Behind the Scenes at Stardust Castle: 2015 Credit Union Christmas Pageant

What actually goes into the planning of one of the most elaborate and largest pageants in the world? Thanks to People’s Choice Credit Union, one of the Credit Union Christmas Pageant sponsors, we spent a morning behind the scenes at Stardust Castle and were blown away by the scale of this incredible event.

   PAGEANT (noun)

“A public entertainment consisting of a procession of people in elaborate, colourful costumes, or an outdoor performance of a historical scene” 

This is according to the Oxford Dictionary definition, or in the case of the South Australia’s annual Christmas Pageant – all of the above.

This year Adelaideans will be treated to their 83rd pageant.  83rd!!

And it’s no mean feat!

Planning for each pageant begins in September… OF THE PREVIOUS YEAR! That’s right, before the whistle has blown to start this year’s pageant; significant work has already begun on next year’s. That’s a 14-month lead time to make sure every clown, princess and elf is ready to go on the second Saturday in November.

Brian Gilbertson, the Event Manager and Creative Director from Events SA, who has headed the Pageant team since 2003, generously took some time from his busy schedule to share some of the more intimate details of the big event.

As he listed off a raft of statistics, he lit up. The passion that Brian has for this event is almost palpable, and he’s not alone. Everyone we’ve ever spoken to that has been involved in the Pageant loves it. And by love, I mean with real feelings in their heart. It’s kind of contagious, and it looks like we’ve caught the love bug. But how could you not? It’s about people giving back to people, and it’s the greatest community event that I’ve ever come across. As Brian spoke, my pen flew across the pages of my notebook as I tried to keep up with every inspiring detail he shared. With a history in theatre, the mandate he introduced 13 years ago makes sense.

“We want theatre in the streets,” he said.

“We want theatre in the streets”

The clowns in the Pageant are trained at CLOWN SCHOOL. Yep – clowning around is SERIOUS business! There are Pooper Scooper Clowns [no prizes for guessing what their job is] AND Counting Clowns [whose job it is to count and estimate the number of attendees at each event], as well as a raft of juggling, laughing, playing, cycling and acrobatic clowns, too.

One very clear differentiating factor of the Pageant is the directive that it be more than just a ‘walk and wave’ occasion. Each year the Pageant is treated as a stage show. Every volunteer commits to a part in the performance, and their passion is evident in their collective execution. Volunteer performers, all cast from the sponsoring credit unions, are assigned a float, and each float is considered a theatre stage. There are rehearsals and costume fittings, make-up, props, choreography and routines that are specific to the theme of each of the 182 moving sets – that all carry their own story.


The clowns in our Pageant train to be clowns at CLOWN SCHOOL. Clowning around is SERIOUS business! There are Pooper Scooper Clowns [no prizes for guessing what their job is] AND Counting Clowns [whose job it is to count and estimate the number of attendees at each event].


David Blight is a local artist who has been responsible for carving some of our most beloved floats and characters [from FOAM], on and off for about 40 years. Float designs are a collaboration between director, artist and the workshop. Surprisingly there are NO TECHNICAL DRAWINGS in the process. Above you will see a scale model of Possum Magic which then becomes the magnificent travelling float. It really is mind-blowing.




Float designs are a collaboration between director, artist and the factory. Surprisingly there are NO TECHNICAL DRAWINGS in the process. Above you will see a scale model of Possum Magic which then becomes the magnificent travelling float. It really is mind-blowing.





The Pageant floats are stored in TWO massive adjoining warehouses, separated by a firewall. In the event of a fire, the firewall comes down and half the Pageant is automatically saved! Clever.


These tow motors pull the non-motorised floats and some of them are up to 80 years old! Two mechanics maintain the vehicles, along with the artists who make sure that each tow motor is appropriately themed to ‘disappear’ when pulling along their portable stage show. This attention to detail is one of the many differentiating factors between the Credit Union Christmas Pageant, and others around the world.



Don’t be scared! This is the ‘graveyard’ where all past props and characters go to die… or at least rest until further notice. It was fascinating seeing some of the older pieces of the Pageant – and just how far we’ve come.



Growing up in South Australia, it was a girl-hood dream to be selected as a Nipper and Nimble fairy but now, as a mum to two sons, I asked the question about what equivalent the Pageant had for young boys. Well Billy Bulldozer and his mates Toby Toy Truck and Fergus the North Pole Fire Engine has got them covered! Two lucky boys every year ride along in Billy’s big scoop and keep the Christmas spirit alive and kicking for the little blokes of SA!



The ‘Design a Mini-Float’ competition is held bi-annually [a mini-float is one which is able to be pushed or pulled with human power]. This year, Bandaid the Bear was submitted by Maddy [from St Michaels Lutheran in Hahndorf]. Bandaid was designed to be there for all the kids too sick to attend the Pageant, so they would know that everyone is thinking of them, and wants them to get well soon. What a winner!




Much of the colour in the parade comes from the costumes. Over 100 new costumes are added to the 3000+ every year. There are so many that need to be laundered and pressed, that the Pageant has built their very own pageant-sized laundry trolleys. Here’s Tania the Clown pushing one of them!



These six miniature vintage cars, built by Kingsley Savage, are known as “Kingsley’s Vintage Cars,” and they are modelled on classic vehicles from days gone by, like the 1899 Renault Saloon and a 1915 Dennis Fire Engine. Kingsley gave free rides in them for thousands of South Australian children in Tusmore Park for years, and he became known as the ‘Pied Piper of Tusmore’. After he passed away in September 2004, the vehicles were donated to the Pageant by Kingsley’s family. Now, each year, six lucky children – old enough to operate them but small enough to fit in them! – attend driving lessons and proudly drive them along the Pageant route.



In 2002, The Monster Family came along to watch the Pageant, but they couldn’t find any space and decided to join in the parade! Every year since, we have seen big yellow Zorg (Dad), Zilma (Mum) who sees all with three eyes and always has her lippy on, cheeky pink and blue Zabella or Bella for short (big sister) and Baxter (little brother) who is always poking out his tongue, enjoy the fun of the Pageant. Zabella’s friend “OOG” also joins in the fun with her yellow with red spikes and blue eyes, while baby sister Zoozie has always enjoyed the Pageant from her pram…. but she’s grown up now – what will that mean?? Just wait and see!



Have you ever wondered HOW the Pageant actually gets to South Terrace, ready and waiting for the whistle to blow?

Well… let us tell you… The floats leave their Woodville warehouse [aka Stardust Castle] at about 6am on pageant day [there needs to be enough daylight to drive, as the vehicles don’t have headlights!]. They travel by police escort along Port Road in a convoy that’s over 1km long. So, if you’re more of a morning person than a crowd person, you could gather to watch the procession before it even hits the Adelaide streets, then head back home to watch it LIVE ON GEM from the comfort of your own lounge room! Perfect for littlies who are up at the crack of dawn, but who don’t have it in them for the excitement of the full day!

YouTube video


DON’T FORGET to tune in on Saturday 14 November for all the fun and excitement the Credit Union Christmas Pageant has to offer:

TELEVISION:Channel 9’s GEM from 10.30am [ACST] and nationally for the first time – check local TV guides

FACEBOOK : Mum Central and Credit Union Christmas Pageant

PERISCOPE : MumCentral

INSTAGRAM : Mum Central and Credit Union Christmas Pageant

TWITTER : MumCentralAU and Credit Union Christmas Pageant

Share your pics and stories with us using #CUPageant and stay tuned for some incredible, money-can’t-buy prizes to WIN for your family, thanks to People’s Choice Credit Union!

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  1. Avatar of Blossom

    Somebody might like to verify whether or not it is in fact the 83rd Pageant as if was stopped during WW11. The floats, tow motors and some of the other vehicles were originally stored at John Martins Bulk Store at Pierson St, Lockleys – a western suburb of Adelaide. From memory they haven’t always had a large Police Escort in the morning. That came about because of irresponsible youngsters trying to jump onto the floats. The Motor Mechanics started work earlier in the morning than some of the other staff. A guy I know was able to test drive the go-kart until he got too tall. It was originally red until some “bright spark” decided to paint it blue. A lot of spectators reckoned it was spoilt. One tow motor followed Santa in case his motor broke down, as did a vehicle with mechanics in it. The late Sir Edward Hayward used to blow the whistle to start the pageant every year until he got too frail to do it. He brought 2 London Buses to Adelaide for the Pageant. One had its roof cut off and was then called the Carnival Bus. One year they had a lot of rain. By the time the floats got back to Lockleys, many of them were so badly damaged some of the decorations were falling off and the floats had to be stripped. Some of them were brand new ones. In the city they often checked for broken glass, especially near hotels. Most of the tyres on floats and tow motors were very old and very difficult to repair at short notice or replace later. On one occasion a TV crew filmed glass being swept up while the street lights were still on.

    • Avatar of Pauline

      Why isn’t the Pageant screened live, why is there an hour delay?

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