… a public spirit of agricultural improvement shall be implanted in the breast of all
This was the intent behind the formation of Sydney’s Royal Easter Show, which had it's beginning as an Agricultural Society on 5th July 1822. It aimed to increase livestock within the colony and share farming practices. The first show was held the following year in 1823 in Parramatta. The organisation was later called Royal Agricultural Society of NSW and became an important opportunity for growers and manufacturers to display their goods and compete. The society’s membership read like a who’s who of the colony at the time – leading land-owners, stock-owners and merchants like Samuel Marsden, William Cox, Hannibal McArthur, and John Blaxland. It was hoped that forming a centralised body would have the effect of raising standards in agriculture throughout the fledgling colony.
The Society sought to encourage and promote rural industry through competition, education and events. At its centre was the regular judging of animals and agricultural produce at an annual Show, the first of which was staged in Parramatta the following year. Despite its initial success the Society was forced to disband in 1836 due to poor economic conditions and lack of support, however it re-formed in 1857 with renewed vigour. From 1868, the Journal of the Agricultural Society of NSW was published, the first of its kind in Australia, containing practical information and the latest agricultural developments for those on the land.
The annual Shows moved from Parramatta to Sydney’s Prince Alfred Park after 1868, and then to a new site at Moore Park in 1882. Although little more than scrubland at the time, it was here that the Society built a showground which would be home to the Show for the next 116 years. Only the 1919 Bubonic Plague and the Second World War prevented the Show going ahead in that time. The Society had been renamed the 'Royal' Agricultural Society of NSW in 1891, by special permission of Queen Victoria, and the first 'Royal' Easter Show was held the same year.
The Show’s competitive displays showcased the best animals and rural produce – from prize-winning cattle, sheep and pigs, to fruit and vegetable exhibits, as well as displays of wood chopping, show jumping, and even ploughing demonstrations. It was also an opportunity for the exchange of ideas and practices, and for farmers to gain first-hand knowledge of trends and technological advances.
By the mid 1930s, as the grip of the Depression had begun to lift, the Show’s attendance figures increased and there was a growing optimism in Australia’s agricultural future. The 1935 Royal Easter Show was the biggest to date, with the largest attendances, prize-money and competitive entries.
In 1998 the Show moved to a new showground at Sydney Olympic Park, Homebush Bay. Always popular are the animal displays and competitions.
Bigger than ever, the Easter Show now features more commercial and entertainment activities, however the promotion of rural industries is still the mainstay. The agricultural displays have focused on 'bringing the country to the city', educating and celebrating rural communities.
Local organisations and societies have a unifying affect on rural communities, whether they are small, grass-roots groups, or larger organisations. Most groups are volunteer-run and made up of committed individuals passionate about their local communities and interests.
Agricultural societies encourage and promote rural industry, through the competitive display of produce and livestock at annual shows. A feature of rural life in NSW from the earliest days, agricultural shows provide a focal point for the local community and a forum for the exchange of ideas. There are now almost 200 regional agricultural societies in NSW alone, and more than 550 agricultural shows held annually across Australia.