It is a sunny day in the late 19th century.
A crowd in the Adelaide Parklands picnics on cold cuts and pigeon pies as a large balloon slowly rises into the sky.
High in the air, a scantily clad woman performs trapeze tricks suspended from the balloon basket — before slipping away to parachute to the ground.
This story from Adelaide’s past has been brought to life in miniature form by the ABC’s Tiny Oz series, which features craftspeople from across Australia re-creating their local history.
Tonight’s episode features a miniature of the first-ever hot air balloon to lift off in Adelaide — and the carnival atmosphere that surrounded it.
‘Scandals’ in scantily clad artists
Co-host and miniaturist JoAnne Bouzianis-Sellick was amazed at the stories coming out of her home town.
“Ladies, scantily clad, would launch out of the balloon with not much more than a canvas beach umbrella strapped to their back and perform these death-defying aerobatics to the cheering crowds below,” she said.
“Brass bands would play to say, ‘Here they are — they’re not like a pancake on the ground’.”
She said the aerial acrobats, Gladys and Valerie Van Tassel, were orphaned at a young age and found refuge in the circus before performing their trapeze act all over the world.
Ms Bouzianis-Sellick said they created scandal wherever they flew.
“They caused huge dramas in Queensland where there were massive protests about these scantily clad women causing young men to become enraged with hormones,” Ms Bouzianis-Sellick said.
“They caused riots.”
Passionate hobbyists recreate scene
Tiny Oz turned to the South Australian Railway Modellers Association (SARMA), one of Adelaide’s six model railway clubs, to recreate the scene in Adelaide’s Botanic Gardens.
The hobby group is filled with retired electricians, engineers, and train drivers as well as young members learning hands-on skills.
Former phone technician Graham Phillips recreated the garden’s historic Palm House, which was imported from Germany in 1875 and still stands today.
“I was able to go in and measure everything and get an idea of exactly how it was put together,” he said.
The team of 11 hobbyists each worked on their section of the model at home and then brought it into SARMA headquarters for final assembly.
He said it took some unique crafting materials, including emu feathers and tiny seeds to add the finishing touches to the Palm House grotto — the artificial cave inside the glasshouse.
“What I was originally going to do was use three-corner jacks as the rocks,” Mr Phillips said.
“But they were too big, so I had a look around and there are rhubarb seeds that are similar in size and shape.”
A 90-day effort
SARMA estimated it took 90 days and 1,704 hours to recreate the moment in time.
Ms Bouzianis-Sellick was amazed at how the modeling team solved problems that arose from working on such a small scale.
“The tents are made from tea bags, an everyday object we all use,” she said.
“We all look at things for not what they are but what they can become.”
The model is on display at the State Library of South Australia in Adelaide until the end of May.
A historical find
Librarian Mark Gilbert said finding a photograph in the library archives of the balloon lifting off made all the difference to the model makers.
“We were able to show the photos, not just of the balloon going up, but also what Adelaide looked like in the 1870s through to the 1890s,” he said.
“They know what the Botanic Gardens looks like now and so they’re getting a view of how it looked like then, and it’s fascinating to people.”
Tiny Oz airs at 8:30pm Tuesday on ABC TV and ABC iview.