Many agricultural societies around Australia issue membership badges, sturdy decorated metal brooches or medals designed to be overtly displayed on a member's clothing. These badges authorise members to come and go through the gates during the annual show and to access 'members only' areas of the showgrounds. Exploring how members badges incorporate various symbols, such as royal crowns and gold details, reveals how show society members have sought to assert a certain social status by virtue of their ownership and control of rural lands.
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Green and gold enamel Royal Agricultural Society NSW members badge, 1930. Donated by Warren Colledge.
This Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales members badge features a central scroll bearing the words 'ROYAL AGRIC. SOC. N.S.W.', topped by a crown and below '1930', indicating that the member has paid his dues for that year. The design is understated, with gold highlights on a green enamel background, and the badge is quite small, meant to be worn on a suit lapel. These details suggest that the member has no need to brashly advertise his status, reflecting perhaps an agricultural society with a conservative style.
The legend across the badge abbreviates the words of the agricultural society's name, with the exception of 'ROYAL', perhaps too important a word to be shortened. The focus on this term is accentuated by the crown at the top of the badge, proudly stating the agricultural society's enjoyment of royal patronage and, more generally, its association with the monarchy. Gold accents on the badge reinforce a connection with wealth, power and authority.
This badge does not make arguments about the nature of agriculture as a rural and/or industrial enterprise. Rather, it symbolises an individual’s belonging to a community of people committed the shared purpose of agricultural improvement and rural enterprise. It also asserts the superior social standing of those associated with the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales and the annual Sydney Easter show that it organises. In a sense, it associates agriculture with a certain strata of producers, with the gentleman land-holder who, through wealth and connection, is allied with an aristocratic class and who embraces conservative values in style and dress.
Royal Agricultural Society of N.S.W members badge, attached to an orange cord, and ladies badge, 1972-73. Donated by Warren Colledge.
This object is made of two parts, a shield shaped members badge issued by the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales in 1972 for the 1972-73 financial year, attached to a cord, and a rhombus shaped ladies badge in the form of a brooch. The badges and cord clasp are metal, decorated with bright orange enamel and gold trim. It is interesting to compare their design to the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW members badge of 1930. Where the 1930 badge is understated and plain, the 1972 badges, while still small, are coloured an exuberant orange. This stylistic change no doubt reflects, in part, the changing fashions of the day and particularly the popularity orange enjoyed during the 1970s. The differences may also suggest an agricultural society aiming to move away from being identified with the social elite establishment towards a more contemporary image.
The division between these two badges, however, suggests the perpetuation of an historical association of agricultural societies, and by extension agriculture, with masculinity. These badges suggest that, at the Royal Agricultural Society, men were able to become 'members', while women necessarily remained 'ladies' by virtue of their gender, differentiated from members and essentially excluded from full belonging to the society. This division arguably reflected the idea that the real work of agriculture, its promotion and organisation was the province of men, while women had ancillary roles as helpers, supporters and social ornaments. These clearly delineated gender roles are suggested in the badges' designs. Their different shapes ensure that the two would not be confused or mistaken for each other; the members badge reminiscent of an aristocratic coat of arms or a martial shield, the ladies badge more decorative and demure, echoing fashion jewellery.
Gold-coloured souvenir brooch, probably from the Parkes, New South Wales show, 1923. Donated by Warren Colledge.
This show souvenir, probably from the 1923 Parkes show, brings together three elements, including two not usually associated with agricultural shows. The base of the design features a boomerang, topped by a kookaburra (or possibly another type of kingfisher), and a shield carrying an image of a sheaf of harvested wheat. The brooch is in gold, with black paint or lacquer worked into the boomerang to contrast the legend, 'SHOW SOUVENIR 1923'. The brooch's featuring of its souvenir status reminds us of the show's role as a form of popular entertainment, a fun 'day out'.
This brooch seems to particularly assert the Australianness of the show, deploying symbols of people and animals unique to the continent. The boomerang references Aboriginal people, in terms of the distinction they bring to the nation as exemplars of a unique what was then called 'race', rather than in terms of any lived experience or particular individual. The kookaburra, depicted standing on a branch holding something in its beak, similarly signals Australia's distinctive fauna. These two elements may also communicate a sense of fun and enjoyment: the kookaburra renowned for its laugh, and the boomerang suggesting the then widespread European Australian conception of Aboriginal people as child-like. It is also possible that the 1923 show featured boomerang throwing demonstrations or competitions, often a component of country shows of the period.
The boomerang and kookaburra frame in the brooch a shield-shape bearing an image of a sheaf of wheat. The sheaf is a traditional symbol of agriculture, of plenty and bounty, and here it is mounted within a shape reminiscent of a medieval heraldic banner, historically used to symbolise and announce an aristocratic family. The brooch thus links agriculture with nobility and nobility with plenty, suggesting that they produce the wealth represented in the gold colour that dominates the design. It also, however, links these meanings to Australia, asserting the role of agriculture as an ancient practice that is also distinctively Australian.
Images, symbols and designs can be interpreted in many different ways. What do you think this object says about agriculture? Send us a comment