Willunga Show

Event Dates:

1856-1968

The first Willunga Show, held on Thursday, 20th March 1856, was a great success, attracting 2-3,000 persons. The Show dinner that night prompted some attendees to over-imbibe, and the ensuing disorder compelled the forcible expulsion of belligerent persons (Adelaide Observer, 22 March 1856, p. 2), but future events were conducted with considerably more decorum.

Willunga in this instance referred to the district, rather than the town, and there was considerable co-operation among the neighbouring towns, including McLaren Vale. The second show was held at McLaren Vale at the rear of the Devonshire Hotel. The Willunga District was then split into several districts, which caused the associated split of Ploughing Matches. There is no record of the Willunga Show being held from 1858 to 1866. The 1869 Show, however, was graced by a visit from the South Australian Governor Sir James Fergusson and his wife, Lady Edith Fergusson

The Show was originally held at the Oddfellows Hall at 35 High Street and surrounding land, and then moved to the Recreation Reserve in 1876. In 1891, the Show Hall and Community Centre Main Road, Willunga Show Hall was opened in time to host that year’s event. The 1893 was visited by the Governor, Algernon Keith-Falconer, Lord Kintore. The Opening of Willunga Railway opening of the railway in 1915 enabled people from the city to visit the show, with special trains laid on in the 1910s and 1920s.

In the First World War, the Willunga Shows were at first held in spite of the depression caused by war, but the 1915 Show was cancelled entirely. In World War II, the Shows were also discontinued for other patriotic events to raise funds for the war.

The Willunga Show was a barometer for the health of industries and agriculture in the district. Exhibits tended to show the effects of good seasons, drought and disease. New produce in the district was introduced at the Shows, and if widely grown, became part of the events. Competitions for wattle bark, currants, butter, and flax, for example, became regular parts of the Show in their heyday, only to fade in time as the products waned. Slate flagstones and roofing tiles were featured throughout the industry’s years. Draught horses were also popular, with other horse events, only to be discontinued in around 1940 as tractors irrevocably replaced them on the farms.

The Willunga Show reflected the nature and culture of Willunga. In addition to stock and produce, for example, James Bailey Bassett used to exhibit his magic squares and John Richards Junior exhibited his peerless slate carvings. Thomas Hawken showed his marble carving of a book that people tried to open and read. Competitions for school children, side shows, and ice cream ensured something of interest for all.

Sadly, the Willunga Show ceased in 1968.

References:

1856 ‘WILLUNGA AGRICULTURAL AND HORTICULTURAL SHOW‘, Adelaide Observer 22 March, p. 1. (Supplement to the Adelaide Observer), viewed 25 Jan 2024,
Doug Lush Recollections of Willunga Show: A Souvenir History 1856 – 1961.
The Willunga Aldinga McLaren Vale and Noarlunga Agricultural Society Inc.,
Santich B. 1998 McLaren Vale Sea and Vines. Kent Town SA: Wakefield Press.

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