In the northern hemisphere Easter heralds the coming of Spring, but in Australia it occurs in Autumn and what better time to showcase the produce of the previous summer than over the Easter break. If Empire Day was the most exciting day of the year then the visit to the Royal Easter Show in Sydney came a close second.
Even getting there was exciting. The first stage was catching the train to Central. Then we would join the queues waiting for the buses to the showground at Moore Park. Entering the gates there was the thrill of expectation. Rides, showbags and displays were anticipated with great enthusiasm.
The dilemma was whether to buy the showbags early and avoid the crowds or leave them until last and so avoid carrying them around all day. The showbag was the proof you had been there and was something to look forward to once you arrived home. Examining the trashy, rubbishy items within and nibbling on the cornucopia of normally banned sweets was a rare treat indeed. One year my father decided that showbags were a waste of money and bad for my teeth so we didn’t buy any. My disappointment and outrage was prodigious but to no avail.
There were other attractions of course. The sideshows and rides were exciting. As a small child I was content with the merry-go-round, the ferris wheel and the ghost train. We saw and occasionally went into tents showcasing Jimmy Sharman’s Boxing Troupe, Smoky Dawson and a variety of illusions, magic acts and death defying feats. A man called S John Ross made a silhouette of my childish profile with great skill. He worked quickly with a pair of small scissors, cutting a portrait from thin matt black card. He then mounted the portrait on white card.
The prime purpose of the show was to showcase the best of the state’s primary and to a lesser extent secondary industries. The District Exhibits competition consisted of displays from four NSW areas and also South East Queensland. Large diaramas using wool, wheat, fruit, vegetables, sugar cane, cotton and preserves were judged on their originality, quality and aesthetic appeal. This was compulsory early viewing as well as the Arts and Crafts section, the cooking and preserves, the crochet, smocking and knitting. Then it was on to the animal displays where we saw prize winning cats, dogs, birds, fowls and even rats and mice.
The men in the wood chopping arena swung their axes, show jumping horses cleared hurdles in the main arena and neverending lines of horses, cows,sheep and dogs participated in the Grand Parade. I loved the show at night when all the lights came on, culminating in fireworks after which I sleepily headed for home.
The Easter Show has now moved to Homebush but still continues the traditions of its 193 year history.