It’s that time of year again, and who doesn’t love Sydney’s Royal Easter Show? Not only is it fun, it’s also historical.

This year, the Royal Easter Show celebrates 189 years (give or take a few decades). Since 1823, it has displayed a little bit of rural NSW in the heart of metropolitan Sydney.

The first Agricultural Society was formed in 1822. Its primary objective was to conquer the Australian landscape by introducing European farming practices, animals and plants:

There is no Eden in nature; all is from the industry of man. We must do what all nations have done before us – collect from every quarter what is adapted to our soil and climate. We must new clothe our adopted country; we must hew down the useless gum trees, and plant the more useful fruit trees of Europe ; and   in lieu of the present thin herbage, give to our meadows the rich pasture of Britain.

The society’s first annual competitive ‘fair’ was held in October 1823 at Parramatta. According to a newspaper report written at the time, the ‘Society’s prize cattle and sheep were exhibited’. Prizes were given to ‘meritorious horses’ and cash rewards were given to high performing servants (yes, really). In addition, ‘three hundred and eighty-seven native dogs’ tails were paid for and destroyed’. Although it was hoped that the destruction of dingos would enable agriculture to flourish, the society came to a sticky end in 1836 due to drought and financial difficulties.

Judging the cakes, Royal Easter Show, 1940 (Sam Hood, SLNSW, ON 204 Box 87 / 94-99)

A new society, the Cumberland Agricultural Society, was formed in 1857; it was renamed as the Agricultural Society of New South Wales two years later. The new society held regular annual displays and competitions of agricultural produce and livestock animals from around NSW. At first, the displays were held in the Parramatta Domain but as the popularity of the event grew, a new home was found in Sydney’s Prince Alfred Park. In 1882, the show moved to Moore Park, where it stayed until 1998.

Western District exhibits at the Royal Easter Show, 1923 (State LIbrary of NSW)

During these 116 years, the Royal Easter Show was only cancelled twice. The first time was in 1919, when the large exhibition buildings at the showground were requisitioned as emergency hospitals during the influenza epidemic. The second time was during World War 2, when the entire showground was taken over by the armed forces.

Main ring at the Moore Park Showground showing the Grand Parade, 1950 (: Len Stone / Vic Solomons Collection: 203)

But because the Moore Park showground was only in use for the Easter Show two weeks of the year, what happened in the other 50 weeks?

Lots of things! The Royal Hall of Industries became a popular dance hall known as the Palais Royale in the 1920s and was later an ice skating rink.

In the 1970s, the Hordern Pavillion was converted to become a music venue.

Faye Granger of Bendigo with her brother Ivan ‘Who adds some clowning to the Show’s ring events”.

And although the show has moved away from Moore Park to its new home at Homebush, the show goes on: animal parades, wood chopping, show jumping, showbags, amusement rides, and competitions for the best in show for wool, wine, craft, cakes and jams, but to name a few of the attractions.

The Royal Easter Show is on from 5-18 April 2012.

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