This article originally appeared online for abc.net.au
Tasmanian beef cattle breeder Gary Clarke has spent his whole life around agricultural shows.
His great-granduncle was one of the founding members of the Burnie Agricultural Show and it was his family’s love for shows that kickstarted his career in farming.
“When I was a little fella, I used to help my dad and the late Mr Bill Brooks with the beef cattle section and it triggered my interest in beef cattle,” Mr Clarke, who breeds Herefords, said.
For many Australians, shows are a chance to eat fairy floss and Dagwood Dogs, and spend hundreds of dollars on rides — money which keeps shows afloat.
But it is people like Mr Clarke — and other volunteers behind the scenes — that keep the show running, even through two world wars.
The Clarkes are one of the dozens of north-west Tasmanian families that have been showing animals for generations and are part of the reason the Burnie Show is in its 100th year.
Mr Clarke said a lot had changed over the years and he believed the focus is now shifting back to agriculture, rather than sideshow alley.
“I guess nowadays people with their laptops and all that sort of stuff, they play that [at home] rather than come to the sideshows,” Mr Clarke said.
“When I was a little fella, the side shows were the big thing for the year, around the farms no one had seen those sorts of things.”
Primping the livestock
A typical show day for Mr Clarke involves getting up early, getting to the showground before 7:00am, and then washing and blow-drying his Herefords before they go on show.
“It’s pretty hairy out there on a cold morning I can tell you that,” he said.
“But they’re our livelihood, so you’ve got to look after them.
“It’s advertising of your stud and your stock and the quality of what you’ve got on offer. We sell a lot of bulls, that’s our main business, so that’s why we come.”
Keeping in the family
Samantha Johns, 25, from South Forest in the state’s far north-west, has never missed a Burnie show.
She’s a third generation shower — a farmer that shows off their stock — and has learnt a lot of tips from her mother Judy Johns and her 74-year-old grandfather Peter McCulloch.
“The first show I went to was as a baby,” Miss Johns said
She said her earliest memory of the show was as a child “leading the baby calves around”, and she’d enjoyed it ever since.
“It’s a way that we bring our best forward and compete against the other best in Tassie,” she said.
“It’s important for the young ones, otherwise they’re on their own. This gives us an opportunity to socialise with everyone in the same industry.”
Peter McCulloch said he’s “proud” of his granddaughter.
“It’s beautiful, we’ve all been helping one another,” he said.
Daryl Cole — whose family has been involved in shows for almost a decade — said keeping agriculture shows going was important for every Australian, not just Tasmanians.
“To foster those young people and keep those skills alive because no farm is no food,” Mr Cole said.
“For every ten of those families that come through the gates, maybe only one of them will get into production of agriculture products in one way or another, but we need to keep doing that, because it’s really hard to survive without fresh food.”
New digs for 100th show
While many shows across the country are dying due to viability issues and low patron numbers — the Devonport Show 30 minutes down the road has been cancelled and the Launceston Show has been reduced from three days to one — the Burnie Show is thriving.
Around 20,000 people are expected to visit the Burnie Show this year, which is essentially the same as its population.
And while the show is celebrating its centenary event, it’s its first year at its new location.
Burnie Agricultural and Pastoral Society president Carol Jackson said the committee decided to recently sell its land at the southern end of Wivenhoe Showgrounds and buy 40 hectares of land beside the Ridgley Highway, near Burnie, instead.
“The old ground was too small,” Ms Jackson said. “We couldn’t grow, we filled the sheds and there was no room, so we took the plunge and moved.”
The move has so far paid off and the committee has money left over to build permanent structures on its land.
It is planning on building four permanent sheds to house the animals and craft exhibits, permanent toilets, and it’s long-term dream is for an Olympic-sized equestrian stadium to be built on-site, which could be used year-round.
“Burnie is getting bigger and better, that’s my motto,” Ms Jackson said.
She said the main thing that sets Burnie apart from other events was its volunteers.
“We are all volunteers. No one gets a wage, so all the money that we make goes back into our show,” Ms Jackson said.
A show proving that even after 100 years, some things never get old.