The clatter of the clogs and the joy of the dance - The Community Leader and Real Estate New and Views

Photo: Supplied.


What’s the image that springs to mind when you read Jacaranda Morris? A lavender-ducoed little car? A subspecies of the iconic Brisbane flowering tree? Try again…

Jacaranda Morris is the name of Queensland’s newest Morris dancing side (or team), midwifed into life under the loving care of Birkdale’s Jackie Wiley, who is the side’s Squire.

A microbiologist by profession, whose ancestral roots are in Scotland, Ireland and England, Jackie admits to a life-long love of Morris dancing. She started dancing with a Cotswald side, Belswagger Morris, but her favourite style of Morris is North-West dancing (think Lancashire) and last November Jacaranda Morris – complete with bib-and-brace pinafores the colour of jacaranda blossoms – was born.

“Each Morris style has its own kit of costume and accessories and I love the North-West style, its powerful feminine energy and the dances that have all the processional precision of a military parade. Back in the day the mill workers were given a week off and their dance side accompanied the rush cart that brought fresh rushes for the church floor.”

As was often the way, the work-a-day life of the dancers became incorporated into the dance. Mill workers traditionally wore wooden-soled clogs – durable, affordable and thick-soled enough to raise the wearer above the water when it rained, a frequent occurrence in north England. The clatter of the clogs on the cobbles, a clatter enhanced by irons nailed to them to protect the wood from wear, became an additional percussion accompaniment to the dance, which necessitates the dancers having a spot-on sense of rhythm.

“You have to really have mastered the rhythm before you’re ‘clog fit’ and that takes a lot of practice and expertise,” says Jackie, whose own clogs are an iconic part of her kit.

“One of my very dearest teachers at high school set up a cat rescue centre when she retired. I’m a cat-lover so I visited her and during that visit she gave me her mother’s 1930 vintage clogs. They still have the original irons on the heels but replacement hard rubber on the toes. They’re the most precious part of my costume and I love wearing them; I’m sure she left some dances in them!”

As well as the clogs, the musicians are a vital part of each side. Jacaranda Morris has a first-rate group of musicians, some of whom are dancers but prefer to play for the side on concertina, melodeon (also known as a box, a little type of concertina), fiddle and drums. The male musicians have a choice of costume – either cream pants, shirt and purple waistcoat – or the same pinafore as the women. In a splendid sweep of free will and whimsy some of the chaps have opted for the pinafore and it must be said they carry it well.

Jacaranda’s repertoire, mostly traditional and including dances such as Four Hand Reel, was brought to the group by Andrea Skerritt, the Jacaranda Fore (the Fore is responsible for teaching the dances and setting the standards).

“If members change groups they will often bring dances with them, ensuring that they won’t be lost to the ongoing Morris lexicon,” Jackie says. “As well, members will write and contribute new material – such as Andrea’s Abbotsleigh (the original working title was Donkey’s Wedding) – so it’s definitely a living tradition.”


Morris is purported to originally have been “Moorish” dancing brought back to England by the crusaders. Different regions have developed different styles.

Cotswald dancing is perhaps the most-recognised style; crossed baldrics (sashes) on the upper body, twirling hankies and clashing sticks.

Border dancing also has sticks and dancers usually wear brightly-coloured tatter coats. The dancers can also have painted faces, traditionally to disguise their alleged identity as illegal beggars.

North-West rejoice in pinafores or skirts and blouses; flowers in the hair or flower-covered hats; flower-covered arches and hoops; short beribboned and belled sticks and slings, which are bobbins from the cotton mills on cotton ropes. Men’s and mixed teams also commonly have brightly coloured sashes around the waist and/or a single sash across the chest. Waistcoats in men’s/women’s/mixed teams are also common.

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