OH, THE ULVERSTONE SHOW!
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.
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!’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!’
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’.