Castle Hill Show

Castle Hill & Hills District Agricultural Society

Society History

The Castle Hill Show developed in the 1880s from sports and ploughing contests known as Castle Hill Sports Show Day. The first competition was held at the former site of the Castle Hill Public School in Old Northern Road. The second venue was on the southern corner of Brisbane and Old Northern Roads. Rivalry was keen among the local families including the Kentwells, Blacks, James, Powers, Cranes and Strangers.

By 1886 the Castle Hill Sports Day had taken on a decidedly agricultural flavour as a breakaway group from the Parramatta Horticultural Society became involved. Displays of fruit, vegetables and other farm produce competed for "Best in the District" Certificates. The exhibits were displayed under a large marquee erected on the property of Mr J.E. Black named "Woodlawn" situated in David Road, Rogans Hill of what is now part of the Anglican Retirement Villages. Horses, poultry and dogs were judges and events held for hacks, draught horses, trotting, buggy and cart horses. These important social occasions were as much an event for sport as getting together to chat and renew acquaintances. A family picnic held under the trees was a highlight of the day.

In 1887 a Show Committee was formed called the Central Cumberland Agricultural and Horticultural Association. Two thousand people enjoyed the 1888 Show. Most travelled there from the surrounding districts by horse and buggy. By 1889, Easter Monday was well established as the date for the Castle Hill Sports and Show Day. School children exhibited their handwriting, mapping and other school subjects from this time. The 1890 Show saw competitive sections for horses, poultry, fruit, vegetables, dogs and needlework.

This year is noteworthy also in providing the first mention of the need for funding a permanent site for the show. By December 1889, plans were submitted to the Chief Surveyor and an area of 35 acres, 2 rods, 36 perches, were resumed and re-dedicated as a showground on 30th July, 1890.

1891 saw the first Show on its present site located off Showground Road. This land was granted to the Show Society for the purpose of a permanent showground. This was achieved through the efforts of a hard-working show committee and the local State Member of Parliament who also caused a road to be constructed from Old Northern Road to the showground gate. About three hundred pounds was spent on amenities such as a timber pavilion, stables and track. Fencing and tree planting soon followed.

An account of the 1905 Show described the crowds wearing their best clothes; with boys in sailor suits, girls in buttoned boots and pigtails, fathers in stove-piped trousers and mothers in Sunday-best dress or riding habit for sitting side-saddle. Children rode happily on the horse-drawn merry-go-round, a popular feature for many years. The crowd was fascinated by the appearance in the ring of "Micky", the Indian with his live lizard and snake tied to his whip. The purchase of watermelons was a major activity until at least the 1950's.

During the first World War (1914-1918), the Show continued to progress with more sections and exhibits being added to the programme. In December 1925, the Taylor Pavilion was built. Great displays of horsemanship, sound breeding and careful grooming were eventually joined by displays of motor cars and mechanised farm equipment to alter the direction and atmosphere of the show.

In 1927, a Ladies' Committee was formed to review the Preserves, Needlework and Flower sections and to act as Stewards. As the old records recall, the preparation costs of organizing a Show would have been insurmountable were it not for the organized voluntary help that came forward from the many sections and other organizational Committees.

Committees worked hard, devoted time and energy by either holding social evenings, concerts, smokos, dances or balls to raise funds for overhead expenses or debit balances during the depression years or by preparing the showground itself for the Show. Long grass was burnt, hurdles, fencing and seating repaired and ashes spread on the track. Space for sideshows, including the boxing ring, were pegged out and allocated to the various tenderers. In 1935 the Parramatta Lancers performed at the Show, followed by the Howitzer Battery the next year. Wood Chopping contests began at this time. Between shows, other activities such as Gymkhanas and Children's Sports Days were organised. The grounds were used regularly by local football and cricket teams.

The outbreak of World War II saw a gradual decline in the activities of the show, with a complete lapse from 1941 until 1945. During this period, the Showground was occupied by the Victorian Ambulance Brigade, part of the Australian Army. It took twelve months to restore the ground to a sufficiently good condition to open the Show for Easter 1946. The event was classed as a resounding success. A full programme of ring events including trotting was arranged over two days. Exhibition sections included cattle, dogs, fruit, vegetables, farm produce, needlework, horticulture, schoolwork, arts, crafts, hobbies and photography. With mechanisation replacing the horse ploughing competitions, which had been the forerunners of the original show, these were soon absent from the programme. However, interest in horses and horsemanship was still strong and more horse stalls were built and drinking troughs acquired. The high jump and water jump events were added.

The District Exhibits, a competition of local products, were staged in 1948 after a long absence, and were the highlight of the Show with Kenthurst-Annangrove, Glenorie-Dural, and Arcadia-Galston participating. However, with changes in the rural nature of the area, the District Exhibits ceased to become a feature about the mid-1960s. While marquees accommodated the displays in the early days, 1955 saw the erection of one of the first permanent pavilions. This has had continued use for Horticulture until the present day.

From the late 1940s, The Castle Hill Show had the reputation of being second only to the Sydney Royal Easter Show, opening two weeks prior to it. Apart from being a display of the produce and activities of the Hills District, it was a reflection of the life of the community. Dedicated volunteers with a pride in their local area enabled many locals and visitors from areas far and wide to attend this recreational event.

In an era when development and maintenance were becoming major items of expenditure, the Show Society Trustees resigned in favour of the Baulkham Hills Shire Council. This transfer was gazetted by an Act of Parliament on 22nd January, 1960. This led to further progress and modernisation of the facilities, with the Harvey Lowe Pavilion being opened in 1966, honouring Councillor Harvey Lowe. The Taylor District Exhibition Pavilion was converted to a theatre and permanent home for the Castle Hill Players in 1965. Baulkham Hills Shire Council, in 1998, produced a draft Plan of Management for Castle Hill Showground that provides a strategic framework for the management, co-ordination and development of activities within the Showground. The key outcomes which have resulted from the Plan are a commitment to the continued practise of holding annual shows; the formation of a management committee to ensure the continued protection of the values of the Showground; recognition of the Showground as a key to the cultural development of the Hills District and its agricultural past; promotion of the Showground as a place for cultural exhibition and activity; and development of the open space surrounding the main arena for passive recreations purposes.

In 1980, on a Friday, the first day of the three-day show, saw the beginning of what has continued until today, School Excursion Day, when some thousands of school students accompanied by teachers and parents descend upon the Showground for a truly educational experience. They visit the numerous pavilions, for craft, cookery, art work and photography, to watch sheep-shearing, wood chopping, equestrian ring events; poultry, cattle and horticulture judging; explore the Animal Nursery and the numerous Agricultural and Commercial and School Exhibits.

These days there are many demonstrations of Quilting, Calligraphy, Tatting, Lace-Making, Knitting, hand painted Porcelain and Ceramics, Leatherwork, Spinning and Weaving. Much interest has developed with the latest attraction of Home Brewed Beers by Brewers and Brewsters. Many animals may be seen, patted and photographed donkeys, poultry, horses, pigs, goats, dogs, pigeons, cattle, sheep, alpacas, rabbits, cats. Side Show alley, sample bags, fairy floss and food varieties are always popular.

The present day Castle Hill Annual Show is organized and run by a group of dedicated volunteers and the Committee of Management of Castle Hill & Hills District Agricultural Society inc. The Education Pavilion and the Federation Pavilion have been built with their efforts to raise moneys and with help from State and Federal Government Grants.

The significance of the Show cannot be illustrated in a short article. However, a prominent feature has been the motivation of so many men and women, with limited financial support, to serve their fellow citizens and to develop an institution which has become a local tradition.