Wagin Woolorama to celebrate 50th next year

Wagin Woolorama to celebrate 50th next year

The 13th annual show of the Wagin District Agricultural Society was opened by then Premier John Scaddan on October 25, 1913. Photos courtesy of the National Library of Australia, Trove website.

The 13th annual show of the Wagin District Agricultural Society was opened by then Premier John Scaddan on October 25, 1913. Photos courtesy of the National Library of Australia, Trove website.


Next year Wagin Woolorama will celebrate its 50th year.


IN 2022 the Wagin Woolorama will celebrate its 50th year.

At the same time the Wagin Agricultural Society (WAS) will notch up its 119th show.

The 49th event will be held this Friday, March 5 and Saturday, March 6.

Much has been written over the years about the monumental and difficult decision to switch from a traditional spring show to an autumn event in the mid-70s and credit still goes to those who proposed such a massive and successful change.

But equal credit also should go to their predecessors who organised the first show in 1901 and ran it continuously through the war years.

About 500 people attended the first Wagin-Arthur Districts Agricultural, Horticultural and Industrial Society show for which 469 were entries received.

A newspaper report at the time stated: "A good array of sheep, including Shropshires, Lincoln, Leicester and some very good Merinos were penned".

"Some very fine exhibits of local saddlery, made by Mr JCH Nenke, were much admired and they took champion prize and were highly commended.

"Mr Gell had an excellent array of farm products, including preserves, bacon, wheat, oats".

By 1908 the show had grown exponentially with a crowd of about 3000 people attending and exhibits topping the 1000 mark.

Another newspaper report judged that event quite harshly saying "spectators in the pavilion experienced some difficulty in securing an uninterrupted view of the exhibits".

Judging Merino rams at the 1913 show.

Judging Merino rams at the 1913 show.

"The building was hardly large enough for the purpose and it is a matter for surprise that the committee of such an apparently progressive town as Wagin was content with such a dilapidated and uncomfortable looking structure.

"The pavilion exhibits are probably the most important factor in the success of a show and the Wagin show committee should recognise this in view of the many fine exhibits displayed on this occasion".

Needless to say, exhibition sheds did spring up to complement the many marquees on the town's dedicated showground and recreation area, but the report indicates that Wagin had already acquired its fine knack of running well-patronised shows.

Wagin's early settlement would not be that different from that of surrounding towns in that its first European settlers were sandalwood cutters who shepherded small flocks of sheep through the bush.

Land was granted to pastoralists in the Wagin area from the late 1870s and the town came into existence after the Great Southern Railway line from Beverley to Broomehill was completed in 1889.

An Agricultural Hall was built and opened on December 1, 1896 and two years later the town of Wagin was officially proclaimed with a population of 175 people made up of 125 men and 50 women.

The website Trove contains many WAS newspaper articles that detailed monthly committee meeting and show reports.

Surviving minute books in the society's archives start from December 1941 and provide a snapshot of a community brimming with enthusiasm - despite the hardships of war - in the decade leading up to its 50th Jubilee show.

As the 1940s unfolded it brought rapid social change yet it also unearthed some issues and problems that remain the same 80 years later.

Agricultural societies were formed to promote and advance local rural industry through competitive displays of livestock, produce and skill as well as to provide an enormous social gathering.

The Nalder Brothers champion Clydesdale stallion at the 1913 Wagin show.

The Nalder Brothers champion Clydesdale stallion at the 1913 Wagin show.

They also were a conduit through which country communities lobbied different levels of government to help improve conditions for people on the land.

From its inception, the Wagin committee invited an official of the highest rank to open the show with invitations to WA Premiers Frank Wise (1946) and Sir Ross McLarty (1947) and State governor Sir James Mitchell (1948).

Once the official opening was performed, they were feted at banquets and balls as the community showed the richness of the land, its produce and progress.

This one day of the year was a time when the WAS committee had the ear of politicians and they didn't miss the opportunity to push their requests.

Rural banking regulations, land tax, the control of cape tulip, fox eradication and the promotion of a fire prevention week, were all issues appealed by the society executive and would not be out of place should they appear on a farmers' political agenda today.

Of more concern would be the £122 show profits handed over to the Patriotic Fund in 1942, a practice which continued for several years and involved all sectors of the community.

The show was more than a day of socialising among the livestock with one local church holding a paddy's market and along with the show ball and pictures on show night, the net profits were donated to the society's patriotic effort in 1943.

Through war years the population declined significantly and letters had to be sent to the deputy commissioner for rationing to ensure there were sufficient refreshments.

The collector of customs was required to grant a set amount of beer for sale at the Publican's Booth (bar), which in 1945, was 72 gallons (four kegs).

Views of the 1913 Wagin Show.

Views of the 1913 Wagin Show.

Today that would be barely enough pints to quench the thirst of 576 patrons.

There was also the problem of whether or not prisoners of war were to be charged admittance to the grounds but rules stipulated gypsies were not to be admitted under any circumstance.

Wagin eventually staked its date in mid-October but annual shows were never a foregone conclusion.

Each year they had to be officially proposed and supported and there was co-operation between neighbouring towns for show dates which were not as rigidly set as they are today.

Almost from the inception Wagin aimed for a mid-October show and eventually it became set in stone even it was held mid-week.

At Wagin in the 1940s sheep dog trials were a highlight, horse events, especially classes for draft and Clydesdale horses, were a popular feature, a fat lamb competition attracted sappy spring lambs and there were classes for locally produced wine.

A dairy cattle steward during the mid-40s was pleased to report his section included Guernseys, Jerseys, an Ayrshire, Friesian, Shorthorn and Australian Illawarra Shorthorns and warranted the attendance of the superintendent of dairying - there were no meat strains of cattle.

It seems "dairy cows could be supplied to farmers on favourable terms that extended over a period of two years and that the money was payable in quarterly instalments with five per cent, added".

There also was a class for the best collection of dairy produce and it wasn't until the mid-50s when the steward reported that section support was "very poor" that dairy was finally deleted.

Pigs always struggled for numbers, bees and honey, poultry, wine and farm produce were other sections included in the schedule, but at different points of time were dropped as circumstances changed or interest in exhibiting declined.

In the case of farm produce it was only deleted after the change to an autumn show meant farmers no longer had freshly cut oaten and wheaten and sheaves to enter or specially potted-up miniature plots of green clover and rye pasture to support the section.

In the earliest years of the show the "sheaves of oaten hay were bountiful with some even standing seven feet tall", according to newspaper reports.

The section also had classes for oaten and wheaten chaff, bran, flour and bushels of wheat.

Draft and heavy horses were deleted from the show schedule in 1949 and have never returned - unlike sheep dogs and poultry - and there is interest in reviving classes for bees and honey.

In the 1940s, the miscellaneous section 'W' included a class for best ironed white shirt, won by Mrs A Piesse and another for knitted socks - it is hard to imagine either of those classes ever making a return to the schedule.

In those days the Trotting Club held a token few races during the afternoon but eventually these were abandoned because of gambling concerns at the Public Booth.

Toilets, or sanitary conveniences as they were then known, were something of a problem by modern standards and their subject appeared numerous times in the minutes.

The main problem was that toilet pans had to be emptied and someone had to pay.

That was not always clear cut as the society was in protracted negotiations with the trotting and football clubs to make the showgrounds and adjoining recreational reserve a combined community sportsground.

It was a long time before agreement was reached and by then newly built flushing toilets solved all the problems.

The luncheon booth was another ongoing dilemma for the volunteers who ran it.

The ladies had the task of providing the official luncheon on linen-covered trestles to dignitaries and guests as well as serving cups of tea, scones and plates of meat and salad to showgoers - there were no fast-food options around the grounds.

One highlight of the 1940s noted in the minutes was the acquisition of their own bread cutting machine.

It was a progressive step as commercial sliced and packaged bread did not reach Australian shops until the mid-1950s.

On a wet day the luncheon booth's rusting old roof leaked and a working bee was required to go out and cut half a ton of wood for the stoves and then in later years the amount burgeoned as further wood was needed for the sideshow men and the show ball.

Keeping track of the crockery and cutlery that was hired out to the community was near impossible and invariably the ladies were forced to replenish their dwindling inventory, causing much anguish.

The corrugated iron and chicken wire shed was eventually replaced in 1975, silencing the years of protests.

A local Junior Farmers Club was formed in 1950 but even in the 1940s there was a focus on encouraging young people and discussions were held about the inclusion of a juvenile judging event.

Newspaper reports mention junior sheep, cattle and wool judging competitions for people under the age of 21 and it is recorded in later years, they ran the show night dance.

The high regard in which junior farmers was held came a few years later when in 1953 the WA champion junior farmer was invited to open the show.

Much (if not all) of the show's food and drink stalls were reserved for local proprietors and charity groups and it continued that way for another two decades before a strongly debated decision allowed 'outsiders' to trade at the local show.

The stalls were important society money raisers enabling donations to local causes, often to the local State and convent schools, indicating the far closer relationship the society had with them in earlier times.

In return, the schools supported the show with big and prominent displays and the Friday on which the show was held was declared a school holiday.

Section F was exclusively for students from local and surrounding towns who could enter classes for hand writing, ornamental printing, freehand drawing, sewing and darning and neatest homework book with classes divided for different standards (classes).

The section was well supported by the many one-teacher schools that disappeared in the 1950s with the introduction of school bus routes.

By the end of the 1940s the tempo of the show had changed.

Membership was waning - there was an appeal for new people to join the society and by the dawn of the 1950s the Wagin show had a different vibe.

To start the new decade the showgrounds was connected to AC electricity in early 1950 and to mark a half-century of achievement the committee held a two-day event.

The commercial flock competition was running successfully with trophies presented annually at the show and a pasture improvement group had been formed.

One of the features of the 1950 show was the appearance of the Wool Board trailer, the announcement of a shearing coaching scheme and the appointment of a local sheep and wool adviser - the wool boom was coming.

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