Art gallery exhibition reveals a rich history

GRAND PARADE: Allan Doney, Bendigo Agricultural Show grand parade, 1957, gelatin silver print. Allan Doney Photographic Collection, National Trust of Australia.​

GRAND PARADE: Allan Doney, Bendigo Agricultural Show grand parade, 1957, gelatin silver print. Allan Doney Photographic Collection, National Trust of Australia.​

The 2016 Bendigo Agricultural Show will be held over two days, this Friday and Saturday. Proud animal owners are no doubt already busy primping and preening their prized stock in the hope of bringing home a chest full of ribbons.

The Bendigo Agricultural Show features in the current Post Office Gallery exhibition, Menagerie: animals in Bendigo history. Trophies, souvenirs and badges of officials, photographs and other historic ephemera sit alongside oral histories.

Despite contemporary agricultural industries being significantly different from the early days of European settlement in Bendigo, the show carries on showcasing agricultural achievements and attracting large crowds to participate in the now crowded arena of events, displays, side shows and exhibitions. It continues to be managed by a small team of passionate community members who work hard to keep the long-standing tradition alive. 

In the mid-1800s, agricultural shows, common throughout England, sprang up across the Australian colonies, implemented to encourage the growth of agricultural endeavour. They celebrated the achievements of producers, as well as facilitating the sharing of ideas and dissemination of information about new farming methods and equipment. Such events were a source of great community pride and connection, as well as a means of raising the profile of agriculture. 

In 1863, the Bendigo Agriculture and Horticulture Society (est 1859) held their first spring show in Market Square (near the current town hall). The 1875 show was the first to be held at the society’s first permanent home, the Lower Reserve.

By 1890 the Bendigo showgrounds were said to be the best outside Melbourne and people travelled great distances to exhibit animals, produce, handicrafts and farm machinery, while enjoying the festivities.

With a permanent base and now firmly embedded in the annual calendar of events, the Bendigo Agricultural Show flourished. Alongside exhibits and displays, the grand parade was always a highlight with everything from clydesdales to hunting, buggy and sulky horses along with small ponies, dairy and beef cattle, sheep, pigs and dogs.

Animals have continued to be a main attraction at the show, both as entertainment and competition exhibits. There was no show held between 1939 and 1947 when the army used the showgrounds as a training and rehabilitation centre during and just after the World War II. 

In 1968, the first Bendigo Agricultural Show was held at its current location.

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