CEO Show Memories

Royal Agricultural & Horticultural Society CEO John Rothwell has been involved with the Royal Adelaide Show for over 20 years. Here he shares his history of agricultural Shows across Australia.

I was brought up in Tasmania’s Tamar Valley with a neighbour nurturing my interest in agriculture from a young age. Whilst Merino sheep were of interest it was the neighbour’s Guernsey Stud that first introduced me to Royal Agricultural Shows and their competitions.

On graduating from Marcus Oldham Farm Management College, I managed farming properties for 20 years, before joining the Royal Agricultural & Horticultural Society of South Australia as Assistant Director in 1996. Involvement with the last twenty-four Royal Adelaide Shows has provided many highlights, memories and moments that make me proud to be involved with the Show.

To me the essence of the Show’s uniqueness is peoples involvement and ownership of the event, and the development opportunities for youth. Whether it is the ‘Showgoers’ or the many and varied areas of participation with competition, exhibiting or educational elements, the Show is about people. The Royal Adelaide Show is a standout internationally and has been recognised by the International Association of Fairs and Expositions for its standards and achievements.

In amongst the many exciting elements of the Show the greatest joy for me is walking into the Sheep Pavilion full of livestock. The State Heritage listed structure is unique in the world and provides the stage for exhibitors and their sheep resulting in a very special experience for all visitors.

For me the highlight of my many visits to the Sheep Pavilion was in 2014 – the Society’s 175th year, experiencing the Led Merino Wether Schools Competition, all I can say is wow! Fortunately, the essence of that experience was captured by Ian Turner in a photo which hangs in my office.

It is not only the scale of the competition displaying 144 wethers handled by 144 school students, but the professional standard and quality was breathtaking. The South Australian Stud Merino Breeders can be very proud of what has been achieved in just ten years. In the inaugural 2011 competition 63 animals were entered from 16 schools. It is exciting that in 2020 with COVID protocols in place, 210 wethers have been entered from 37 schools which is equal to the record.

The competition is based on presenting a pen of three wethers judged both subjectively and objectively. The learning opportunities are extensive and include objectively measured meat and fleece values, weight gain of wethers over the specified period and assessment of skills displayed in handling the animals. Students have direct learning outcomes including sheep selection, preparation of animals for competition, nutritional requirements, husbandry skills development and handling of both sheep and wool.

This competition is a wonderful example of investment into youth providing the framework for learning and skills development over a six-month period concluding with the judging at the Royal Show. The initiative by stud producers to work with South Australian secondary schools and provide three sheep per competition entry is the start of an exciting journey by many young participants.

At its core the Show’s purpose is about sharing knowledge through competition and in the process many friendships and relationships are developed. The opportunity for skills and knowledge to be passed down from experienced stud masters to the State’s youth is wonderful to see and investing in the future of the sheep industry and our broader community.