The FUNdamentals of the Royal Adelaide Show

By Justin Gerschwitz

The Royal Adelaide Show has a rich history of iconic carnival rides and sideshows which have created countless memories over the years for show goers. Here we look back on the history of the Mad Mouse and Ferris wheel, and get a glimpse into the history of the sideshows in the 1800s.

Mad Mouse

The Mad Mouse was one of three of its kind built in Sydney using designs from the USA based on a German roller-coaster ride. Of the three newly built rides, one remained in Sydney while the other two found a home in Melbourne and Adelaide respectively.

A ride fit for the thrill-seeking types, the Mad Mouse was first introduced to the Royal Adelaide Show in 1963 and operated at both the showgrounds and Glenelg. Following a successful few seasons being run by a company called Green and White, the Mad Mouse was taken over by a legend of the show, Bob Lawrence.

Over the years, the Mad Mouse captivated families and was always the talk of the Royal Adelaide Show because of its tight 180 degree turns, and speedy dips. The iconic ride was one of the longest-standing show rides before it was retired in 2007 to make way for new developments.

Ferris wheel

Towering over the Wayville Showgrounds, the Ferris wheel is a landmark of the Royal Adelaide Show. The ‘Big Wheel’, as it was formerly known, was first erected by Stan Durkin of S.J. Durkin (The Big Wheel) Pty Ltd in 1969. Originally, it stood directly in front of the Hall of Industries at the showgrounds before being moved in 2001 due to the Hamilton Boulevard construction. It remains in this spot to this day and can sometimes be seen for kilometres. Come night-time, the Ferris wheel continues to be a hot ticket as show goers strive to get a spot overlooking the fireworks display and showgrounds abundant with lights and activity.

Sideshows in the 1800s

The history of the Royal Adelaide Show’s sideshows goes as far back as 1846 when show goers sought extra fun which saw the second day of the two-day show become dedicated to a ‘fair’ day. Like the modern-day show, the fair included food and drink booths, basic but innovative sideshows, and the sale of fresh produce.

Sideshows in the 1840s comprised unique events such as the pig races and the greasy pole: a sideshow which featured a greased nine-metre pole with a straw hat perched on top. The first to get the hat would win a prize. In 1846, the winner of this event was 11-year-old John Peglar. Also in 1846, the pig race was full of drama as the winner caught the pig by the leg instead of the tail, thereby breaking the rules, however no claimants to the prize were successful as no official judge had been appointed.

The year 1847 brought the train for children and a ‘whirly-go-round’. Versions of both these rides, although modernised and developed, still exist to this day.

The year 1851 saw the addition of the popular merry-go-round and a pendulum car capable of holding up to 12 people. That year’s event also reportedly comprised a gambling table sideshow which came under scrutiny for running at a family-friendly event like the Show.

Carnival games move online

With this year’s Royal Adelaide Show moving online to The Show @ Home because of the Covid-19 pandemic, even the sideshows have been given a digital makeover. Have a go at knocking down the cans, shooting the balloons, and getting the basketball through the hoop here.

Information and images in this story supplied by the Royal Agricultural & Horticultural Society of SA Archives.