizens.

Mr Nichols’ resolution was passed, and the Charleston was banned from the Town Hall.

Ulverstone Town Hall, the Charleston was banned from here

Only a few weeks later there was another threat to Ulverstone’s decorum. It came to light that a plan had been received by council for the erection of an open ‘palais de danse‘. It was to be located beside the sedate, municipal tearooms at the main beach.

Ulverstone Beach, no Charleston dancing around here please.
MAIN BEACH, ULVERSTONE (Source – University of Tasmania)

The idea was to provide public entertainment during warm summer evenings. A deputation of local church leaders (Methodist, Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist and Church of Christ) called on the Warden to protest. Only the Catholics didn’t seem to mind. 😍 The ministers insisted that a building of that character would affect the moral tone of the town, and they vowed to fight it to the last ditch.

In reply Warden Parsons said that personally he could see less objection to a dance hall than to mixed bathing, and people parading along the beach in a semi nude state on Sunday afternoons.

Fortunately the men behind the venture, Messrs Baker and Counsel, were so taken aback by the objections that their application was withdrawn the following day. There was relief all round. Let’s face it; a palais de danse at the beach on a hot night (well, hot-ish, being Tassie) was surely a recipe for disaster. Young women might suddenly break into the dreaded Charleston, losing their heads as well as displacing their vital organs.

Now as we know, politics can be a minefield. Early the following year Mr Nichols faced an accusation of hypocrisy by fellow councillor Mr Edward Hobbs.

Prior to the commencement of business of the Ulverstone Council on Saturday, Councillor Hobbs asked the following questions: (1) Is it a fact that Councillor H. A. Nichols, as manager of the Axemen’s Carnival, contracted with a certain show proprietor to allow the Charleston dance to be exhibited on the recreation ground after he condemned the dance in the Town Hall? (2) In view of his attitude, is it his intention to move to rescind the resolution moved by him to ban the Charleston dance in the Town Hall? (3) If not, why not? (Daily Telegraph Jan 10 1927)

Mr Edward Hobbs called out hypocrisy  over the Charleston ban at Ulverstone.

An embarrassed Councillor Nichols bought himself some time by asking that notice of the question be given. And what was the final outcome? Well, in published accounts of the carnival there was no mention of the Charleston.



  1. Pauline you find the most wonderfully quirky tales and tell them so well. Thank you!

    • Pauline

      Well, it’s people like you who make my work worthwhile David. 😊

  2. Not much has changed here Pauiie

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