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Relive the Adelaide Show’s History at Home

By Zoe Vaughan

South Australians can relive memories of the Royal Adelaide Show as the Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society of SA’s archives go digital.

With the Show being cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the online archives will celebrate the event’s 181-year history for those missing their Show fix.

Royal Adelaide Show archivist Lauren Gobbett said due to COVID-19 restrictions she has refocused her efforts from curating the show’s museum to bringing the archives to the people via an online platform.

With the museum attracting around 10,000 visitors per year, its historical material ranges from meeting minutes, Show pamphlets, a cart from the retired Mad Mouse, thousands of photographs, maps, blueprints, and even a taxidermy pigeon.

Ms Gobbett said digitising the Show’s catalogue is important for everyone.

“Everyone has memories of the Show, and it’s great to see Grandma remembering paper showbags, for example, or parents telling their children about going on the Mad Mouse,” she said.

“It shows the archives are not just important for academics and those completing PhDs and things, but also to those who just love showbags or the ferris wheel.”

Ms Gobbett said she enjoys “stumbling across those little gems”, like human teeth discovered in the Showground’s pipelines. The teeth were used for dentures, made on site by an army dentist when the Armed Forces occupied the Showgrounds around World War II. Another interesting find was Mrs Mugge: a prolific Show exhibitor from the 1800s.

Mrs A Mugge - a nursery, market garden and dairy owner and landlord of The Chalet in Waterfall Gully - placed in 14 categories in the 1893 Autumn Show.

“[Mrs Mugge] had entered so many categories, so I just imagined a lady carrying all these things through the Showgrounds gates by herself,” Ms Gobbett said.

Future plans for the online archive include digitising the prize lists for family historians and continuing to share stories that bring back to life and celebrate colourful characters from the Show’s history, like Mrs Mugge.

Ms Gobbett said even though there is a lot of work to be done, it is a fulfilling process.

“I can’t quite think of a museum like ours, there is so much to be uncovered,” she said.

“You can ask, what use are these [pieces] on the shelves if nobody knows [they’re] here? That’s why I think it’s important to improve not just the physical, but online presence to make the archives accessible and more visible for future generations.”

Relive the Royal Adelaide Show’s past for yourself at home with the RA&HS Online Archive and Museum, at www.rahshistory.com.au


A brief history of the Royal Adelaide Show:

  • the South Australian Agricultural Society is founded in 1839

  • in 1844 the Society begins what will become the Royal Adelaide Show by combining its Produce and Livestock Shows at Botanic Park

  • 1852 sees the Show cancelled due to the Victorian Gold Rush

  • the Show moves to its current location in Wayville in 1925

  • sample bags, now showbags, are first sold the following year, in 1926

  • throughout and following World War II (1939–46) the showgrounds are occupied by Armed Forces as a mobilising, training and demobilising centre

  • Queen Elizabeth II allows the Society entitlement to use the ‘Royal’ prefix in 1969

  • in 2006 BankSA adds the Royal Adelaide Show to its Heritage Icon List

  • rollercoaster icon, the Mad Mouse, retires at the end of the 2007 Royal Show

  • the RA&HS celebrates its 180-year anniversary in 2019, with the Royal Adelaide Show remaining as one of South Australia’s largest events with over 500 000 visitors every year