Recreation Area

Bega Showground

The Story

Location of Object:

Upper Street, Bega, NSW, 2551

Accessibility of Object:

The Bega Showground is owned by NSW Crown Lands and is operated by the Trustees of Bega Showground Incorporated.

The showground is used as a camping ground for visitors and is open to the public or by contacting the caretaker after hours.

History and Provenance of Object:

The Bega Showground is built on the site of a pre contact ceremonial ground. According to Kathy Jones this was a traditional ceremonial area (Bega Valley Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Study, August 2010, Appendix 1). The Bega Gazette dated 14 June 1882 makes reference to the Tarlinton’s first encountering local Aboriginal people where the Bega Showgrounds are now situated (Bega Gazette). A study by Egloff makes reference to a large scale corroboree that took place in May 1883 at the site. Extracts from the Bega Gazette quote “five boatloads of Moruya Aborigines were outside Tathra of their way to the grand corroboree soon to be held at Bega… May 9 is the date at present spoken for the exhibition, and if held in the Show Ground, as proposed, many white folks will be spectators” (Egloff cited in National Parks and Wildlife Service, 2000, pg. 49).

The Bega Agricultural and Pastoral Society held its first Show on 15 February 1872 in the Bega School of Arts building in Carp Street. Two nearby paddocks owned by John Jauncey were also used to show stock animals. Over the next few years the Show was held at Annie White’s Victoria Inn in Auckland Street and from 1876 to 1886 Shows were held at the Market Reserve (now Bega Park and swimming pool). On 29 September 1886 the Government Gazette published a dedication of the present Bega Showground, resuming eight acres, three roods of the Market Reserve. The current pavilion was officially opened for the 1905 Bega Show on 1st and 2nd March with both days (Wednesday and Thursday) declared as public holidays (Bega Valley history Scrapbook, 2015). The pavilion was designed by RW Thatcher at a cost of $1,700 pounds, replacing the earlier iron pavilion. At the time it was reputed as the best on the south coast (Pip Giovanelli, Listing Number I016, Schedule 5, Bega Valley Local Environmental Plan 62013).

Over the years, Aboriginal people have participated in a number of activities at the showground including football games, boxing (boxing tents at the shows) and rodeos (Colleen Dixon, Joe Mundy, Valmai Tongiai, Martha Tongiai, Kathy Jones) (Bega Valley Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Study, August 2010, Appendix 1).

“When the show came to Bega, we’d pick half a day for our money for the show. Nan use to pack lunch for us, she’d buy new clothes for us to wear to the show. She was a real ‘lady’. She got dressed up too. It was 40 cents for a ride, so cause we took our lunch, we used our money for the rides” (Campbell, Deanna 8 September 2009, Bega Valley Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Study, August 2010, pg. 87).


Prior to the 1787 departure of the First Fleet from England, Captain Arthur Phillip was instructed to set about cultivating the land immediately in order that the new convict settlement of New South Wales could become self-sufficient as quickly as possible. However, among the 1,500 odd prisoners and military men, Cornish-born Ruse was apparently the only man with any farming experience, a situation that didn’t necessarily auger well for the new colonial outpost.

Pointing out that he had been bred to farming, Ruse applied to Governor Phillip for a land grant. Although not willing to meet the request but desperate to encourage food production, Phillip allowed the prisoner to occupy an allotment of land at Rose Hill (near Parramatta). Although not the first person to cultivate land in the Colony, Ruse was the first ex-convict to seek a land grant. Proving himself industrious and demonstrating that it was possible for a family to survive through farming, Ruse reputedly produced the first successful wheat harvest in the NSW colony in 1789.

In response, Phillip provided Ruse with the tools, seed and stock necessary to establish NSW’s first farming property and in 1791 he declared to the authorities that he was self-sufficient. Two months later he was given an additional 30 acres. In April 1791, after Ruse’s sentence expired, the title of his land was deeded to him, the first land grant issued in NSW.

Although, by 1792, the farming industry was well-established in New South Wales, the methods followed and equipment used were largely unsuited to local conditions, which meant that crop failure was a constant and ever present threat.

Nevertheless, over the ensuing fifty years, the colony’s pastoral and agricultural wealth developed, assisted in no short measure by the establishment of agricultural, horticultural and pastoral societies, organisations that contributed significantly to the development and improvement of the industry and practices used by those involved.

The first of these organisations was the Agricultural Society of New South Wales, which was established in July 1822 by a group of Sydney’s leading citizens. Officers were elected, the first President being Sir John Jamison, KGV, a prominent pastoralist and co-founder of the Bank of New South Wales and eleven days later the Society held their first meeting at Walker’s Inn, Parramatta.

Aiming to further the quality of Australia’s primary production industries, including agricultural, pastoral, dairying, farming, viticultural, horticultural, mineral and industrial resources, by means of contests and competitions, the Society held their first show, known as the Parramatta Fair, in 1823. Displays included horses, cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry. 19th century Australian industry and retail sectors were also encouraged through awarding prizes in non-agricultural classes in the hope of encouraging Colonial self-sufficiency.

As well as aiming to hold a show annually, the new Society also planned to establish a Stock Fund with contributions to import good quality livestock, plants and seeds for experimental purposes.

Although ceasing to exist in 1836, the Society was reformed in 1859, its President being State Governor Sir William Denison. Shows were held at Parramatta until 1868, after which the event was moved to what is now known as Prince Alfred Park in Sydney. In 1882, the show moved to Moore Park, where the annual event continued to be held until January 1998, when the event moved to their new showground at Sydney Olympic Park at Homebush Bay.

In keeping with its original roots, the purpose of the show remains the encouragement of agricultural and pastoral industries, and although other attractions have been introduced over the years, the display of rural industry products remains central - in 2007, the RAS hosted 30,000 rural exhibits.

The show has been held every year since 1869, with the exception of 1919 with the Spanish Influenza outbreak, and 1942 and 1946, when World War II made itself felt.

1891 saw the granting of the “Royal” prefix to become the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales.

Known initially by various fair and exhibition names, the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW’s major annual event is now known as the Sydney Royal Easter Show, the largest event held in Australia and the sixth largest in the world. Urban shows are now marketed as rare opportunities for city dwellers to engage directly with rural life and food production.

Since establishment, it has done much to encourage continuing improvements in the farming, agricultural and industrial fields, and to increase public awareness of the State’s resources.

In the wake of the Agricultural Society of NSW’s establishment, other agricultural and industrial associations were formed across the colony during the 19th century to foster the development of modern farming systems and promote new scientific and technological methods. The annual show emerged in many rural areas as the key area in which the hard work and skill of primary producers was acknowledged and rewarded. From their inception, prizes were awarded for class winners at shows. Initially these were inscribed medals and cups.

Medals were widely awarded to successful exhibitors both at the Agricultural Society of NSW shows and other agricultural and industrial shows, fairs and exhibitions from the mid-19th century through to at least the early 20th century. They usually featured, engraved or cast into the metal, the name of the awarding show society and the winning entrant, and they were often richly decorated with traditional symbols of abundance and plenty. Through its fairs and shows, the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales and other agricultural societies still award prizes in the areas of excellence in agriculture, the arts and commercial exhibits, although in later years, they were more often rosettes and ribbons. These awards continue to record the histories of the classes and recipient, the spread and character of rural activities, and the broader cultural purposes of agricultural shows.

Fabric, design, manufacture and condition:

The heritage listing includes not only the agricultural hall but the timber buildings to the south, one of which is evident in a photo dated 1905. It is a large face brick building, rectangular in plan. The central portion has a gabled roof, flanked on both sides by a lean-to roofs at a lower level, with clerestory windows between the two roof levels. The building is basically symmetrical, except for an extension of the lean-to roof on the west side to form an extra bay. The northern façade has a pediment to the gable end, with engaged brick columns. The lean-to sections have matching details. Windows are generally semi-circular, with several smaller arched windows, and the external doors have semi-circular windows over. The eastern façade has a pediment parapet over the entry and engaged brick columns regularly spaced with semi-circular windows between. The interior has exposed timber trusses, timber posts, timber floors and painted brick walls. The roof is of corrugated iron, recently replaced. Condition is good, and the interior has been recently repainted. Non-brick additions on the southern side are not significant. Curtilage to be bounded by Upper Street, fence line to the west, internal access road to the east, and the rear of the building to the south (Pip Giovanelli, Listing Number I016, Schedule 5, Bega Valley Local Environmental Plan 62013).


The pavilion building was designed by RW Thatcher.

Used by:

The grounds have long been associated with a variety of sporting events, agricultural events, displays and demonstrations associated with the Bega Show’. More recently the showground in general has been used by the community in a number of different capacities including sporting events, showjumping and dressage events, special events (such as rodeo, smash up derby, monster trucks and motor cross), caravan and camping location, pavilion buildings used for private functions and in 2018 even acted as a shelter and refuge for the victims of the Tathra bushfires.

Traditionally Aboriginal people used this site as a meeting place and ceremonial ground (Egloff cited in National Parks and Wildlife Service, 2000, pg. 49). Today, the Bega Showground site has been used by the Aboriginal community to hold events and celebrations including the launch of Koori Heritage Stories, Bega Valley Shire and events for NAIDOC celebrations.

The particular significance of this Object:

There is a well-developed body of evidence which has found that events have the potential to generate positive economic impacts for the community (EventImpacts, 2012), and this study confirms that agricultural shows are still generating a significant amount of impact on communities in Australia. A wide range of stakeholders from the community participate in agricultural shows. These include competitors, judges, showmen, exhibitors, entertainers, volunteers, businesses, government, professionals, community groups, service groups, schools, families and children.

Indeed there are a large number of positive outcomes for the community and stakeholders who participate. The three factors that change most positively are a family’s fun and wellbeing, the promotion of local produce, and the community’s participation in local community events. Because shows offer families an opportunity to be together and have fun, it is likely that they contribute positively to stronger family relationships, reducing stress and improving the parent-child relationship. This is critically important as family happiness and wellbeing is well known as the community’s most important resource, reducing activities such as crime, antisocial behaviour and domestic violence, which are known to cost the Australian economy billions of dollars annually (Australian Institute of Criminology, 2003; McKeown & Sweeney, 2001).

Historical and anecdotal evidence suggests that the show may be successful at creating a positive experience for families because of its ability to facilitate friendships and romances, promote and maintain family traditions, educate children and visitors, allow visitors to get close up and personal with animals and primary produce, celebrate achievements and culture, showcase products and performances and provide an opportunity to relax and have fun.

“The Bega show was very important to the Wallaga Lake Koories, for all the Koories matter of fact on the coast, they used to travel down there to the Bega show. The Nowra one was the next one, time to go to Bega it'd be time to go to Nowra, so goin backwards, forwards to the shows. Pickin, saved our money up to go to the show. Still with me Mum and Dad, then there used to be a boxing tent then, and he used to come down to the Bega show, and that's when the Koories used to get up there and put their hands up to have a fight. There was Cliffy Carter he was a good fighter that bloke, and he used to get up in there, and Dad had a go, and one of me brothers had a go. Sharman's tent, Jimmy Sharman, that was his name. And they used to get up there and have fights, but Cliffy used to never lose a fight. Dad was a fighter, oh yeah, well me and Mum'd do our own thing, let the men do their own thing, you know. Well the Sharman always had their fighters, you know, but if you could've beat the fighters, you'd have won some money, pounds and pences then. Dad won now and again, but Cliff, he won every time” (Parsons, Georgina 25 November 2009, Bega Valley Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Study, August 2010, pg. 82).

While an agricultural show might be only one day of the year, many of these children and young people spend many weeks, even months, preparing for the show and entering competitions. The accumulative effect of planning, practising and competing can result in obviously large personal and social benefits for many children and young people. The literature points to extracurricular participation giving young people the opportunity to build interpersonal competence and formulate educational plans for the future, skills that are critical to adult educational attainment (Mahoney, Cairns, & Farmer, 2003). Further research indicates that extracurricular participation links young people to supportive peers and adults and helps to contribute to their identity as valued members of the school and community (Eccles, Barber, Stone, & Hunt, 2003). The evidence points to agricultural shows being an important part of children’s growth and development, their identity, educational achievements and personal success in life. Having the opportunity to feel a valued member of the community helps to promote school engagement, civic engagement and volunteerism during adolescence and into the early adulthood years.

As the event has evolved in Australia over the years, competition still remains at the heart and soul of the show and a key community engagement strategy. Competitions and exhibitions of livestock, and the presentation of excellent and abundant rural produce, remain a focus in an attempt to affirm the importance of traditional rural and primary industries in the life and economy of the country and state (Scott & Laurie, 2010). Nowadays, anyone can compete at the show, but show societies particularly like to promote the competitive show culture to measure and encourage the development of agricultural advancement and the best breeding animals (Fader, 2006).

Since the nineteenth century, agricultural shows in Australia have been sites for cultural and economic interchange (Scott & Laurie, 2010). They have been events that have engaged all members of the community to cooperate and compete as a means of expressing, and forming, a sense of communal identity (Darian-Smith & Wills, 1999). Agricultural shows, like other festivals, create the sense of community and celebration because they engage not just individuals and families but schools, community organisations, government and businesses, in this way helping to extend a sense of community and identity. All of these events, interactions and networks promoted by agricultural shows assist people to live and work together, talk and take action on issues that are of social, political and civic importance. While these may be incidental in some cases, being involved in an agricultural show is very likely to develop a person’s social relationships and have an impact on their life satisfaction in a positive and relevant way.

Related places, items, collections:

Comparative examples: (similar items in collections outside the Bega Valley Shire)

Further information:


Main theme:





Aboriginal cultures and interactions with other cultures




Aboriginal People’s Cultural Heritage and Connections to Bega Valley Shire

Working the land in Bega Valley Shire

Living in the Bega Valley

Other themes:






Creative endeavour



Pastoralism in the Bega Valley Shire

Creative endeavour in the Bega Valley

Sports in the Bega Valley

Thematic storylines:

Aboriginal culture - Place of ceremony

Rural and regional industries – Agricultural and pastoral

Rural and regional industries – Crops and grains

Rural and regional industries – Agricultural Societies and organisations

Entertainment and social life - Agricultural Shows

Events - Places of congregation and ceremony

First Nations heritage

Geographically associated places / sites:

Associated / linked places / sites / items / people:

RW Thatcher collection

Heritage listings (statutory and non-statutory):

Aboriginal place - listed in AHIMS database

Schedule 5, Bega Valley Local Environmental Plan 2013 (Listing Number I016)

Contributors to this ‘library’:

Carley McGregor

Graham Moore

This work is licensed to South Coast History Society Inc. under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. You may copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format; remix, transform or build upon the material; BUT you must give appropriate credit and provide a link to this license and indicate if changes have been made; you must not use the material for commercial purposes and, if you remix, transform or build upon this material, you must distribute your contributions under the same license as this original.

This Bega Shire Hidden Heritage project has been made possible by the NSW Government through its Heritage Near Me program.

Any further information about local World War I Honor Rolls, locally issued ‘farewell’ gifts, etc. or their associated histories will be GREATLY welcomed and will be added to the above library of information.

Please email your contribution to

References and bibliography: (include all sources consulted to compile this dossier, as well as details of previous studies of this object, including where accessible. Where individual people have been consulted verbally or informally, note as “Joe Blow, pers. comm., 5 December, 2018”)

Australian Institute of Criminology. (2003). Costs of crime [Electronic Version]. Crime Facts Info. Retrieved 18 May 2012 from

Bega Valley Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Study, August 2010

Bega Valley Local Environmental Plan 2013, Schedule 5, Listing Number I016

Bega Valley History Scrapbook, 2015 ‘Bega Show’, Last accessed 11 March 2019 from

Darian-Smith, K., & Wills, S. (1999). Agricultural shows in Australia: A survey. Melbourne: The Australian Centre, University of Melbourne

Eccles, J. S., Barber, B. L., Stone, M., & Hunt, J. (2003). Extracurricular activities and adolescent development. Journal of Social Issues, 59(4), 865-889.

EventImpacts, 2012. Measuring events. Retrieved 26 May, 2012, from

Fader, G. (2006). Commonalities and contributions of Australian country shows New South Wales: Federal Council of Agricultural Societies.

Mahoney, J. L., Cairns, B. D., & Farmer, T. (2003). Promoting interpersonal competence and educational success through extracurricular activity participation. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95(2), 409-418.

Scott, J., & Laurie, R. (2010). When the country comes to town: Encounters at a metropolitan agricultural show. History Australia, 7(2), 35.31-35.22.

Images courtesy of Bega Valley Historical Society, Josh Bartlett, Bega District News, Bega Showground Trust, The Bega Valley History Scrapbook and Ian Campbell.


Upper Street, BEGA NSW 2550