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Llamas and Love Birds, Fairy Floss and ‘Freaks’—A Short History of the Sydney Royal Easter Show

For over 150 years, the Sydney Royal Easter Show has been entertaining (and at times scandalising) the millions who flock each year to enjoy exhibits, rides and a little bit of ‘the bush’ in the heart of the city.

Created in 1829 by the Agricultural Society of NSW to improve ‘the quality of Australia’s primary production by means of contests and competitions’, the forerunner of the modern-day show was a serious affair ultimately aimed at better feeding the fledgling colony.

However, as farming was modernised, the Easter Show came to reflect not only changing ideas about farming but also evolving attitudes towards fun.

Originally held in Parramatta, the show moved for a short period to Prince Alfred Park near Central Station before settling at the Moore Park Showgrounds in 1881 where it remained for the next 116 years.

The period at Moore Park was enormously important, transforming 16 hectares of sandy scrub into purpose-built facilities designed to accommodate animals (brought to the city for the show’s tightly contested livestock competitions), their handlers and the thousands of visitors who now attended.

The introduction of electric light also meant night-time entertainments were possible for the first time, and, increasingly, commercial enterprises sprang up. Side Show Alley became a feature of the festivities and for a time in the 1920s and 1930s was highly disreputable, famed for ‘freaks’ and briefly hosting live lions.

As the nineteenth century progressed, more and more Australians came to live and work in the city rather than the country, and the Easter Show took on the important role of stitching rural and urban lives together.

The Sydney Royal Easter Show moved to its present-day location at Homebush in 1998. Exhibitions of wood-chopping, quirky displays of regional produce and the Grand Parade of prize-winning livestock (where a Noah’s ark of beasts are walked in concentric circles around the central parade ground) continue to bring the country to the city for two weeks every Easter.

GML was involved in masterplanning for the old showground site at Moore Park as part of its redevelopment and has continued to play a role in the area.

This post was originally published on 24 March 2016, and has been updated. 

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Royal Easter Show, Sydney Showground, 1938. (Source: Home and Away, hood_32074, SLNSW)

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Royal Easter Show, Sydney Showground, 1938. (Source: Home and Away, hood_17075, SLNSW)

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His Excellency the Governor-General, Sir Isaac Isaacs (centre), inspecting agricultural products with Mr JHS Angus, Deputy President, Royal Agricultural Society (left), Sydney Showground, 1953. (Source: Home and Away, hood_33013, SLNSW)

 

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Miss Easter Show contest, Royal Easter Show 1963, Sydney Showground. (Source: David J Dickson, Australian Photographic Agency – 13940, SLNSW)