A Queensland child with his rocking horse, early 1900s. A Queensland child with his rocking horse, early 1900s. Photographed by Bert Roberts.

Concepts of Childhood and Children are relatively recent inventions. During the period of Queensland’s development the idea of what it means to be a child, and the role that children have played in family life has changed dramatically.

At the time of first European exploration in the late 18th century, children were simply treated as miniature adults. They were seen as important contributors to the family business – be it farming, retailing or trade – and they were given such tasks as their small size would allow. Play took second place to work, and usually required little in the way of toys, perhaps just some knuckles, a skipping rope, or some marbles.

Childhood, Gender and Play

By the time of first settlement in 1825 attitudes to children had shifted. Instead of being treated as miniature adults and workers, children were seen as innocents who needed to be taught how to be grown-ups.

Play was an important part of this process, and toys became more and more numerous as they were used to teach boys and girls to be men and women. Little girls were given dolls to teach them to be mothers, miniature irons to teach them to be housewives, and tiny sewing machines to teach them to be industrious. Boys, on the other hand, were given military toys like guns and tin soldiers, or technical toys like trains, boats and building sets to teach them to be the soldiers, engineers and tradesmen of the future.

This idea of childhood survived through the 19th and 20th centuries, and is still with us today in the Lego sets, action figurines and sports goods we buy for our boys, and the dolls and miniature household appliances we buy for our girls.


Toys at Queensland Museum

Early 20th century ‘Meccano’ locomotives. Early 20th century ‘Meccano’ locomotives.

The changing nature of childhood in Queensland’s history is reflected in the Queensland Museum’s large collection of children’s toys and playthings, which includes early toys from early settlement, through to the present day. A small part of this collection can be seen on display at Queensland Museum Southbank on Level 4.

Queensland Museum's Find out about... is proudly supported by the Thyne Reid Foundation and the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation.