Backward Glance – 100 years on, the proud tradition of Kenilworth Show lives on
  • Friday 20 September 2019

2019 marks the 100th anniversary since the first Kenilworth Show was staged. 

The first annual exhibition of the Kenilworth Pastoral Agricultural Horticultural and Industrial Society was held on the river flats of the Sharry property in the locality now known as Gheerulla on Tuesday 25 November 1919. 

Eight months previous, the society was formed following a suggestion made at a school children’s patriotic picnic. A committee was formed and a lease of a piece of land was secured from Mr Sharry. It was a beautiful site for a showground located on Gheerulla Creek. 

A building described as “magnificent” was erected without sides or ends, with rows of seating allowing close examination of all exhibits without crowding.

On 27 November 1919, the Gympie Times and Mary River Mining Gazette, reported the attendance was excellent and included a number of visitors from distant parts. The report continued to state that the display by housewives of the district was magnificent. There were 300 to 400 jam and jelly exhibits and pickles by the dozen. There were enough cakes to start a bakery and scones light enough to act as floaters for a fishing line, pastry light enough to rise as quickly as Ryan’s deficits (Ryan being a Queensland Premier) and confectionery galore. The writer commented one could understand why Abraham lived to such an old age, his wife must have come from Kenilworth.

Miss Hassall won with her collection, and Mrs Sims was second. Another exhibit by Miss Drabasch of Imbil was a beautiful wax model of a cow. It was said that each hair was put on separately – it was much admired.

The 1920 show saw visitors travelling by motor vehicle to Kenilworth. The Nambour Chronicle reported that one of the attractions of the future to Nambour residents would be the run to the Kenilworth Show.

This year there were 10 of these useful machines on the ground. They came from different directions, one a Studebaker “Light Four” coming all the way from Brisbane for demonstration purposes, another Mr H.F. Walker’s Chevrolet coming from Tewantin.

Unfortunately it broke down a couple of miles from the show but was rescued by a party travelling from Nambour.

The show society had decided the show would be a dry event, not allowing any intoxicants to be sold so travellers collected bags of “ammunition” on the way.

Mr Walker M.L.A. in his opening speech declared that the show was better than last year as the season was better, the people running it had got more into harness and the fact that the district was more opened up. He did note that the exhibits of the ladies stood out better than those of the men.

The fifth annual show in 1923 was attended by 600 people and the gate takings were 24 pounds. It was reported that, of all the sections of the show, the best display was exhibited in the farm produce, including a magnificent sample of potatoes from Imbil exhibited by Mr D. Collins.

In his opening speech of the 1924 show, Mr Brand M.L.A. (Burrum) had mixed commentary on the quality of the displays. He advised farmers to take up sugar cane farming and commented that “your fruit is weak, but though weak, I recognise that you are not a fruit-growing district”. Mr Brand commented on the absence of pigs from the show and urged farmers to keep this industry up to the mark. He also referred to the exhibit of horses, but they had not the professional class in their midst. However, there was a fine showing of potatoes!

Times were different in 1926, glorious weather, record attendance and excellent entries. Mr Walker M.L.A. expressed pleasure that the exhibition was a record in every respect because it proved the society was moving in the right direction. He spoke of the importance of shows in the stimulation of competition with the result of increased production to an enormous extent. Mr Walker praised the exhibit of the fruit, farm produce and vegetables saying they were good enough for the National Exhibition, while he considered the ladies section was second to none and proved that the farmers of the district had excellent wives and daughters.

Record attendances and exhibits continued through the years – being 1400 entries and attendance well over 1000 people in 1929.

There were record entries at the 15th annual show in 1933 with magnificent displays under adverse conditions. “Inches of rain!  Boggy roads! Show ring inundated! And still the show goes on” was the headline in the Nambour Chronicle. Ring events proceeded in a partly submerged arena with horse hurdles lowered to avoid any risk of accidents. The high jump of five feet six inches by J. M. Webster’s Jubilee was seen as a great effort in view of the “take-off”. The officials and press were compelled to wade through water over 12 inches high.

The vegetable display was impressive with dozens of cabbages shown, some weighing up to 27lbs (12.25kg), mangle wurzels weighing 77lbs (35kg) and pumpkins weighing 67lbs (30.39kg).

In 1934 at a special meeting of the show society held in Lower Kenilworth hall on 5 July, it was decided that a sports carnival be held in lieu of the regular show.  By this action it was hoped the funds would be sufficiently augmented to proceed with the regular show the next year.

The show was held in 1935 but with reduced entries. 

In 1936, at the annual meeting of the Kenilworth Show Society it was decided to abandon the show and divide the funds in hand between two public halls. While regret was expressed the small number of enthusiastic workers felt that they were not justified in shouldering the responsibility any longer.

After the establishment of the Kenilworth Township in 1921, the focus of the show activities shifted to that centre and the society decided to auction the buildings at the Lower Kenilworth showgrounds and to hold future shows at the recreation ground at Kenilworth Township.

In September 1941, Kenilworth held a Patriotic Rodeo after weeks of industrious organisation by the secretary of the Kenilworth Rodeo Committee, Mr L. Beattie. The rodeo was a huge success with more than 1000 people entertained.

The Nambour Chronicle reported it was possibly the best outdoor event ever presented between the centres of Gympie and the metropolis. The gate takings were approximately 80 pounds and the campfire ball was responsible for 63 pounds four shillings.

Over the following years it became known as the Kenilworth Bushmen’s Carnival featuring camp drafting, wood chop and the return of all the exhibits seen at previous shows.

The Kenilworth Show and Rodeo has grown and become an institution over the years and in this, its centenary year, will be opened by the Governor of Queensland, His Excellency the Honourable Paul de Jersey AC. Attractions will include National Rodeo Assn events, show jumping and other horse events, wood chopping, chain saw ripping, pig racing and sideshows. The very competitive cooking, horticultural, sewing and craft displays will be there for all to enjoy. 

The last words are from Mary Cordwell’s oral history “It was lovely to go to the Show and you prepared for it, you worked up for it. It was like school holidays, you counted the days and there was always a merry-go-round.”

Have a very successful centenary show!

Thanks to the Heritage Library staff for the words and Picture Sunshine Coast, Kenilworth Historical Museum Collection, Keven Franzi and Herbert King for the images  

Image details

Hero: V.T. Austin competing in the Rough Riding event at the Kenilworth Show and Rodeo, Kenilworth Sports Reserve, 1957.

Image 1: Cattle parade at the Kenilworth Showgrounds, ca 1950.
The first Kenilworth show was organised by the Kenilworth community on the river flats of the Sharry property in 1919 in the locality now known as Gheerulla (Lower Kenilworth). The show continued at the locality until 1935 although the focus of the show activities shifted to the Kenilworth Township after its establishment in 1921.

Image 2: Preparing crushes for the annual Kenilworth Rodeo, Kenilworth Sports Reserve, September 1967.
By the 1960s the Kenilworth Rodeo Bushman's Carnival and Show was recognised as one of the top rodeos in Queensland. It is currently held on the third weekend in September. Rodeo events include calf riding, buckjumping, open bullock ride, wild calf ride, bull-dogging as well as an open camp draft.

Image 3: Kenilworth Showgrounds and camping area, 1988

Image 4: Kenilworth Rodeo at the showgrounds, Kenilworth, 17 September, 1988

Image 5: Calf roping event at the Kenilworth Show and Rodeo, Kenilworth, 1988

Image 6: Woodchop in progress at the Kenilworth Show and Rodeo, Kenilworth, 1988