A Look Back at The First EVER Show – 200 Years Later

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South view of Parramatta NSW1820, by Joseph Lycett

After months of preparation, many long car journeys for humans and animals alike, and hours spent scrutinizing showbag options – finally the marquees are erected, hats and sunscreen are packed: the first day of the 2022 Sydney Royal Easter Show is here! 

To mark the occasion, this morning on Show Radio is all about ‘firsts’ (tune in at 10 am to hear us talk to the first people through the gates and about all the other exciting firsts this year). A historic 200 years after the Royal Agricultural Society was founded, it’s the perfect time to look back on the first EVER show. 

How it started

The earliest version of what has become the Sydney Royal Easter Show took place in 1823 at Paramatta Park. Although not labelled a ‘Show’ (or ‘Shew’) until the following year, the Royal Agricultural Society arranged its quarterly general meeting to coincide with the half-yearly Parramatta Fair and advertised that there would be competitions with cash prizes!  

Some of the competitions were interesting…

While today thousands of individual prizes are awarded to all manner of animals from Guineapigs to Clydesdales, in 1823 the RAS awarded just thirteen ‘premiums’ – ten of which were for Merino Sheep. They also judged the ‘best Australian’ heifer and ‘best colonial-bred’ bull and stallion.

Rather more bizarrely by today’s standards are the five categories for servants. The servants were awarded premiums totalling 92 Spanish dollars (I can’t work out the exact conversion but this is somewhere in the realm of $5,000-10,000 today). This included two prizes for ‘Best Shepherd’ – judged by the number of lambs they had ‘weaned’ – as well as first, second and third place for ‘Man-Servant(s), employed in husbandry or grazing, or the management of the dairy, who brings satisfactory certificates of good conduct during his servitude, and has been the longest Period in one Service’.  

Another competition that has thankfully not continued was for the greatest number of dingoes culled, where participants had to provide dingo tails as proof.  

The legacy

One aspect of the day that has not changed is that competitors exhibited their animals publicly and they were judged onsite. Society members and general public alike could view the animals and watch the judges’ inspections at the fairgrounds before prizes were awarded in Walker’s Inn at noon. Afterwards The Sydney Gazette praised the event and its influence on ‘the public spirit of breeding and grazing’.

And so began the Show’s legacy that continues to this day – as a celebration of agriculture and an opportunity for education.

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