Watch the bumper cars at a small country show and you might spot whose marriage is strained and which of the smiling mothers loathe each other.
When mum and dad load a kid each into a dodgem for a demolition derby with the manic glee of Bond villains you know they’re hyper-competitive or heading for divorce. And it can get brutal when town adversaries meet to settle old scores. God forbid rival councillors get onboard the dodgems – the kids won’t get a look-in.
Luckily there wasn’t time for an in-depth sociological study of bumper brawls at Toodyay Agricultural Show – there were too many other things to see.
Musically everything from bagpipes to ACDC to doof flowed from various speakers to the backing track of generators and food vans. Throw in the terrified squeals of kids braving the wild ride of the Cliff Hanger, rounded out by the drawl of the MC, and you’ve got the full-on fairground mayhem.
Show-goers ranged from fresh-cheeked newborns to crinkled nonagenarians. Outfits ran the gamut from super casual to semi-formal and included rural bogan; hipster; Goth; wealthy farmer chic; and matching city couples in their interpretation of country clobber, shop creases intact. There were some unusual ‘celebrity’ appearances, including a team of half a dozen Tony Galatis, spruiking a new store.
Food vendors had queues keeping them busy all day. A friendly pizza man was working up a sweat like a cheddar on a summer’s day. He was a consummate professional, acknowledging waiting customers while assembling cardboard boxes, filling them with completed discs of dough and delicacies and sprinkling ingredients on fresh bases, at times moving so fast he seemed to have four arms.
“I see you there ma’am. I’ll be with you in a moment.”
His quiet assistant moved fluidly around the maestro, filling in wherever he needed.
“Shall I cheese it for you?”
Children were learning hula hoop manoeuvres while on the sidelines a clown painted faces and a caricaturist immortalised willing models with pencil on paper.
In the pavilions, winning entries were adorned with certificates and sashes. Admiring the fruit cake and home-baked bread sections it was easy to see why they’re kept behind metal fencing these days. “Ooh, look at that one! I’m so hungry I want a bit.” “You can see why that won, so rich, moist and fruity.” “Where can I buy one of those?”
There were prizes for lupins and wheat; seeds and grains; flowers and fleece; food and fine art. Photography; Lego; popstick art; quilting; woodwork; fruit and vegetable animals; class projects from local kindergarten, primary and secondary students. Knitting, crochet, sewing, weaving, dioramas and more. Successes were celebrated. “My son did really well in Photography! Really well.” “I’m so thrilled my geraniums won!”
Toodyay is on Ballardong Nyoongar land in the wheatbelt north east of Perth on the Avon River. Townsfolk have been cooking and creating for the show since it started in 1854 – 167 years to date. They even persevered through a townsite relocation in the 1860s after earlier flooding. And if their efforts seem bountiful, it’s in the name – Toodyay: place of plenty.
There were plenty of people too, the stallholders happy to talk to anyone and everyone about their work, from the importance of quality food farming to the future of drone policing. Wood turners and wool spinners demonstrated their arts.
Enthusiasts like stallholder Noel Wilton displayed their passions. Noel collects machinery and vintage cameras. He even has a museum on his hobby farm at Bejoording, not far from Toodyay. If you’re heading out that way you’ll recognise it by the giant ‘scrap art’ motorcycle on the property. He’s been collecting cameras for “quite a few years now” and only displayed a small part of his collection at the show.
The animal stalls attracted plenty of admirers, from those who understood particular breed characteristics to amateurs who just wanted to pat and cuddle. Rather than a ‘Don’t touch me’ sign, three floppy-fringed Highland cows (Heilan Coos) sought a gold coin donation for a hug or stroke of their splendid coats.
On the field and the concourse kids rode ponies, camels and the barrel train and those inclined could learn to knock down orange traffic cones with the powerful spray from bushfire brigade hoses. In the arena, majestic horses were led through dressage moves by be-suited, straight-backed riders. Vintage and classic cars gleamed in the sunlight. In the trade area, deep voices discussed the advantages of the latest tractors and machinery.
There was a long queue for icecream and soon the littlest show-goers were rubbing tired eyes and being tucked into strollers or prams for the trip back to the car or nearby home. Perhaps they’d be back after a nap to watch the fireworks after sunset. The whiz bang pop, oohs and aahs of fireworks are always a great way to wrap up Show Day. A night sky full of exploding lights and colours brings people together in a communal sense of wonder.
Even bumper car clashes might be forgotten amidst such a bright, exciting spectacle.
Story © Danielle Berryman 2021
Photography © Roger Garwood (RG) & Danielle Berryman (DB) 2021