I took the day off of work today to take our eldest son to Sydney’s annual Royal Easter Show. My wife was working today and the toddler was in preschool so it was another great bonding exercise for me and Master 5.
I had promised him I would take him after a friend of ours who lives over four hours outside Sydney and who we never see as much as we’d like to suggested we go as she was going to be staying with us for a couple of nights en route to spend the long weekend up north. Being only 5-years-old he didn’t really know what to expect but I had told him if he was good I would get him a show bag.
Of course he didn’t understand the gravity of this event. He doesn’t know the history. He has never experienced the old show grounds down the city and will more than likely only ever know the show as it is now on the site of the Sydney Olympics. But I know the history of the show. Furthermore, I remembered my own history of attending, and memories rushed back, sometimes bring a tear to my eye.
There were many reasons why I got emotional today, and here are some I would like to share with you;
1. The Districts Exhibits
You cannot visit the Sydney Royal Easter Show without stopping into the Fresh Food Dome and seeing the farming districts exhibits. Even when I was a child myself, this was one of the highlights. I remember this more than roaming the aisles of the show bag pavilions.
What makes it all the more special to me now as an adult is the my wife grew up in regional New South Wales and her district is represented here. I explained that to Master 5 today and was a little choked up about it. I know, I know, I get emotional at the drop of a hat, but I think about these things and how growing up I stood before these great works of art and admired the work of the men and women of the Central District, all the while my future wife was being raised there; the produce of a fine district indeed.
Here’s a time lapse video of the artists applying their trade…
2. The Wood-chopping Contest
When I used to go to the show with my family we would often pick up lunch and then find a seat in the stands at the wood-chopping competition. Today I did the very same thing with Master 5. We picked up some lunch before claiming out seat in the glorious sun and watched those big men work at the lump of wood as if it were butter.
3. The Art and Craft Pavilion
Many people I speak to about the Easter Show don’t realise that it is more than just the old “where city meets the country” agricultural show. It is also more than just a place to pay an entry fee to go and buy your kids overpriced showbags that claim they are real bargains. (You know that $300 worth of vouchers added to a bag with $10 worth of product and merchandise and selling at $15 isn’t really a bargain. But I digress). And it is so much more than the side shows and carnival rides.
Sydney’s Royal Easter Show is actually the fifth highest attended trade show in the world. When you consider that the farmers who are displaying their livestock and fresh produce for judging are also promoting their product to the market.
The Fresh Food Pavilion is a marketplace for well known and the lesser well known local food manufacturers with many selling their wares at the show, whilst others (like the wine makers) try to sign you up to a monthly supply of their produce delivered straight to your door.
My mum had a stand at the Royal Easter Show many years ago. For some unknown reason I feel it was in 1984, but with her no longer with us, I can’t ask her. Maybe my dad might remember, but then again, maybe not.
I can remember walking down the rows and rows of tall glass cabinets looking at the decorative cakes, or the wonderful fruit cakes being judged on their moistness and shape. The biscuits, the cookies, the tapestries and paintings. These things are still there and this part of the show reminded me of my mother. Damn I wish she was here to see the show with us.
The Easter Show is a massive event. It takes up a good part of the Olympic Park and before that, the whole of the old Sydney Showgrounds at Moore Park, a venue purposely built to facilitate such an event circa 1881.
I remember when we entered the Sydney Showgrounds back when I was younger than 10 years old, and my mother would point out the big sign to the left about 100 metres from the gate; LOST CHILDREN. I was never one to wander off, but every year she would point it out to me.
This year there was a stand right at the front gate about 100 metres on the left as we walked in. Nowadays with those brilliant devices we all carry in our pockets or bags, the mobile phone, simply giving your child a wrist band with your number written on it saves hours of searching for the parents of a child that wanders off and gets lost.
5. The Showbags
My brother is five years older than I am. Back when he and I would go to the show with our parents we would get the showbag guide from out of the paper weeks before the show and then methodically go through each bag to give it a rating based on what was inside, how much we loved it, whether either of us liked the particular confectionery inside (every single piece that is) and if we could divide the contents fairly and squarely between each other so that neither misses out. It takes less planning to start a world war…
We would be given an allowance to spend; maybe $10 each, maybe $15 between the two of us. Either way, we had to plan it so that we could maximise the amount of sugar intake and that took precision.
Master 5 doesn’t understand that whole concept yet. He was happy to just receive one showbag, and from the get go, he had his mind set on The Avengers showbag. He has never watched The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, The Mighty Thor or Iron Man, nor has he seen The Avengers. But for some unknown reason, her has been a little obsessed by the team of superheroes for a few weeks now.
The Avengers showbag was $25 and I cannot comment as to whether it was value for money or not, because you can’t really put a price on a large bag full of plastic bits and pieces, and a plush character of your choice (he picked Iron Man). But when I bought the bag for him and the young girl behind the counter handed it to him, with the smile he had on his face wider that the Grand Canyon, it was worth it.
6. Empty Wallet
You don’t go to the show setting yourself a ridiculous budget. I bought things. I bought three pieces for $10 of the best tasting fudge for my wife. I also bought
her us two bottle of a ginger concentrate that has healing powers, and that tastes divine.
Master 5 and I enjoyed over priced food, from and overpriced entry ticket, and overpriced coffee (that is the same price you’d pay for coffee away from the show, but how expensive is a cup of coffee now?!!?!?!!)
But now I really feel like I’m a parent. Now I can share that same feeling my own parents felt way back 30 to 35 years ago. Still, an empty wallet is lighter to carry home…
7. The Trip To and From The Show
My father was always a drive everywhere type of guy. He has passed this down to me, and I will drive almost everywhere. Quite a few years back the New South Wales Government (who partly runs the show in conjunction with the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales) decided to include “free” public transport as part of the ticketing fee. This was aimed at keeping cars off the road and basically make it easier to get to the show.
It was less than a month ago that we took the toddler on his first train ride; an outing that was enjoyed by he and his brother alike. After I bought the tickets online this morning I asked Master 5 if he wanted me to drive there or should we catch a train. Seeing that he is obsessed with turning the DVD player on in the car, even for a three minute drive around the corner, I was fully expecting him to say that he wanted to go by car. But, much to my surprise, he wanted to go by train.
We always went to the show by train, even if my dad came with us. He’d drive to our local train station, we’d jump on a train to the city, and then we’d get on the free buses that took you out to the showground. I can still close my eyes and remember sitting on the bus the night that we left really late after watching the late Dale Buggins (an Australian stuntman who broke Evel Knievel’s motorcycle jumping record) and his motorcycle stunt show in the main arena. I was only six or seven years old as Dale died late in 1981 when I was seven years old.
Our sons will have these memories to cherish long into their adult lives, much as I had today. And I look forward to being there by their sides for many years to come until they are old enough to go by themselves with their friends. But it won’t stop me from going.