Claim and counter claim erupted in 1944 about who was the best knitter in the Southern Hemisphere. The champion was eventually crowned and they became known as “The Needle Ace of Ipswich.” I told a version of the story live on West Bremer Radio.
The debate started when a Cuban was seen knitting a bright yellow scarf in Hyde Park in Sydney. It was being done with a border at each end in cable stitch, and the rest in plain. The knitter said that they’d never dropped a stitch and had absolutely no difficulty in casting off.
What made this remarkable was that the knitter was a twenty-six year old Cuban sailor called Recardo Macaudus. This was during the Second World War and he was the only Cuban sailor in Australia.
“I come from the land of the Rhumba and the Conga, but I had to come here to be taught how to knit by an Australian nurse,” Recardo said.
The story made the newspapers across Australia, and what upset people was that he claimed to be the best male knitter in the Southern Hemisphere.
This spurious claim spread like wildfire. From that point on, claims and counter claims for the Southern Hemisphere title were made by knitters all around the country.
There was Private A. McLeod from Islington near Newcastle in New South Wales. He challenged the Cuban to a knit-off, making any garment in any kind of fancy stitch, from a baby’s layette to a woman’s dress or even just a sock.
Mrs McLeod proudly showed off her husband’s knitting. There were jackets, dresses, jumpers, cardigans, socks, and even a khaki sweater for himself to wear while he was on garrison duty.
Then there was Bill Adams from Caboolture north of Brisbane in Queensland. He was a First World War Gallipoli veteran. He’d been reported killed in action until it was discovered that he was only wounded. Adams was the only one in his family able to knit, and so had done all the knitting for his wife, five girls, and one boy.
There was also Private Ernest Appleton from East Brisbane. He was especially proud of a baby’s shawl that he’d knitted using No. 14 needles and which won him first prize in a knitting competition in Sydney.
He’d been knitting since he was ten years old. That’s when he knitted socks for his brother who was serving in the First World War in Belgium. In fact, one of Appleton’s socks took a direct hit from the Germans in the Battle of Passchendaele when his brother was shot in the ankle.
When Appleton’s photo was taken for the newspaper in 1945, he was knitting what promised to be quite an attractive dress. He also embroidered in his spare time.
There were lots of claims being made about who the best male knitter in the Southern Hemisphere – but finally there were the Cooper brothers in Ipswich, Queensland.
One was Andy Cooper from Raceview. He was a bus driver and knitted for relaxation. His knitting career later flourished because in 1949 he won first prize in the needle work section at the Ipswich Show with his Fair Isle jumper.
But it was the older brother James Henry Cooper who stole Australian hearts.
Jimmy was a truckie and had started knitting when his wife was having trouble with a particularly difficult pattern. He made the mistake of giving her directions. The wife then threw the needles at him and told him to do it himself. So he did, and never stopped knitting from then on.
Jim was photographed wearing a jumper that he’d knitted for himself, and on his head was a tea cosy that had won him first prize at a country show. He and his wife spent their time at nights knitting together while listening to the wireless.
But bigger honours were bestowed on the people’s champion; Jimmy’s story of overcoming adversity to become the Southern Hemisphere’s greatest male knitter so captivated knitting fans around the country that a four-verse poem was written about him and published in Melbourne. He was immortalised in verse and so became famous as, “The Needle Ace of Ipswich.”
Sadly, Jimmy Cooper passed away in 1982, but let’s hope his knitting prowess is never forgotten.
“The Needle Ace of Ipswich”
Of women it has often been remarked
That they’re as good at manly occupations
As men, a statement which I’m sure has narked
Most chaps and strained the sexes’ good relations.
But now, I’m very gratified to state,
We can in some small way retaliate.
For this advantage we men have to thank
The champion male needle-man, Jim Cooper,
Whose skill and dash in dealing with a hank
Of wool, they tell us in the press, is super,
And puts the female knitting clan to shame
Because he trounces them at their own game.
With flashing needles Jim runs up a sock,
Or knits a snappy jumper for his missus.
Or turns out woollen garments for his flock,
And is rewarded by their hugs and kisses,
And gains the loud applause that is his due
From fellow citizens in Ipswich (Q).
Whene’er his birthday comes around, I bet,
With gifts of skeins of wool he’s inundated
By friends and relatives, who hope to get
Them back as garments, which he has created.
But they by that manoeuvre, I surmise,
Don’t pull the wool o’er Jimmy Cooper’s eyes.
Weekly Times (Melbourne), Wednesday 8 August 1945, page 14
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO A VERSION TOLD ON RADIO
Woman knitting 1965 (Picture Ipswich) and Ernest Appleton 1942 (National Archives of Australia)
Cuban sailor Recardo Macaudus – Sun (Sydney), 1st September 1944, page 2
East Brisbane Private E.V. Appleton – Telegraph (Brisbane), 20th July 1945, page 4
Ipswich truck driver Jim Cooper – Telegraph (Brisbane), 17th July 1945, page 4