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Camden Show 2023

The show comes alive after Covid and floods

The 2023 Camden Show proves its resilience and came alive after the disasters of Covid and the 2022 floods when the show was postponed and cancelled.

Camden Show office for 2023 in the 1936 addition to the 1890s agricultural hall. The show office staff were forced out of their former office space underneath the hall due to the 2022 floods. (I Willis, 2023)

Exhibitors and competitors

The arts and crafts pavilion is a good place to start, the must-see at all country shows. On display are the hidden talents of the local area.

The talent of sugar artists is on display in the Arts and Crafts Pavillion. Some of these exhibits are true works of art. (I Willis, 2023)

A staple at all country shows are local farmers and producers who display their animals and produce. The cattle are always an interesting area to watch, and dairying has a rich history in the Camden area going back to the 1880s.

Dairying has been a staple farming activity in the Camden area for over 130 years. These dairy cattle show some of the local talent and why dairy farming has been so important in the local area for so long. (I Willis, 2023)

The produce exhibit is a snapshot of what can be grown and produced locally. Each of these products has been a vital part of the local farming scene over previous decades and in the present. For example, the apple industry was very important in The Oaks for most of the 20th century, and viticulture or growing grapes occurred across the Elderslie area for most of the last 100 years.

Apples, vegetables and other produce have been an important of the farming scene in the local area since the time of European settlement. An examination of Camden Show catalogues over the years shows the importance of these farming products for the local area. (I Willis, 2023)

The flower exhibits are always popular with show visitors, and 2023 is no exception. The flowers have moved out of the main pavilion to a more compact area and the number of exhibitors is down on previous years.

Flower exhibits at the 2023 Camden Show. This image shows the ever-popular dahlias. (I Willis, 2023)

Exhibitors are a mixture of keen amateurs and professional producers. All compete for the glory and fame that comes with first place. The cash prizes are really only pocket money, and it is the kudos that is the attraction.

A happy exhibitor who won a first with red capsicum and a highly commended with her squash and eggplants. All produce was locally grown. (I Willis, 2023)

The Show Ball and the Camden Show 2023 Young Woman of the Year

An often overlooked part of the show is the show ball and the announcement of the winner of the Camden Show 2023 Young Woman of the Year. The competition started in 1962 as the Camden Miss Showgirl and was rebranded in 1979 as the Showgirl competition. It is an excuse for the young, and not so young, folk of the area to get frocked up and enjoy themselves.

The promotional material for the annual show ball where the winner of the former Showgirl competition is announced for the following year. (CSS)

The winner of the Camden Show 2023 Young Woman of the Year competition was announced on the front page of The District Reporter.

The cover of The District Reporter, 4 November 2022, where the winner of the Camden Show 2023 Young Woman of the Year was announced. (TDR)

Camden Show promotional material

Much literature is produced at showtime; one of the most important is the show catalogue. The schedule lists all categories that competitors might want to enter with their animals, produce or crafts, the entry fees, the winning prizes and many other show time details.

The cover of the 2023 Camden Show catalogue and schedule (Camden Show Society)

Then there is the showground map which details all the exhibitors, events, show rings, entertainment, show bags, conveniences, parking and lots of other information.

The map of the 2023 Camden Show was produced by The District Reporter, and in comparison with maps of shows from earlier years, it is clear how the show has grown in size and moved into the surrounding Camden Bicentennial Equestrian Park from the boundary of Onslow Park. This year the Camden Bicentennial Equestrian Park is accommodating parking, horse events, the ute show, sheep, goats and alpacas, and sheep dog trials. (CSS)

One innovation this year has been the Agricultural Discovery Booklet for children. The booklet is full of puzzles, quizzes, colouring in, find-a-word, crosswords and other stuff. A great thing for the kids.

The cover of the Camden Show 2023 Agricultural Discovery Booklet (CSS)

Information stalls and exhibitors

The 2023 Camden Show has many exhibitors, including commercial enterprises, the show guild members who provide rides and entertainment, government information services, community organisations and many others.

The wonderful girls were found at the NSW Government Land Information Service exhibitor stall. These chooks were proudly standing guard over and host of information brochures and booklets and looking after the staff on duty. But these girls have their enemies and on the other side of the exhibitor stall in the corner were a number of them on display (I Willis, 2023)

Some of the enemies of the chooks look very menacing and dangerous at the NSW Government Land Information Services exhibitor stall. These feral animals are a nuisance and pest for farmers across rural New South Wales, with the fox starting to appear in the urban part of the Camden area. (I Willis, 2023)

Commercial exhibitors

The Sadek Motor Group exhibitor display shows the old and new motor cars. Displays by local motor dealers at the Camden Show has been a regular feature going back to the 1930s. This 1930s vehicle has attracted the attention of a showgoer dressed to drive away this historic specimen. (I Willis, 2023)

Exhibitors from the community

Community groups are regular exhibitors at the Camden Show, including the Country Women’s Association, Camden Historical Society, Camden Area Family History Society, Camden Hospital Women’s Auxiliary, Girl Guides, the Camden Show Society itself and many others.

The NSW Country Women’s Association is a regular participant at country shows across the state providing tea, coffee and scones for hungry showgoers. Here the Camden CWA signage is showing the 2023 Camden Show-goer the way to refresh their day with tea and scones. The women also sold a variety of other articles to assist their fundraising. (I Willis, 2023)

Show promotional liftout

Promoting the show is always essential, and The District Reporter has had their show liftout for many years. The liftout is part of the only print edition of a newspaper that still circulates in the local area and has the show’s history and many stories about show personalities, events and exhibitors.

The cover of the 2023 Camden Show liftout from The District Reporter. This print media has traditionally been the primary way the Camden Show Society has promoted the show over the last 130 years. (TDR)

The role of social media has increased in recent years as a way to promote the show.

This handsome specimen of an animal was used to promote the show on Facebook and Instagram in the lead-up to the 2023 Camden Show. Social media is an integral part of promoting the Camden Show in recent years. (CSS)

The show ends after another year

The show rides have ended, and it is pack-up time at the end of the 2023 Camden Show. Show guild members gather their bits and pieces, pack their rides and travel to the next country show. They will be back next year. (I Willis, 2023)

Packing up includes collecting the rubbish bins.

The bins have been emptied and are awaiting collection at the show’s end. The rides have ended, and will not be back until next year. The showground is starting to return to normality after the two-day festival of fun, frolic, entertainment and serious judging of stock, crafts and produce. Onslow Park is returning to normal. (I Willis, 2023)

Art · Attachment to place · Belonging · Craft · Design · Monuments · Narellan · Place making · Public art · Sense of place · Storytelling · Uncategorized

Goanna on the loose

Public art at Narellan

Climbing a pole tucked away in the corner of Elyard Reserve Narellan NSW is a wooden carving of a goanna climbing a pole.

The artwork is amongst mature trees, and the goanna could be imaged climbing one of the adjacent gum trees.

A wood carving of a goanna climbing a tree in Elyard Reserve at Narellan NSW. There is no artist accreditation. (I Willis, 2023)

There is no credit given to the artist.

Wood sculpture is one of the oldest art forms, going back centuries. It is a form of art common to all cultures because it is low cost, widespread and plasticity.  

The drawback to this artwork is that the weather, insects, and wood can degrade rapidly. For these reasons, bronze, marble and other types of stone are usually preferred by artists for monumental work.

Wood carving requires gouging tools, chisels and mallets and hammers. The types of wood carving can include chip carving and relief carving in hardwood or softwood.

The goanna has been climbing the pole at Elyard Place for many years. It is a relief work from hardwood, like the trees adjacent to the artwork. The weather has taken its toll on the work, with a large crack running through the centre of the pole.

The goanna has suffered at the hands of the weather, and there is a significant split the length of the artwork (I Willis, 2023)
Art · Artists · Attachment to place · Camden High School · Community identity · Cultural Heritage · Dharawal · Education · Elyard Reserve, Narellan · Heritage · Monuments · Narellan · Place making · Public art · Storytelling

Public artwork at Narellan

A mosaic wonder

I was wandering through Elyard Reserve at Narellan with my granddaughter and found a piece of public art hidden in plain sight.

The artwork is a bench covered in mosaic tiles and is all but forgotten in the corner of the park amongst the slides, swings and climbing equipment for the youngsters.

The front of the mosaic bench in Elyard Reserve at Narellan (I Willis, 2023)

The mosaic was commissioned in 2009 as The Community Harmony Mosaic Project, funded by the Australian Government Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

The artwork was a community collaboration between

  1. Leppington Public School
  2. Hope Christian School
  3. Camden High School
  4. Camden Youth Café.
  5. And ceramic artists Selma Fida and Natalie Valiente.
The back of the mosaic bench in Elyard Reserve at Narellan (I Willis, 2023)

According to a bio on Facebook, Selma Fida is a local artist who presented an immersive exhibition of realistic hand-made porcelain flowers at the Casula Powerhouse in 2019. The show was the result of the 2018 Casula Powerhouse Scholarship Prize. Selma states that the exhibition explored how flowers speak a universal language of care and empathy through celebrations, anniversaries, births, wars, sickness and death. (Facebook)

Natalie Valiente is a self-employed ceramic artist from Eagle Vale, NSW, who has exhibited at the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre. Natalie’s recent collaboration with Susan Grant and Dharawal elders called Life Blood is on permanent display at the National Herbarium of NSW forecourt at the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan. According to a report in the National Indigenous Times, the artwork has the eucalyptus tree at its heart. A magnified gum leaf became the design which has been sandblasted onto the concrete forecourt. The artists drew their inspiration from being on Country and the grey gums, ironbark and forest red gums that covered the landscape. (NIT, 22 April 2022)

The end view of the mosaic bench in Elyard Reserve at Narellan (I Willis, 2023)
Active citizenship · Agency · Agricultural heritage · Attachment to place · Belonging · Camden · Camden Show · Camden Showgirl · Camden Story · Community identity · Cultural Heritage · Festivals · Local History · Local Studies · Myths · Pageant · Place making · Ruralism · Sense of place · Showgirl competition · Volunteering · Volunteerism · Women's history · Young Woman Competition

Young Woman trumps the Showgirl

Rebranding the Showgirl competition

In late 2022 the Camden Show Society announced that Rubey Williams had been named the Camden Show 2023 Young Woman of the Year.

Ms Williams is the first Camden Show Young Woman of the Year after the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW (RAS) changed the branding of the former Showgirl competition in 2019.

The competition had been rebranded earlier from the Miss Showgirl competition, which began in 1962. The name of the competition changed in 1979 by dropping ‘Miss’ from the title, indicating the competition moving with the times. (Canberra Times, 21 February 2019) And as Kate Darian-Smith has argued, changes in the competition have reflected changing representations of rural life and country towns, and the success of country shows (Darian-Smith, 2002, 17)

Yet there were supporters of the old name and the traditions it represented. In 2019 the Agricultural Societies Council of NSW (ASC) showgirl committee spokesperson Peter Gooch said, ‘We don’t want to change the name.’

‘Why change what’s not broken? It’s tradition and means so much to the show.’ (Canberra Times, 21 February 2019)

Dissatisfaction with Showgirl

Yet there was dissatisfaction with the marketing of the Showgirl concept.

Camden 2009 Showgirl Lauren Elkins, who came third in Sydney 2009, said there needed to be improved marketing for the competition at a grassroots level.

“The calibre of young women going to Sydney far exceeds what it was ten years ago,” she said.

“We need to look at how it is marketed and tell the stories of the girls of where they are and how they are developing.

“We are losing so many traditions; it would be a real shame to change the name, it’s tradition.”  (Canberra Times, 21 February 2019)

Ms Elkins, the 2009 Camden Showgirl Lauren Elkins, certainly had an eye on tradition when she prepared the 2009 Royal Agricultural Society Guide for Showgirl. The guide stressed etiquette, grooming, manners, dress sense, presentation and socialising skills – a solid list of skills for any aspiring job applicant. The competition even offered deportment lessons for entrants.  

Enduring anachronism

The Showgirl competition, formerly Miss Showgirl, has been an enduring anachronism and has withstood the assault of various forces and speaks well for its resilience.

I have maintained that

While the aims of the competition have not changed, part of its resilience has been its ability to cope with changes in the representation of rural life and women themselves. It expresses the agency of the young women who enter, whether university students or shop assistants, and provides personal development opportunities.  

These sentiments align with the feelings of Camden Show 2023 entrant Emily Perry who said she entered the competition because ‘she enjoys being involved in community activities, and wants to challenge herself and improve her own self-confidence’. (TDR, 21 October 2022)

Yet problems have persisted, and there have been concerns about the longevity of the competition.

Melanie Groves and Kemii Maguire have written, ‘ Nowadays, some view [the competition] as outdated pageantry from a bygone era at best, or the objectification of women at worst.’  (ABC News, 13 July 2019)

The popularity of the competition has waned in recent years, with only NSW and Queensland retaining the pageant. In Queensland, the entrants must be single, childless and under 28 years of age. (ABC News, 13 July 2019)

In Victoria, the competition stopped in 1995 after running for 38 years. (Darian-Smith, 2001)

RAS Young Woman of the Year

RAS Showgirl councillor Susan Wakefield has argued that changing the branding of the pageant to Young Woman of the Year has refreshed the program. (The Land, 19 October 2021)

‘The new title will continue to foster and encourage the fundamental building blocks of the competition through involvement in local shows and communities while also resonating better with younger generations’, said Ms Wakefield. (The Land, 19 October 2021)

2020 Cowra Showgirl Beatrice Patterson said her fellow showgirls supported the name change. Ms Patterson said that the RAS showgirl had received derogatory comments around ‘Miss Universe’ and beauty competition-related remarks earlier in the year. (Cowra Guardian, 30 June 2021)

Ms Patterson says that the Showgirl Competition is linked to the local show, yet others see Showgirl meaning ‘beauty’ and other negative connotations.

“I think this will be really good to get rid of that negative connotation.”

She hoped the name change would encourage more entrants. She said there were 15-20 entrants a few years ago, whereas in 2019, there were two or three.

She encouraged young women to enter the competition. ‘It’s a great program. You learn so much and develop as a person. You become more mindful of the world and agriculture’. (Cowra Guardian, 30 June 2021)

Ms Wakefield said that the professional development program within the competition encouraged young women to become community leaders. (The Land, 19 October 2021)

This was undoubtedly the Camden Show 2023 Young Women Rubey Williams situation. She said, ‘I want to become a bit of a role model in the community’. (TDR, 4 November 2022)

The District Reporter stated that Ms Williams had impressive agricultural credentials. She was the youngest ever Australian Alpaca Association Halter and Fleece Judge. (TDR, 4 November 2022)

She said she wanted to be a role model in the community and inspire young women to pursue careers in agriculture. (TDR, 4 November 2022)

Ms Williams felt strongly about the show movement and was keen to give women a pivotal role in shaping the future of rural Australia.  (TDR, 4 November 2022)

Kate Darian-Smith has argued that a sense of community shown by entrants was the result of long-standing family connections to the town, the agricultural society and other community organisations. (Darian-Smith, 2001)

Ms Williams certainly felt that her role as the 2015 Camden Show Junior Rural Ambassador ‘gave her a good grounding of how the show worked. I have a lot of good memories of the Camden Show; it still has a country feel.’ (TDR, 4 November 2022)