Agricultural shows deploy resilience, innovation in response to COVID, floods, fire and drought | Ralph-Lauren

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The long drought followed by fires, floods and the pandemic have sapped the energy from many rural communities, but they are finding new ways to reinvent one of their oldest and biggest traditions — the agricultural show.

Many shows were cancelled during the pandemic and others are struggling, victims of creeping urbanisation and hard times in the bush.

But Ross Matheson, president of the Hawkesbury Show Society on the edge of the Blue Mountains, is urging others to show some resilience. 

Mr Matheson has just won an award for dedication from the Agricultural Societies Council of NSW.

Ross Matheson, Hawkesbury Show president
Ross Matheson was recognised for his four decades of volunteer service. (

Supplied: Hawkesbury District Agricultural Association


“The bushfires were soul-destroying for our community and we came out of the fires and went into the floods and COVID.

He said the secret to the Hawkesbury show’s success was giving people an experience of rural life despite being surrounded by the city. 

A ferris wheel lit up at night at the Orange showground.
After cancelling events in 2020, towns like Orange have held successful shows.(

Supplied: Orange Show Society


Calling the next generation

Volunteers are the core of every show society and they often stay involved for many years, like Peter Naylor.

“I was wheeled into that showground in a stroller, and as a kid growing up I helped my parents with the birds,” he said. 

His family has a strong connection with the Orange Show Society. 

There’s a Naylor grandstand at the showground, and while he is retired from the committee, Mr Naylor still travels to other shows with an antique merry-go-round.

He thinks retirees are now the key to the future of agricultural shows. 

The Blayney Show sign on the road side
The Blayney show has been recognised for innovation.(

Supplied: Blayney Agricultural and Pastoral Association


Success recognised

The Woodstock Memorial Show was recognised for its resilience at last weekend’s agricultural societies awards.

Secretary Alison Rutledge said it had to come up with new ways of doing things to keep the flame burning. 

“We had a virtual market laneway for all our provedores and artisans with their goods, and we constructed a new website and linked that to all our sponsors.”

The society conducted pet competitions on social media and turned its scarecrow exhibit into a drive-by event.

The show is the largest event in the village, north-east of Cowra, and has been running 75 years.

Ms Rutledge said it was crucial to the community.

“That’s really the backbone of the show, that catch-up with the community.”

The Agricultural Societies Council of NSW award for innovation went to the Blayney Agricultural and Pastoral Association and the Mungindi show society.

Blayney Agricultural and Pastoral Association president Phil Nankivell was also recognised in the excellence category.

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