Letter 5 ~ The Sheik

The Sheik

"The Sheik" is a silent film that was released in the United States and Australia in 1921. It starred Rudolph Valentino as an Arab sheik who falls in love with an English woman played by Agnes Ayres. The film received positive reviews and was a huge commercial success, helping to establish Valentino as a major Hollywood star and led the way for future romantic dramas.

There was actually an element of controversy in Australia due to the depiction of Arab culture and its portrayal of the sheik as a romantic hero. Some critics accused the film of promoting racist stereotypes and of portraying Arab men as sexually aggressive and domineering.

The film was first shown at the Globe Theatre in George Street, Sydney, for an unprecedented twenty-four weeks season.  It was noted that:

"Sydney had never experienced an obsession like the one which grew up around The Sheik. Typists, shop assistants, teenage schoolgirls, respectable married women, young and old, high society and working class - all clamoured to see what all the fuss was about. Once they had learned, they returned - again, and again, and again"

Today you can enjoy watching the The Sheik on YouTube. 



In 1914, 17 year old Princess Mary, daughter of King George V and Queen Mary, launched a public appeal to provide a Christmas gift for every British soldier serving in World War 1 as an acknowledgement of their service and sacrifice.

The brass tin gift boxes each contained:

  • tobacco, cigarettes and a pipe
  • spices
  • a Christmas card
  • a photograph of Princess Mary
  • and a pencil

The appeal was extremely popular with items and funds donated from across the country.  The result was a boost in morale among the troops. Today, the gift boxes are highly valued by collectors of military memorabilia.

Gift boxes were distributed to soldiers in subsequent years with different contents.


The first ANZAC biscuits were first created and during WWI for Australian soldiers known as ANZACS ( Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.)
They were first baked by the mothers and wives of ANZAC soldiers and sent to them overseas. The biscuits kept well and survived the long trip via ship.

ANZAC biscuits are traditionally made with:

  • rolled oats
  • desiccated coconut
  • flour
  • sugar
  • butter
  • golden syrup
  • baking soda
  • and boiling water

ANZAC biscuits are still enjoyed in Australia and New Zealand today, particularly on ANZAC Day - a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand held on April 25th each year to commemorate the ANZACs who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations. 



 Women wearing surgical masks during influenza epidemic, Brisbane 1919
In 1918, a highly infectious strain of the Spanish flu appeared in the WWI trenches and soldiers with severe illness were sent home. On the trip back home they often infected other soldiers they came in contact with.

The Spanish flu, also known as the 1918 influenza pandemic, arrived in  Melbourne, Australia in early 1919. Within a few weeks, the disease had spread to other parts of the country, including Sydney and Brisbane. The Australian government responded by introducing strict measures to try and control the spread of the virus, including quarantine, closure of public places, wearing of masks in public, and restrictions on travel between states.  Even so, the flu continued to spread rapidly with hospitals overwhelmed and a shortages of medical supplies and personnel.

It is estimated that around 15,000 Australians died from the disease.


Sources for images and further reading