It’s a dying tradition, the travelling show. But in rural Australia it remains an annual fixture, and this weekend it was firmly on Cohuna’s calendar.
I pay my $15 entry fee and enter the footy show ground. Fairy floss and Dagwood dogs are the food vendor staples. Giant sticky lollipops that’ll end up on the ground covered in dirt also feature. Speakers blare out songs, and stall holders try to entice people to spend their money to win prizes they don’t want. The bright colours and lights are too much for children to resist. Sugared up, they run from temptation to temptation, barely able to keep their focus on which thing they’d like to do or have. Parents need to be prepared to fork out, or say no, a LOT.
It’s been 25 years since I went to a town show. With the exception of the clothing fashions and my aching knees, there’s no way of telling if this is 1985 or 2015. And it’s nice.
Three sections make up the show; the “trashy” section (showbags, rides, games), the animal section (dogs, horses, cows), and the pavilion. There’s used to be a shed full of animals (chickens, ducklings, goats, kids, lambs, piglets), but not today. I don’t know where children will buy pink, green, blue and purple dyed chicks from now. What has the world come to?
1. The trashy section. This area belongs to the young teens and the night. If it’s anything like it was in my youth, flirting will be the core activity … performed to a background of whooshing rides, pumping music, and flashing lights.
The fairground music, shoddy toys, and gaped-mouthed clowns’ slowly oscillating heads haven’t changed in decades. These three things prompt my nostalgia associated with the show, to be overlaid with nostalgia from the 80s movies “Big” and “The Lost Boys” (did any other movies make such an impact with their fairground scenes?).
I don’t take many photos in this area because, to be honest, I’m a little frightened by carnies. And I was so vehemently abused in New Orleans by a busker when I took a photo that I’m on guard. Carnies and (some) buskers are cut from the same cloth and it’s no fine silk.
2. The animal section is a pleasure. Teenage girls with tightly braided hair sit astride handsome and perfectly groomed horses. Farm children are dressed (impractically) in white and are judged both on the handling of their cow, and the cow herself. More than one cow ruins her chances by refusing to move and/or defecating.
But the dog section is my drug-of-choice, and it’s high-quality cocaine. I wander the dozens of tents, smiling at the variety of breeds. For two hours I’m fixed to the spot as I watch the judging. Hounds, spaniels, and terriers trot about – grinning much more than their stressed owners. Showing dogs is a serious business.
3. The pavilion is the gem of every show. A huge shed is packed with artwork, photography, craft, plants, vegetables, flowers and baked goods. I walk past two women “It’s all in the beating, apparently”. I suppress a giggle. They’re looking at the prize-winning sponge.
Will Marie’s fruitcake beat Ann’s? Has Kevin put too much at stake by entering his silverbeet instead of his carrots? Are Lee’s eggs the right shape and shade of brown? How will little Ella cope when she sees her drawing came in second, when her older sister’s painting came in first?
This is where we find out. X-Factor has nothing on the suspense, competition and drama of the pavilion.
The passion and creativity in this section is heart-warming and inspiring. People having hobbies, and taking pride in them, is refreshing. And that pride endures. My mother has a photo album filled with awards my sister and I won at the Kyabram show, 30 years ago.
The show reminds me of my father. Partly because he used to take me, but mostly because he got as excited by the entire thing as I did. As an adult, I can appreciate the show from a different perspective. The sense of community, the enjoyment people receive from their individual hobbies and accomplishments, and a feeling of innocent fun (provided you don’t make eye-contact with the carnies).
My friend’s little sister purchased a dyed chick from the Kyabram Show about 25 years ago. To keep it safe she used tables to create a “fenced” area for it in the living room. She placed the fourth and final table (wall) down …. on the chick. I didn’t witness the chick-crushing (thankfully) but I’ve never forgotten the story.