In rural New Zealand there was no clear distinction between farm work and home work, or farm crops and produce from domestic gardens or kitchens. Competitions for fruits and vegetables, and for home-made butter, began early in shows.
For the eyes not the stomach
In Golden Bay the heat of competition in the home-craft classes led to some interesting tricks. Onions were preserved in acetic acid rather than vinegar to make them white and shiny – one bottle won prizes at five different shows. For the rainbow-cake competition, the green came from putting cabbage through a washing machine wringer, the blue from blue-bags used in washing and the pink from old Auckland Weekly News covers.
Women were involved in making these items, so they came to play a very active role in shows. There was always a Ladies’ Committee, and under its leadership the range of domestic creativity expanded. Competitions for vegetables led on to competitions for jams, chutneys and other preserves. There were many classes of cooking – from breads and scones to sponges and chocolate éclairs. Contestants would get up at 3 o’clock on the morning of the show to bake cakes.
Some women put their energies into knitting, crochet and needlework, while others focused on the floral section. Several women are recorded as having entered over 100 events each.
For children the show has long been one of the big days of the year. From the early 1900s they were encouraged to take part – some began very young, when they were entered in a baby show. Some children’s competitions had an educational spin. At Mangōnui in 1906, children provided a handwriting sample of the Lord’s Prayer and the fifth commandment (to ‘honour thy parents’). In the inter-war years schools got involved, and encouraged boys to grow carrots, and girls marigolds. Calf clubs were set up, and children showed their pet calves or lambs.
There were also classes for bird’s-egg collections and floral sand saucers, and from the 1940s, competitions for Highland dancing and girls’ marching – the latter is a competitive sport in Australia and New Zealand.
Motorised musical chairs
In 1920s ‘musical chairs’ competitions, couples would drive around the show-ring in cars. When the music stopped the drivers slammed on their brakes. The women threw open the doors and raced to a kerosene tin in the middle of the ring, daringly showing their knees.
In the 20th century, shows included a variety of competitions – some quite serious, such as the ‘Pastoral Queen’ contest for rural beauties. Others were primarily spectator entertainment – steer riding, catching the greasy pig, most on a pony, tug-of-wars or gumboot- and rolling pin-throwing. In the 1930s, Manawatū introduced chariot racing, which became very popular.
The winners always received a ribbon – red for first, blue for second, green for third and yellow for highly commended – and often a cash prize, usually sponsored by local businesses.