Yesterday I spent the morning mounting my photos to enter the local show next week. Well, it’s my parents’ local show but I’ve adopted it as my own. Agricultural show, county fair, call it what you will, but they’re important. I discovered this while working on the coast; while it looked superficially like tourism was the most important thing to the town, it was still a farming area. It felt like the whole town came out for the showgirl ball, a couple of weeks before the show proper, and for the fireworks on the show’s first night the bleachers were packed. It was fun.
I grew up in the city and while my family went to the agricultural show most Februaries (which I enjoyed), I never really got it. The show here in the city is a bit big (though it’s got nothing on the Sydney Royal) and I suppose unless you know someone with an entry in the pavilion — since we didn’t know anyone with animals — it all seemed a touch archaic.
That was until I had to find enough angles on the (properly country-town) show to fill an eight-page liftout in my paper. The showgirls, the male cross-stitch artists, the semi-friendly largest-pumpkin rivalry, the gentleman who dominated the rose section every year, the lovely old couple who ran the pet competition, the man and his daughter who competed every year in the fruit cake section, the woman who had high hopes for her pottery. Plus, of course, the follow up with the winners afterwards, sharing the joy and surprise and disappointment. (I have one photo I love of a farmer hugging his prize-winning cow.) I found the whole community pitched in to celebrate their town and their talents. It surprised me because I’d never seen this side of the show before.
So when I got back to the city, I sought out the show guide for the town where my parents live. They always went to the show, but it had never occurred to any of us to enter. But that year I entered some photos. We all went along and looked at the cakes, jams, knitting, painting, lego models, cattle, scone buttering contest, chooks and dogs. I won a prize in one of the sections and I believe it encouraged not only me, but my family to keep trying. (At 50c an entry the pavilion competitions are very accessible.) The next year my brother entered some photos too and my mum put in some felting. This year we’re all trying our luck in various sections.
I believe it’s really important to support institutions like the show society in small towns. They’re what holds the community together. When I was working through my stories for the coastal town’s show, one of the old timers told me that the show used to be (and still is) the social highlight of the year for many farmers. Before telephones were everywhere and definitely before the internet some of these men and their wives could go quite a while without seeing anyone, so when they all came in to town for the show it was a big time to catch up. It’s also a time to keep tabs on your fellow farmers and just check everyone’s okay, especially over the past decade when many were doing it tough. Without the show society and other local organisations like the CWA, where would the community be?
So go and find out when your local show is (start with the state agricultural society — here’s NSW) and go along. It won’t cost much to get in and you’ll spend half a day getting in touch with the country’s rural roots and help support a community. I reckon you’ll have fun.