The Kiama Show and the Kiama Agricultural Committee has been an important feature of the Kiama and district community for more than 160 years.
Dr Charles Throsby came to the Illawarra in 1815 looking for pastures for his cattle and free settlers were keen to discover the opportunities of the Illawarra and South Coast. The first land grants in the Kiama area came in the 1830’s and the town was surveyed in 1839. Agricultural Societies encouraged and supported farmers to experiment in finding the best crops and livestock for a region.
The Agricultural Society of New South Wales was established in 1822 and the Illawarra Agricultural Society was formed in 1844. The Kiama Agricultural and Horticultural Society was established in 1848, to promote prosperity, development of agriculture and breeding in the area.
Sugar cane, wheat, barley, tobacco, grapes and hops were all grown in the region at some point, to varying degrees of success as local farmers searched for ways to work the land and support their families.
The first show was held in February, 1849 in the new brewery at the Fitzroy Inn (between the harbour and Collins St). The cattle were penned in yards on the old infants school site and the horses were shown where the Presbyterian Church is located.
The second Kiama Show (1850), started with a ploughing match in Jamberoo. The event was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald (1/3/1850) and discussed the high quality livestock as well as wine, cheese, bacon, butter, fruit and vegetables and herbs and spices. Market Square (Kiama Post Office site) was the 1857 show site and a 100 ft long pavilion was erected to house the exhibits.
The Kiama Show wasn’t held again until 1867 due to pleuro-pneumonia outbreaks amongst cattle herds in the district, rust in the wheat and drought. Market Square was used for the livestock whilst the other produce were nearby in pavilions and tents.
Market Square became the site of the Kiama post office in 1877, so the show moved to Blowhole Point where a large slab building was erected. The show remained at the point for almost ten years, until it was required for the lighthouse in 1886.
A new 11 acre site was purchased by the Kiama Agricultural Society in 1886 on Saddleback Rd (Long Brush). The pavilion, grandstand, stockyards and ring were all of a very high standard. The first show on this site on 9th February 1887, had more than 6000 attending over the 2 days of the show.
Ultimately, the Long Brush site proved to be too far from town and up a long hill. The show committee was given permission to use Church Point (current show site) in 1896. The buildings, fixtures and fittings were all relocated to Church Point and the pavilion was rebuilt near the Church of England. The pavilion was dismantled in 1924 and again rebuilt at the southern end of the showground. The Norfolk pines on the eastern side of the showground were obtained from the Department of Agriculture and planted following the 1898 show.
The produce and exhibits of the show reveal changes to the interests, farming and technology over the years. Farmers could show their best livestock and highest quality produce, and the non competitive exhibits allowed people to keep informed with curios from around the world and up to date with latest farming equipment such as milking machines, separators and mowing machines.
The show was also a wonderful day of entertainment and socialising with side show attractions, boxing tent and refreshments. The local show was a highlight of the social calendar.
In 1916 the military sought permission to us the Kiama showground for a military camp and training ground for around 2000 men. There wasn’t a show in 1917.
A Queen of Agriculture competition took place at the 1924 show, and was won by Miss Ethel Flemming. The Miss Kiama Showgirl is a continuation of an old and important tradition of local shows.
In 1935 there were discussions around the Kiama Council taking control of the show grounds, to make further use of the grounds for football matches and other sporting events. The Show committee continued to maintain the pavilion. This lovely timber pavilion was destroyed by a fire in August 1938. While the community discussed building another pavilion, World War 2 was declared. There was no government funding available for a new pavilion for many years. Kiama held shows in 1944 and 1945, although reduced in man-power, exhibits and materials. The 1946 Kiama Show was called The Victory Show to help the community celebrate and return to normal times after the hardship and losses due to the war. In 1959, C R Chittick and Sons set up their very successful Kiama Show milk bar, selling their own flavoured milk and cream.
Kiama finally gained a new show pavilion and grandstand in 1966, ready in time for the 1967 show. This show seemed to break the drought with torrential rain in the days before, turning the grounds into a quagmire. The Kiama Show has been plagued with rain many times over the years.
The changes in the beef and dairy industries over the years are revealed in the Kiama Show exhibits and sections, as well as the development of milking breeds in the region. The Kiama Agricultural Society was intrinsic to the development of the early farming and stock breeding in the region, as well as the economic, political and social life of the community. Karen Beasley's book, Kiama on show, documents the changes in exhibits, produce, attractions and prize winning breeds at the Kiama Show. There are also many reminisces in this excellent book by people involved with the show.
The new Kiama Showground Pavilion was completed in 2009 and the community and show society are very proud of the building and the facilities now available for the annual show and the community and sporting events held throughout the year.
- Kiama on Show by Karen Beasley (1997)
- Blue Haven by William Bayley
- Sydney Morning Herald historical articles on the Kiama Show accessed through Trove at the National Library.