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Historical objects

Showing agriculture

Shows have played an important role in the development of Australian agriculture. As European settlement spread across the continent during the 19th century, agricultural and industrial associations were formed to foster the adoption of farming practices understood as key to increasing food and fibre production and creating economic prosperity. These associations organised annual shows, creating venues for inventors, companies and government agencies to promote to primary producers key components of ‘modern’, industrial, agriculture. Shows displayed new technologies designed to reduce labour costs, demonstrated scientific advances promising increased yields and organised classes to encourage pastoralists and farmers to breed stock returning more income for less inputs.

A black and white photo of Joan Stanbury with prize cattle.
Joan Stanbury, Miss Australia for 1959, with prize cattle at an agricultural show. Donated by Joan Stanbury.

Agricultural shows also emerged as important avenues for primary producers to promote the contribution of farming to Australia’s society and economy and, by extension, the significance of country regions to the nation’s prosperity, culture and identity. As Australia grew more urbanised during the 20th century, organisers increasingly used the shows to promote popular engagement with and support for agriculture and the rural areas in which it is concentrated. Today, many shows, particularly city shows, market themselves as a chance for the ‘city’ to meet the ‘country’.

Objects from the shows

Throughout their history, agricultural shows and the associations organising them have generated a range of objects that record their interests and events. These include medals and certificates awarded to class winners as prizes, advertising publications and members’ badges. Here we examine a small selection of these objects, exploring how we can interpret their designs, imagery and inscriptions as revealing something of how shows have constructed certain understandings of Australian agriculture. We are particularly interested in tracing the ways these objects suggest how agricultural shows have represented, reinforced and perhaps fractured ideas about food production as inherently a rural and industrial enterprise.

Photographs Photographs
Mounted and framed photographs record successful show exhibits.

Photographs Show cataloguesCatalogues reveal links between shows and commercial enterprises

Photographs Prize certificates
Show prize certificates feature portraits of farm animals and bucolic rural scenes.

Photographs Members badges
Decorative enamel and metal badges signify membership of an agricultural show society.

Photographs Medals and rosettes
Decorative medals and colourful rosettes reveal changing styles of agricultural show prizes.

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