There are certain times of the year when it is OK, in fact encouraged, to show off.
It’s around this time, February sliding into March, where you do the best you can do to have the prize-winning lamingtons/beer/best selection of vegetables or anything else you can produce yourself. (Or take the wrapping off a bought one and mess it up a bit so it looks handmade. I’ve heard people with no principles do that. Unbelievable).
It’s show time. Agricultural shows are springing up all over the countryside now.
It would have to be in the hundreds of thousands, the number of locals who give up their time to volunteer to do everything from directing traffic to emptying bins to sharing their expertise on everything from dahlias to pickles.
The best of them wear coveted badges identifying them as a Steward or, if they’re really lucky Chief Steward, of a section of the show.
How these shows have lasted over the years, come drought and flooding rains, I’ve no idea. Maybe it’s just (their) nature.
As a cadet journalist in a country town, when the show’s on, it’s the story. You write a preview story about what’s coming up this year that was different to last year, usually not a lot. You write a story about the day itself – who vomited over who on the ferris wheel – or maybe I’m confusing real life with movies. Again.
You write a story afterwards saying who won what, when and why. It’s this last story on which your life depends. Sure get all the results, from Best In Show to Best On Plate, but get the names right.
Also, did I mention the importance of getting the names right? If Mrs Someone enters a bunch of carrots that have an uncanny resemblance to some members of her family, fine. But that’s not the story. If you get her name wrong, that’s the story. And you’ll be told it for years. Possibly till you’ve left town, involuntarily.
Show time is really for the brave. Daughters take on mother-in-laws when it comes to best sponge, young men their dads with the most intoxicating home brew, brother against sister for best decorated iced biscuit.
There are some great shows around the capital, yes the Royal Canberra (24-26 February) is, well, majestic, but I’ve heard they’ve replaced staples like unidentifiable meat on a stick drowned in batter with, er, fresh stuff.
Also, not a fan of those rides that end up making you want to not have had aforementioned thing on stick – and probably even the fresh stuff if it comes down to it. And it will. Just wish that bloke called Dagwood would keep his dogs under control.
But I do love the animals, especially the grand parade where children who can barely reach the nose of the gleaming bull-ringed monster they’re leading out into the main arena in front of a couple of thousand people, only a few of whom are not their relatives, to the showjumpers and their horses who look super, man, as if they could leap tall buildings in a single bound.
But it’s the little shows that have heart. The ones where they don’t really need to write on the first, second and third prize cards, because the same people win every year. Or their kids, or grandkids …
One of the best, the Gunning Show, is on today, 19 February – the 119th. You know an ag show is the real deal by its sponsors. In Gunning, it’s the local energy provider, the stock and station agent also known as “your local bloke”, a wool trader, fertiliser spreader and freight company. And of course the local pub.
It’s only about an hour’s drive out of Canberra or about half that from Goulburn or Yass. If you want to know how far it is from where you live, just keep driving and stop when you get to the Welcome to Gunning sign. Or keep on driving after that and head back into town for the Canberra Show (24-26 February). Or just keep moving until you hit Yass for its show on 18 March.
But, when it comes to favourites, it would have to be the Jerrawa Show, scheduled for 10 April this year.
The last time I went, many years ago, the hot water for the refreshment tent was being boiled up in a drum outside said tent, thanks to a raging-ish fire, by a top bloke who, while the billy boiled, told us that Jerrawa used to be known as “The Little Royal” show because it was the closest in timing to the Sydney event.
Can’t remember if it was because it was just after or before the Sydney show, but I do remember it was one of the best cuppas. Ever.