When the Agricultural Society of NSW was formed on 5 July 1822, the desire was to improve farming practices and ensure the sustainability of rural land. Announced in its prospectus was an Annual Livestock Show, to be held as a way of encouraging competition and sharing of knowledge. The Society’s membership reads like a who’s who of the colony at the time — leading landowners, stock-owners and merchants like Samuel Marsden, William Cox, Hannibal McArthur and John Blaxland, as well as some of Sydney’s most influential people.
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, in 1823. The event became an important opportunity for growers and manufacturers to display their goods and compete.
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. The Society was granted permission to use the name ‘Royal’ by Queen Victoria in 1891, and so the first ‘Royal’ Easter Show was held the same year. Only the 1919 Bubonic Plague and the Second World War prevented the Show going ahead during this time
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 Sydney Royal Easter Show is Australia’s largest annual ticketed event. It 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’ and celebrating rural communities.
Local organisations and societies have a unifying affect in rural communities, whether they are small, grassroots 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.