Waimate North Show 2017

By: Jill Malcolm, Photography by: Jill Malcolm

The Waimate North Show is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year on 10 and 11 November

he year was 1842, and in the fertile valley of Waimate North, a historical event was unfolding. In a rough paddock, the district’s farming folk had gathered with their pigs, poultry, horses, and Herefords, and their baking, preserves, and crafts for the first agricultural show ever held in New Zealand.

Those earliest settlers had brought the idea with them from the farmlands of England, where similar events were regularly held for rural workers to demonstrate their skills. On 10 and 11 November this year, the Waimate North Show will celebrate its 175th anniversary.

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Records of the earliest shows are scant but it’s known that the first pavilion was a crude shelter of nikau palms until 1891, when the hall was erected. The new building was described at the time as "equal if not superior to anything this side of Auckland" and although renovated, it still serves the purpose today.

Show schedules provide a fascinating glimpse of rural life past. In 1889, for instance, there were competitions for the best-shod horses (shoes to be made by the competitor). The indoor exhibits included cheese, lard, bread, and candles.

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The handiwork section sported men’s knitted stockings, tam-o’-shanter hats, flannel petticoats, gentlemen’s nightshirts, and boys’ knitted suits of homespun wool. There were sections for kauri gum, stock whips, axe handles, and native garments.

Later schedules document competitions for the largest number of rats’ tails, hawks’ feet, and sparrows’ heads. In 1901, a prize of 25 pounds of rolled oats was given to the oldest settler in the grounds and 500 cigarettes were presented to the man judged to be an ‘all-round jolly good fellow’.

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By the early 1900s, the show had become the social event of the year where locals gathered for a fun day out and to picnic in the shade of the ground’s large puriri trees. It’s the same today and among the gatherings are descendants of the first rural settlers, such as the Ludbrooks and Bedggoods, who are still working the land. If their ancestors’ ghosts drift in, they’ll be agog.

Although all the old classics of a country show are there—the equestrian events, the stock judging, animal parades, agriculture, preserves, and baking—there’s much more.

A trade section sells anything from hats to houses, the array of modern machinery is astonishing (there’s a display of vintage machinery this year), and the food, wine, and entertainment is lavish and lively. The show has always been a magnet for RVers who roll up in such large numbers that an area is designated for overnight parking. This year, we may well be among them.

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