Has been Agricultural Show season (American county fairs) round these parts lately. When I was young the family always went to the Show. My grandmother baked her famous jam tarts and made her equally famous lemon butter and carried them carefully to the Showground. We would come back, anxiously, after the judging, to see if she had won, knowing how disappointed she would be if someone happened to beat her one year. My mother did sewing and flower arranging, and again was always disappointed if she didn’t win. I wandered around, a young fellow, sitting on tractors, looking at big cattle, marvelling at the farmers in their show day clothes and hats – farming was such a glamorous profession. I would take a few grains of wheat from the overflowing golden boxes on display, to try to make them grow in my suburban garden.
Much later I would be showing and judging sheep, possibly also looked at in awe by the young kids running around. So a long involvement with agricultural shows all over the country, until I have had to give it away. Others have too it seems, shows have seen dwindling crowds at times and have had to try to turn them into entertainment in addition to the old agricultural purpose. A great pity I think, but different times, different shows.
Just good to see them surviving though. Important community function. I remember the pleasure in catching up with other farmers from far distant places, seeing them only one or a few times a year as we arrived at shows to compete. Just as important for the locals though, as they bring in their craft work and cooking just like my mother and grandmother did fifty years ago.
Recent ABS survey shows a quarter of Australians “are involved in some sort of cultural activity, which was defined as a creative hobby such as drama, cabaret, craft, singing, playing a musical instrument or dancing”. Of those 18%, or some 800,000 people, were involved in “textile crafts, jewellery making, wood crafts or paper crafts like scrapbooking … sculpting, painting, drawing or cartooning”. The local Show provides an important outlet for all these people as well as a chance to meet others with the same hobby. So important as a social glue.
And a glue likely to continue through more generations – “People aged from 15 to 24 were most likely to participate in cultural activities (34 per cent) but interest dropped off as people aged, with people over 65 reporting a participation rate of about 23 per cent.” So the young ones are coming as old fogeys like me drop out.
And even younger ones are playing around the tractors and cattle, thinking how exciting and glamorous life on the land might be for them one day.
On with the show.