For a Tasmanian  farm kid in the 1950’s and early 60’s, there was nothing to equal the excitement of the first Saturday in November…. ULVERSTONE SHOW DAY!

Glimpsed from  Mr Bowden’s  old school bus, the tents and caravans of the sideshow operators  seemed  mysterious and exotic. Towering above all else was the ferris wheel;  ultimate symbol of the show. The sight of it  filled me with near speechless joy.

Like most kids in those days, we had to earn our spending money.  I suppose it fostered self-reliance, but it also  turned my siblings and I into mercenary little brats. Asked to perform the most trivial of tasks we would demand to know how much we would be paid. If mum was in a good mood this was OK, but if she was tired and crabby  we set the table for nothing and wished we’d shut up!

Everyone dressed to the nines for the show, and our wonderful  mum (who detested sewing) managed to turn out elaborately frilled dresses on her ancient treadle sewing machine. Accessories were also important.  Photographs show us in white shoes and socks,  with handbags and gloves. Oh yes..  and hats! It was hardly sensible attire for coping with fairy floss and dagwood dogs dripping with tomato sauce.

Ready for the Ulverstone Show

Myself (left) and siblings in the garden, all ready to go.

Tasmanian weather is notoriously unpredictable.  On show morning my parents would anxiously scan the skies. Mum worried about the new spring outfits  (especially her own!). Dad worried because he was a member of the Show Society and hoped for a good turn-out. We kids didn’t  care one iota.  Dad helped with the parking so we always went anyway, even in torrential downpours. It must have been a chilly day when the photo below was taken. Note the glass bead necklaces ‘won’ at the sideshows…… ‘Every child gets a prize!’

Ulverstone Show 1950s

Friend Helen between myself and sister Robyn.

Once through the entrance gates we were immersed into a kaleidoscope  of  sight  and sound. Axemen smacked into their logs, horses snorted and stamped, and  sideshow spruikers shouted  for customers. All around wafted the smell of animal manure, greasy foods and the unidentifiable odour that was just ‘show’.  We kids breathed it all in, and were off!   My sister and I  barely heard dad   call out,  ‘Don’t waste all your money on those clowns!’  Of course we charged straight over and stuffed half our loot down their necks before the folly of it began to  dawn.

We had  one  noble if misguided objective besides our own pleasure.  Mum’s birthday fell around show day and we dreamed of winning her a pair of ‘gold’ slippers. Mind you, I never saw any on the prize shelves, and we were always ‘one-off’ winning anything of  remotely similar glamour. Instead, we carted home plastic  snow domes, and  ghastly  ornaments made from plaster of Paris.

Those insatiably hungry clowns!

Those insatiably hungry clowns!

All the sideshows were two bob (twenty cents) a go, and we usually had about two pounds (four dollars) each to spend.  It went a remarkably long way.  We made wild throws with bamboo rings, trying to lassoo  watches . We rode on  everything in sight, except the little bucket seats on long chains. My sister told me one flew off years before, and the person ended up  next door in Hobbs’ sawmill.  We were mesmerized by the rather creepy and politically incorrect  sideshows; the quarter man,  the half-woman man,  and Jimmy Sharman’s boxing tent. No age limit for entry as I recall.  As for the boxing, there were always a few young bloods ready to put up their dooks in the hope of winning a few quid.

Sideshow boxing tent.

Local lambs to the slaughter.

Oh yes, and then there Bubbles the  Busty  Stripper. Bubbles writhed around behind huge pink fans until eventually she was banned, much to my brother’s dismay.

I longed to buy a fancy Kewpie doll on a stick, but could  usually only afford a plastic windmill.

The ultimate treasure for little girls.

The ultimate treasure for little girls.


She's got one!

She’s got one!

Around lunchtime we were surfeited enough to to pay mum and dad a brief visit. The car would be parked  against the main arena fence, where they watched the show jumping and  grand parade, picnicking on sandwiches and  flask coffee. My siblings and I considered this inexplicable , surrounded as we were by doughnuts,  battered saveloys and snow cups.  We disdainfully refused slices of home-made cream cake,  normally most acceptable.

Sunken fruit spells disaster. If only the judge's knife didn't reveal all!

Sunken fruit spells disaster. If only the judge’s knife didn’t reveal all!


In order to conserve funds my sister and I would visit  the craft pavilion with mum. It shames me to admit that as she looked over the cooking entries with an expert eye, we gloried in the failures. Misshapen, pallid scones or lopsided date loaves aroused in us a kind of amused sympathy.




Having inherited mum’s dislike of sewing, I skipped past the needlework section very smartly.  There were never any failures here, even in the junior class. I always thought uncomfortably of the grubby little  doily or tray-cloth,  stuffed in my sewing box at school.

Familiarity breeds contempt.  As  farm kids, the livestock pavilions held little interest  for us as long as  coins still  jingled in our little white handbags. At the first drought of funds we could  confidently approach dad for another ten bob. That gone, the prize cows and sheep became slightly more worthy of attention. The dog and cat pavilions were even further down the interest scale. Finally, at around five o’clock, one of us  would sigh and say; ‘Oh well, I suppose we’d better look at the chooks!’


Even fancy chooks had little appeal!

Even fancy fowls had little appeal!

These days I  live in the Blue Mountains, and  attend the famous  Royal Easter Show in Sydney. It may be on a far grander scale, but  kids   leave with the same memories; snow cones , dagwood dogs and whirly things on sticks.  Fairy floss and the ferris wheel,  loud noise…. and tired feet. And in the late afternoon you will still see a grubby child squatting on a well-trodden patch of grass; delving into  showbags in a state of utter  bliss.

Here is another story about growing up in small town Tasmania; KINDERGARTEN!

Feel free to leave a comment. I would love to hear other  peoples’ experiences of shows and country fairs. DON’T FORGET TO COMPLETE THE LITTLE ANTI-SPAM SUM BEFORE PRESSING ‘SUBMIT’.


  1. Pauline, I recall the same kind of experiences and excitement as you did. Yes, my mother would sew on her reliable treadle Singer sewing machine and create some lovely dresses for myself and younger sister. The sister above me was allowed to dress in a little more “grown-up” style of dress. I remember one year our mother made a pleated skirt which was stitched to a white cotton bodice over which we wore a lovely frilly blouse with a waistcoat that matched our pleated skirt. She wanted us to remain neat and tidy and so she didn’t rely on making the skirt a belted one on a waist. We were always anxious about the weather as we didn’t want our beautiful clothes covered by a raincoat. We rose while it was still dark and drove the long miles to the local country show. We lived way out in the country as my parents owned a sugarcane property. One show time we almost didn’t have a car to go backwards and forwards to as my father had bought the latest Ford V8 and being the only one in the area, the dealer wanted it on display. We still managed to go in and out of our car in the display to store our kewpie dolls on sticks and other poor examples of toys won on the various knock-ems. Good times were usually had by all.

    • Pauline

      Oh Heather, I so loved you memories. Yes, we had those pleated skirts with the white bodices and waistcoat! My mother would have liked to enter us in the Miss Showgirl contest, but we always got too grubby from fairy floss and dagwood dogs!

Leave a Reply

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.