SLICE OF LIFE: THE CASTLE HILL SHOW AND SHOWGROUND
The Castle Hill Show developed in the 1880s from sports and ploughing contests known as Castle Hill Sports Day. The first competition was held at the former site of Castle Hill Public School in Old Northern Road. The second venue was on the southern corner of Brisbane and Old Northern Roads. Rivalry was keen among the local families including the Kentwells, Blacks, James, Powers, Cranes and Strangers.
By 1886 the Castle Hill Sports Day had taken on a decidedly agricultural flavour as a breakaway group from the Parramatta Horticultural Society became involved. Displays of fruit, vegetables and other farm produce competed for "Best in the District" Certificates. The exhibits were displayed under a large marquee erected on the property of Mr J. E. Black named "Woodlawn" situated in David Road, Rogans Hill on what is now part of the Anglican Retirement Villages. Horses, poultry and dogs were judged and events held for hacks, draught horses, trotting, buggy and cart horses. These important social occasions were as much an event for sport as getting together to chat and renew acquaintances. A family picnic held under the trees was a highlight of the day.
In 1887 a Show Committee was formed called the Central Cumberland Agricultural and Horticultural Association. Two thousand people enjoyed the 1888 Show. Most travelled there from the surrounding districts by horse and buggy. By 1889, Easter Monday was well established as the date for the Castle Hill Sports and Show Day. School children exhibited their handwriting, mapping and other school subjects from this time. The 1890 Show saw competitive sections for horses, poultry, fruit, vegetables, dogs and needlework.
1891 saw the first Show on its present site located off Showground Road. This resumed land was dedicated as a showground through the efforts of a hard-working show committee, who became its trustees, and the local State Member of Parliament who also caused a road to be constructed from Old Northern Road to the showground gate. About three hundred pounds was spent on amenities such as a timber pavilion, stables and track. Fencing and tree planting soon followed.
Prize-winning Horse and Four Wheel Lorry 1900
An account of the 1905 Show described the crowds wearing their best clothes; with boys in sailor suits, girls in buttoned boots and pigtails, fathers in stove-piped trousers and mothers in Sunday-best dress or riding habit for sitting side-saddle. Children rode happily on the horse-drawn merry-go-round, a popular feature for many years. The crowd was fascinated by the appearance in the ring of "Micky the Indian" with his live lizard and snakes tied to his whip. The purchase of watermelons was a major activity until at least the 1950s.
During the First World War (1914-1918), the Show continued to progress with more sections and exhibits being added to the program. In December 1925 the Taylor Pavilion was built Great displays of horsemanship, sound breeding and careful grooming were eventually joined by displays of motor cars and mechanised farm equipment to alter the direction and atmosphere of the show.
Opening of the Show in 1921 by the Governor of NSW Sir Walter Davidson
Committees worked hard, devoting time and energy by either holding social evenings, concerts, smokos, dances or balls to raise funds for overhead expenses or debit balances during the depression years or by preparing the showground itself for the Show. Long grass was burnt, hurdles, fences and seating repaired and ashes spread on the track. Space for sideshows, including the boxing ring, were pegged out and allocated to the various tenderers. In 1935 the Parramatta Lancers performed at the Show, followed by the Howitzer Battery the next year. Wood Chopping Contests began at this time. Between shows other activities such as Gymkhanas and Children’s Sports Days were organised. The grounds were used regularly by local football and cricket teams.
The outbreak of World War II saw a gradual decline in the activities of the show, with a complete lapse from 1941 until 1945. During this period, the Showground was occupied by the Victorian Ambulance Brigade, part of the Australian Army. It took twelve months to restore the ground to a sufficiently good condition to open the show for Easter 1946. The event was classed as a resounding success. A full program of ring events including trotting was arranged over two days. Exhibition sections included cattle, dogs, fruit, vegetables, farm produce, needlework, horticulture, schoolwork, arts, crafts, hobbies and photography. With mechanisation replacing the horse, ploughing competitions which had been the forerunners of the original show, were soon absent from the program. However, interest in horses and horsemanship was still strong and more horse stalls were built and drinking troughs acquired. The high jump and water jump events were added.
Since the late 1940s The Castle Hill Show has had the reputation of being second only to the Sydney Royal Easter Show, opening two weeks prior to it. Apart from being a display of the produce and activities of the Hills District, it has been a reflection of the life of the community. Dedicated volunteers with a pride in their local area have enabled many visitors from areas far and wide to attend this recreational event.
On 21st January 1960 Baulkham Hills Shire Council became trustee of the Showground and this led to further progress and modernisation of the facilities, with the Harvey Lowe Pavilion being opened in 1966, honouring Councillor Harvey Lowe. The Taylor District Exhibition Pavilion was converted to a theatre and permanent home for the Castle Hill Players in 1965. Baulkham Hills Shire Council, in 1998, produced a draft Plan of Management for Castle Hill Showground that provides a strategic framework for the management, co-ordination and development of activities within the Showground. The key outcomes which have resulted from the Plan are a commitment to the continued practise of holding annual shows; the formation of a management committee to ensure the continued protection of the values of the Showground; recognition of the Showground as a key to the cultural development of the Hills district and its agricultural past; promotion of the Showground as a place for cultural exhibition and activity; and development of the open space surrounding the main arena for passive recreation purposes.
The Castle Hill Showground: Draft Plan of Management / Baulkham Hills Shire Council, 1998
"Castle Hill Show: an Historical Perspective" / Lorna McCluskey, in The Hills District Historical Society Newsletter, May 1995
Castle Hill Show 1886-1970 / V. Stanfield and E.J. Minty, 1970
Photos courtesy of The Hills District Historical Society PO Box 48 Castle Hill NSW 2154