Next year, North Otago Agricultural and Pastoral Show will celebrate 150 years.
In an era when the space between town and country is surely shrinking and showcasing stock, especially sheep and cattle, is more often done on the internet than in the show ring, the continued life and growth of this event can only be commended.
The history of the North Otago A&P; Show and its many transitions is well documented, particularly in a 100th year centennial history published in 1963.
It is attributed to Mr K.C. McDonald, who was helped by several others to compile what is an important document in the history of the event and those who have led the organisation.
The president that year (1963), Mr R.C. Robinson of Monte Christo, in Maheno, wrote in his foreward that the initial function of the first show on November 12, 1863, was a ploughing match.
"The original members of the Association one hundred years ago had the courage and tenacity to organise a show, one of the earliest to be established in this country," he wrote.
Dubbed the Northern Agricultural and Pastoral Association, it was formed after a meeting held on February 4, 1863.
The chairman at this historic gathering was Alexander McMaster, who was a partner with John Borton in the Maerewhenua run and a recent candidate for the superintendency of the Province of Otago.
At the time, North Otago was still mainly a land of large sheep runs, held on licences to occupy.
The second meeting of the group was held on March 5, 1863, when the Association was duly constituted and office-bearers were elected. Most were station owners from North Otago, Waihemo and Maniototo.
The association's aims were defined as: "Incitement to improvement in husbandry and stock-breeding; the drawing together periodically of the agricultural and pastoral classes, thereby promoting a friendly feeling between them, and fostering friendship among members of each class; and, the affording of opportunity to buyers and sellers of stock for ascertaining the wants of each other and to settlers for coming to a general agreement in matters of common interest."
The first show
Rather than a show as we know it today, a ploughing match took centre-stage.
Of the 15 who competed, Peter Orr, driving his own team, was placed first with John Frew gaining the award for bullock teams.
After surveyors had completed their plan for Oamaru, a wide reserve, marked as the Esplanade, was left between Tyne St and the sea, presumably to be developed as a seaside park. Here, where commercial buildings now stand, between the lagoon and Wansbeck St, North Otago's first show was held. It is believed to be the third oldest in New Zealand - beaten to the ultimate title of the earliest by events at Christchurch and Taieri.
With hardly any facilities and short of money for temporary yards and fencing, there were, nevertheless, 300 entries, including 51 horses, 75 cattle, 81 sheep and nine pigs. Most of the sheep were merinos with shorthorns showing dominance in the cattle section. .
Local engineers Mathews and Reid entered carts, a plough, a set of harrows, a grubber and a horse hoe, all of which had been manufactured at their Oamaru workshop. On the day, about £307 was allotted to prize money with £19.4s 6d collected at the gate from about 400 people. The committee went into its second year with a credit balance of £6 14s and 6d.
The Esplanade remained the venue for the show until 1869, with the show schedule offering more classes, but halving the value of the prizes.
In 1866, the association added a barley show to the ploughing, plus exhibits of other produce, in April. The next year a ram fair was added and the date for the show was changed to February. But plans for the show fell through - only the ram fair continued - so 1866 is the first blank in the continuity of the association's shows.
The event was back in business in 1867 and 1869 marks the year it moved from the Esplanade to a block contained by Arun, Wharfe, Tweed and Hull streets at the top of South Hill.
It was a little over 2ha in size, although it was fenced with pickets, yards and a produce shed was built.
The Society continued to grow, entries rose at each event and, in 1874, the decision was made to expand the show to two days.
It was claimed that no other show in the country could offer a better display of draught horses and, for many years, the excellence of Ayrshire cattle exhibited was notable. The first Ayrshire sires in the district are believed to have been imported to Totara Estate.
In 1878, the Association was incorporated and took a new name: the North Otago A&P; Association, which it has carried ever since.
In April, 1906, a new showground was sought.
Just under 14ha between North Rd and the sea, intersected by the railway, was settled on, for a price of £2200.
The sale of the old property took longer. Eventually, in 1907, it was sold to a syndicate for £2000. The land was carved into housing sections and today, residents will be unaware their land was the site of 37 shows and almost as many sports events under the banner of the Caledonian Society.
Of the new land, 5ha were reserved; the rest, with the balance subdivided and sold by auction, realised £1330.
Work commenced at speed for the 1907 show. The ring was constructed, draining done, the grandstand, designed by J.M. Forrester, was built by D. Sinclair, with seating for about 1200 and a storeroom, press room, office, a grain and produce shed, a lunchroom and a kitchen. Rows of covered stock pens were built and the whole 5ha was enclosed in an iron fence.
Entries for the next show stood at 979, the highest since 1879. There were 108 draught horses, 109 hacks and hunters, 48 entries in the light harness section and 19 ponies. One hundred and 37 cattle faced the judges, with 197 sheep.
World War I brought problems with labour shortages and little time to prepare animals but, in 1923, the show celebrated its Diamond Jubilee and the committee yielded to pressure to stage a winter show, which was held for two years until it was abandoned in 1925.
During The Great Depression membership tumbled, and with farmers caught by falling prices and with the approach and effects of World War II, the show moved back to one day for the first time since 1873. It would not resume a two-day pattern until 1962.
Displays presented by the Women's Institutes and the Women's Division of Federated Farmers were popular and both entries and memberships of the society increased.
In 1955, the show brought in carnival sideshows and amusements on the afternoon and evening before the main show day on Saturday. Improvements on the grounds have also continued, including a new shed for the display of wool and ram sales, and a start on reroofing the stalls.
Last year, a hard-working volunteer group reroofed the shearing shed and improvements and upgrades have also been made to Forrester's grandstand.
This year, the show was under the presidency of Shirley Hayes, a Texel breeder from Hilderthorpe, aided by her very hard-working team, including secretary Barbara Watt.
Next year, for the 150th year, a new president, Bryce Burnett, will guide the committee to - and through - the 150th year celebrations for the North Otago Agricultural and Pastoral Association.
It is bound to be an occasion worthy of the long, honourable history of this organisation.