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Bonzer Words!: Show Time

...We watched the Scots and Irish dancing. Girls of all ages, dressed in kilts, long socks and shiny black shoes, danced and tapped. I loved the moment when crossed swords were placed on the floor and they stepped dexterously between the blades, heads erect, arms and fingers still in dainty pose. Dancing was worldly, but it was fun to watch...

Edel Wignell, who was brought up by parents who belonged to a strict fundamenalist sect, recalls the fun of the annual agricultural show.

Edel writes for Bonzer! magazine. Please do visit www.bonzer.org.au

Spruikers shouted.

“Roll up, roll up! See the tattooed lady!”

“Only sixpence to see the two-headed calf!”

For weeks I could hardly wait for the annual Agricultural Show on the Echuca oval. Crowds milled around the sideshows and queued for tickets.

“A waste of money,” said Dad.

Boxers, standing on a platform above the entrance to the boxing tent, punched and feinted and jogged on the spot. A spruiker, offering money, encouraged the local lads to challenge. A young man, urged by his mates, stepped forward. When there were enough contenders, people filed into the tent. The shouted commentary reached us as we walked on.

“How could they be so stupid?” said Dad. “Going around the country all year getting their brains boxed.”

I couldn’t imagine the way the sideshow people lived. My family belonged to a fundamentalist sect, which discouraged attendance at entertainments. Painted faces and fingernails, gipsy earrings and exotic clothes hinted at worldliness, even wickedness.

We watched the Scots and Irish dancing. Girls of all ages, dressed in kilts, long socks and shiny black shoes, danced and tapped. I loved the moment when crossed swords were placed on the floor and they stepped dexterously between the blades, heads erect, arms and fingers still in dainty pose. Dancing was worldly, but it was fun to watch.

At last we came to the merry-go-round. It was bliss to ride up and down on a painted horse to the rhythm of a jolly tune. We waved to Mum and Dad as we sailed past.

Pink fairy floss looked delicious—fluffy and sweet—but when I tasted it—ugghh! Every kid, except me, loved it. Why was my tummy so odd that fairy floss and ice-cream made me feel sick? We went to the Show to appreciate the work of country folk, rather than for entertainment. Primary industry was the most important labour of all, and the people who worked in it were the salt of the earth. It wasn’t fair that there were more politicians for Melbourne than for the whole of Victoria. In our house, democracy was a matter of square miles, not population.

The men examined the horses, cows, sheep and pigs, while we girls visited the Produce Pavilion with Mum and Auntie Lil. Looking at the preserved fruits, cakes and biscuits, I thought how splendid it would be to see my name neatly printed on a card for a prize. The decorated cakes, with different designs every year, were our favourites. Mum and Auntie Lil knew the names of frequent winners.

“Mrs So-and-so has won first prize again.”

We also looked at the needlework, crochet and knitting. Mum and Auntie Lil were experts and we would be, too. One day I would make an exquisite smocked babies’ frock like those displayed. After lunch we watched the parade of animals.

In 1946 HRH Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester (brother of King George VI and Governor of Victoria) and the Duchess were guests of the Show. The district schools lined the oval, every child holding a flag. We waited interminably until—a ripple of excitement—at last!

“They're here!”

As the sleek, black, open-topped car wheeled slowly round the oval, we had a long look at the Duke and Duchess who smiled and waved. We shook our flags, jumped up and down and shouted, “God save the King!”

It was the best Agricultural Show ever.


© Edel Wignell

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