Local organisations and societies have a unifying affect on rural communities, whether they are small, grass-roots groups, or larger organisations. Most groups are not-for-profit and volunteer-run, made up of committed individuals passionate about their local communities and interests.
Agricultural societies promote rural industry through the competitive display of produce and livestock at annual shows. A feature of rural life in NSW from the earliest days, agricultural shows provide a focal point for the local community and a forum for the exchange of ideas. There are now almost 200 regional agricultural societies in NSW alone, and more than 550 agricultural shows held annually across Australia.
One of the earliest societies was the Agricultural Society of New South Wales, which was established in 1822 to encourage rural interests across the fledgling colony. Central to the Society’s activities was their annual Show which was first held in Parramatta in 1823. Sydney’s Royal Easter Show is now the largest agricultural event in Australia, providing city folk with a glimpse of rural life and produce.
Many rural and isolated communities suffer from a lack of essential health and support services. The Country Women’s Association was formed in 1922 to improve the welfare and conditions of women and families in country areas. Rural medical services such as the Bush Nursing Association of NSW and the Royal Flying Doctor Service have also made a real difference in improving health care and emergency services in remote areas.
Local churches and schools were some of the earliest institutions established in rural and isolated areas. Local ministers and clergy had a leadership role within the community. Early schools were often little more than single rooms with one teacher. As rural areas grew, larger schools were built, however they were always under threat of closure as the population of areas waxed and waned.
The involvement of young people in rural youth groups and societies is important in ensuring a sustainable rural community into the future. Organisations such as Junior Farmers Clubs and Rural Youth Council of NSW offered a social network and agricultural education for young people at a local level. Agricultural schools such as the Hawkesbury Agricultural College provided more formal training in farming techniques and life on the land. Sadly, the exodus of young people leaving country areas has always been a problem for rural Australia.
Royal Agricultural Society of NSW
In 1822, the Agricultural Society of New South Wales was formed by a group of leading citizens to encourage and promote the future of agriculture through improvements in breeding of animals and the growth of local produce and crops. The society’s membership read like a who’s who of the colony at the time – leading land-owners, stock-owners and merchants, Samuel Marsden, William Cox, Hannibal McArthur, John Blaxland to name a few. It was hoped a centralised body would have the affect of raising standards in agriculture throughout the fledgling colony.
“… a public spirit of agricultural improvement shall be implanted in the breast of all”
- Prospectus...of the Agricultural Society of NSW, 1822
Royal Agricultural Society of NSW
The Society sought to encourage and promote rural industry through competition, education and events. At its centre was the regular judging of animals and agricultural produce at an annual Show, the first of which was staged in Parramatta the following year. Despite its initial success the Society was forced to disband in 1836 due to poor economic conditions and lack of support, however it re-formed in 1857 with renewed vigour. From 1868, the Journal of the Agricultural Society of NSW was published, the first of its kind in Australia, containing practical information and latest agricultural developments for those on the land.
The annual Shows moved from Parramatta to Sydney’s Prince Alfred Park after 1868, and then to a new site at Moore Park in 1882. Although little more than scrubland at the time, it was here that the Society built a showground which would be home to the Show for the next 116 years. Only the 1919 Bubonic Plague and World War II prevented the Show going ahead in that time. The Society had been renamed the ‘Royal’ Agricultural Society of NSW in 1891, by special permission of Queen Victoria, and the first 'Royal' Easter Show was held the same year.
The Show’s competitive displays showcased the best animals and rural produce – from prize-winning cattle, sheep and pigs to fruit and vegetables exhibits, as well as displays of wood chopping, showjumping, and even ploughing demonstrations. It was also an opportunity for the exchange of ideas and practices, being an opportunity for farmers to gain first-hand knowledge of farming trends and technological advances.
By the mid 1930s, as the grip of the Depression had begun to lift, the Show’s attendance figures increased and there was a growing optimism in Australia’s agricultural future. The 1935 Royal Easter Show was the biggest to date, with the largest attendances, prize-money and competitive entries.
Since its inception, the Show has gone from little more than a country fair to Australia’s largest annual event attracting over a million visitors each year. In 1998 the Show moved to a new showground at Sydney Olympic Park at Homebush Bay. Bigger than ever, it now features more commercial and entertainment activities, however the promotion of our rural industries is still the mainstay of the Show. Traditionally about 'bringing the country to the city', it remains a celebration of our rural heartland.