On With The Show

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 There are few things more Australian than a show day. Except maybe a giant meat pie on stilts. That’s pretty oi-oi-oi.

Until last week, I hadn’t been to the Royal Melbourne Show since I was a teenager – I remember my friends chowing down on fluorescent yellow and red dagwood dogs before hopping on rides, emerging shortly after a fine shade of green. I wasn’t sure what the Royal Melbourne Show would be like 15-odd years later – would the gourmet/sustainability/gourmet/locavore trend have taken over, or would it still be showbags and dimmies? All is revealed in today’s Ruby Slipper adventure at the Royal Melbourne Show.

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The Melbourne Show has a distinctly old-worlde feeling: no matter how many gourmet snag stands and craft beer offerings there might be, the show is its own unique beast. It’s a carnival where fried foods are plentiful, rides are colorful, gravity-defying and LOUD. There is a real mix of attendees at the show – some were country people, some were teenagers on a day out with mates, some were large families taking a day out during the holidays. I had a vision in my head of what the show might be today – and I thought it would be more agricultural in flavour, with daggy CWA stands piling out devonshire teas by the truckload. It was much more commercial than I remember it, with a large Woolies pavilion at its heart. Terri and I began our wandering there, amongst a fug of deep fried goods and Channel 7 newsreader happy-snaps.

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I fancied the colorful daffy stand, but wasn’t so sure about the industrial-sized cheese toastie factory.

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Terri – my show wingwoman – was super snacky and the cheese toasties simply weren’t cutting it. We made our way to the schmanciest venue at the show, the Tastes of Victoria pavilion. It was full of good-good things including a Burch & Purchese dessert stand, and a Hammer & Tong pop-up restaurant.

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 Visions of John Marsden’s Tomorrow When The War began came to mind.

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Burch and Purchese dessert – a confection of sauces, custards, biscuity crumbs and more. The Hammer and Tong lunchies were bonza, too – a pulled pork burger and a rich beetroot and ricotta salad.

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The show site itself is huge – with a showbag area, a couple of animal competition areas and a big sideshow alley. A most popular venue was the Masterchef set, which is shot onsite in Flemington.

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I’m not hugely into Masterchef myself, but I know it’s a favorite of many others. The set was rather gorgeous with soft lighting, every shining kitchen appliance under the sun and a big pantry full of artfully merchandised stock. People went wild for it!

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Visiting the farm animals was what I was looking forward to most. You could see prize chickens, a full array of different cows, and there was a petting zoo that seemed full of sitting goats being very patient while being patted. You forget how large farm animals like cows are – the one I stopped and chatted to was so large and dusky soft, with velvety ears, big lovely eyes and a giant head. Such a big, big head. The petting zoo with the littlies was more frantic, with baby chicks, pigs, lambs and the usual suspects. The show makes no bones *sorry for the pun* about the connection between the animals you’re petting, and their journey to your plate. I liked this earnest approach – after all, it is at heart an agricultural show. Do you think it’s contradictory to pat and love animals, and then to eat them?

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Dogs. Aren’t they great? So loving and enthusiastic, silly or serious. The show has dog displays a-plenty, and even a pet pavilion where Terri made friends with Mischief (left). There were no great ‘Best In Show’ comedic moments, but there were plenty of happy fidi racing around in the sunshine, tempted to jump and run by treats. I liked it best when they went rogue and disobeyed 😀

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Ahhhh. The showbag pavilion. This is pretty much the place where you can work out if you’re parenting well or not. If you AVOID the above showbags (including the Mega Mafia replete with plastic truncheon, uzi gun and gambling roulette set, the Cop That bag with plastic guns, detonators and fake ammunition or the Sons of Anarchy bag – who is this bag for?!?) you’re probably parenting well. The showbag hall is full of plastic junk and it reeks of wastefulness and bullshit. Please avoid, unless you’re queuing for a Frozen showbag (apparently a must-have of the event).

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The sideshows were super colorful and elaborate, with a full pirate ship, ghoul houses, ferris wheels, rotating clown head thingies and dodgem cars. This particular pirate didn’t mind me resting my landlubber bones for a moment of respite from the day’s heat.

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I fancy a cup of tea, and could have one at almost any time of day. I anticipated the CWA stand where I could get a bracing cup of brew and a dwarf-bread like rock cake or slice of fruit cake, accompanied by a bit of banter with an old bird who had made her fair share of scones. No such luck! The CWA ladies weren’t in-situ – rather, their position had been taken by a brand – Yorkshire Tea. I’m sure Yorkshire Tea makes a fine, refreshing cup – but they’re no CWA. I wonder if this is because of the cost of businesses participating in the show? In any case, the crafts pavilion featured glorious tea cosies – cases of fruit cakes and sponges for our observation, and creative fondant decorations. Simultaneously wacky and wonderful. I’m glad people make cakes and do things with their hands – it is pleasurable, funny and gives us a sense of meaning outside of making money or playing our role in a family.

Would I go back to the Royal Melbourne Show? Maybe in another 15 years, to see what has changed. Although colorful and a nostalgic visual feast of a kind of Australiana you weren’t sure still existed, I didn’t take that much away from the event – it seemed deeply commercial, it was very expensive, and the agricultural and craft elements weren’t very impressive. If you’d like to connect with animals and rural living, a better bet is a day at the Collingwood Children’s Farm, the Zoo or Healesville Sanctuary. If you’ve a child who really wants to go – of course, take them to experience it. Go early, see what you like – and then get home before the crowd gets too wild. Alternately, go to a show in rural Victoria where the CWA ladies will be out in full force, the tractors will be ready for rides and you’ll be able to enjoy the country … in the country.

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