I was preoccupied with preparing to hang my exhibition It’s Time to Remember on Easter Monday, also timed to commemorate this significant battle, it was a series of photographs taken at the Anzac Day march in 2012. So on the Thursday night after work I rushed into the Fresh Food Dome and stopped in my tracks!
The school district displays were amazing….perhaps even more interesting and moving in some cases than the main district displays…if that is even possible given the effort that goes into each of these simply stupendous displays showcasing not only the bounty of our farmers and regions but also the creativity and ingenuity of the designers, in honouring our Anzacs on this significant milestone in our nation’s history.
Rather than a quick 30 minutes, in and out, I was entranced for a couple of hours. The most moving of the student entries for me was the figure of a distraught woman lying across her dining table with a photograph in her hand. She was pining the loss of her man, whether he be her husband, son or brother, with a sea of poppies pouring over red apples like a river of blood.
And then the most stunning of the regional displays was a field of giant, triffid-like poppies touring above a field of produce. So much thought and effort went into each of the displays.
There are five regions who take part – northern, southern, western, central NSW and SE Qld. The displays are the end result of a year of hard work by passionate agriculturalists, farmers and volunteers, who plan, source, collect, design and install the spectacular constructions for pre-Show judging. More than 50,000 pieces of fresh fruit, vegetables, grains, pulses, wool and other produce are used to create the exhibits.
Did you know that it takes two weeks to build each display onsite for the Easter Show? Then comes the judging which is taken very seriously and has been very hotly contested ever since 1900. This was when the District Exhibits became a permanent feature of each show. And the term “Royal” was added in 1891 with the consent of Queen Victoria.
In 1900 the show went on even though bubonic plague had hit Sydney shores, and even through WWI years 1914 – 1918 the show went on, but in between shows the showground was used as billeting for the troops coming and going to the battlefields. But it was in 1919, when soldiers returning from the horror of the Great War brought the Spanish flu epidemic to Sydney, that the show did not go on. And the showground buildings were used as temporary hospital and morgue.
Around 850 people died in the pandemic, including my grandmother’s youngest brother, Ernest Kenyon Hobson. He was just 21 years old. I’ve always wondered why he was photographed in WWI uniform but I couldn’t find his name on the WWI Nominal Roll. I was told by one of the Australian War Memorial research historians that he had completed an application to enlist but the war came to an end before he could serve. They also said it was quite popular for people to be “snapped” in say a great coat or similar military attire. So sad that he was saved from the horror of the battlefields only to die anyway.
After the war the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW (RAS), which had formed in 1822 and ran their first show in 1823, donated funds to assist returning soldiers get instruction and training in agriculture. And in response to the Soldier Settlement programs in 1926 the agricultural leaders met in the RAS offices to discuss the need for information on modern farming methods. Out of the meeting came the idea for a network of clubs across the state which became known as the Junior Farmers Movement.
On Friday 7 April 2017 I went to the Easter Show again just to see the produce. I was lucky enough to visit while the farmers and designers were still at their stands, so got to speak to several of them. For the first time in over 100 years the South East Queensland region won the overall prize. I met Jim Mitchell, Shirley Cronk and another gentleman, who proudly showed me their hotly contested and hard won shield. In talking to Jim I discovered he is from Stanthorpe, on the Queensland / NSW border. I asked him about the nearby Passchendaele State Forest which I’d discovered on Google maps, and he described the Soldier Settlement there which includes the villages of Amiens and Pozieres with road names such as Messines and Bullecourt. It is on my must visit list for 2017.
You can buy produce directly from each of the displays such as fruit, vegetables and jams etc. So I went home with several jams, including a large jar of Shirley's rosella jam, some dried pears and mango, and several sugar bananas, and one cabbage given to me by Jim Mitchell. Nothing is wasted. At the end of show all left over produce is donated to OzHarvest who distribute it to the community.
I wish you all a safe and happy Easter holiday break!