Dolls were brought to Australia by the first settlers. However, many did not survive the long journey by sea from England. Many of the early Australian dolls were crude wooden dolls made by parents to satisfy the desires of their children. Most locally made dolls were made from whatever materials were at hand.
Although they were loved by their small owners, Australian dolls certainly could not be compared with the French, German, Japanese, American and Canadian dolls prior to 1940. There was a naivety about them. They were heavily painted, sometimes ugly, with murky eyes lacking definition, often simple cotton outfits without buttons, just a small safety pin keeping everything together. They were made for children to play with and they were. No sitting them in a chair, only to be looked at on Sunday! They were dropped and dragged all over the place and, to the makers credit, they survived quite well.
Of course, there were the exceptions, in particular Joy Toys and Jolli Dolls, who both made very attractive dolls.
Later German and French dolls were imported and sold through trade fairs. There were no attempts to set up doll making factories in Australia in the 19th century. When the First World War cut off supplies form Europe, Japan flooded the world with cheaply made celluloid dolls to satisfy demand. At the same time, Australian dolls makers appeared. The first doll registered in Australia was a composition headed doll made by Daniel Keily and recorded in 1916.
The depression years also created opportunities for Australian doll makers. The heavy customs duty imposed on complete dolls led companies to import doll pieces and assemble them here. Hoffnung’s, a Sydney department store, imported parts from Germany, Japan, Canada and America. Some Australian parts were included, usually it was only the body, which was made from calico or like material, and the doll’s outfit.
There was really nothing here to make the dolls from – materials were short and anyone who could make a doll could sell it. Many Australian women, unable to find work, were industrious and innovative and made cloth dolls at home, with their attempts quite passable, with many surviving to this day.