Hugh Grimwade, aged 8, would not be familiar with the term ‘bucket list’. If he had heard it though, The Show would definitely feature somewhere on it.
Everyone in Melbourne knows The Show. It’s a staple of life in the city, running annually in some form or another since 1848 and growing exponentially over the years. The Show has retained its agricultural roots; there are still celebrations of rural culture in the form of petting zoos and blue ribbons for who has the most awesome cow (I’m pretty sure that’s what they were getting awards for). It is generally seen as a little hokey nowadays, but the crowds still keep turning up by the thousands, day after day. Late September in Melbourne has always meant kids clambering over rides, consuming chocolate bars by the fistful, and it always will.
I may have grown up a couple of hours out of Melbourne, but I still knew about The Show. Predictably, the picture that was painted for me was one of sugar and adrenalin, not cowpats and cowboy hats. Other kids would go there on school holidays and return with stories of the massive amounts of fairy floss and lollies they had eaten, the countless rides they’d gone on, and who had thrown up on whom when they went on one rollercoaster too many.
I never went to The Show. My parents, bless ‘em, have never been fans of paying for cheap disposable crap. The closest I got was a school excursion when I visited a local fair populated with dodgy leftovers from the previous year’s Melbourne Show. I bought a Goonies showbag for a few dollars, which was filled with miscellaneous plastic pirate gear – a hook-hand, telescope, pirate hat and eye-patch. It was awesome. The bits that didn’t fall apart within a couple of weeks stayed in my toy box for years. Happy times.
But now, as of Saturday, I finally made it. I can consider that particular box ticked off, that particular rite of passage finally achieved. The circumstances of my visit probably looked a little different than expected, however: visiting with two friends, my wife, and my wife’s growing baby-bump.
So, how did I go at The Show? How different was my experience at age ~33 than the 8-year-old who dreamed of going?
Eat something overpriced and vaguely disgusting
The classic choice for lunch would have been a dagwood dog, but we all agreed that would be too disgusting for words. Instead, we visited the CWA hall (silverside and mashed potato, along with the scones with jam & cream that are such a classic component of the CWA experience). Probably not what my primary-school self would have been expecting, although he would have been happy that I snacked on the occasional jam doughnut during the day.
Go on a ride
Hell with that. I’ve never been a big fan of amusement park rides; my father and brother love rollercoasters, but I tend to prefer my feet firmly planted on the ground at all times. As one of my friends said;
“Look at those rides. They’d require a lot of maintenance, just to make sure they keep running just right. Now look at the people who run the rides. Would you trust them? They don’t even have all their teeth..!”
Get ripped off by a carny
My brother-in-law owns a leather bracelet with a small lump of black plastic in it. It is, according to an old family joke, a piece of onyx. At least, that’s what the stall-owner told him it was…
I didn’t try any of the ‘games of skill’ myself, although one of my friends did try a game of blackjack in an effort to win an over-stuffed Kermit the Frog. Pity that he needed 21 to win, and every single card was an even number! What are the odds of that, hmmm?
Buy a showbag
(I never realised that ‘showbag’ was a uniquely Australian term until the spellcheck started underlining it in a wavy red line – for my international readers, the simplest translation for the term is: overpriced bag of toys and chocolate.)
When you think of The Show, you think of showbags. And when you think of showbags, the two words that come to mind are Bertie Beetle. I won’t recap the Wikipedia page – you can click through yourself for that – but suffice to say that cheap beetle-shaped chocolate is perhaps the most ubiquitous component of The Show. So, I entered the showbag pavilion and searched out Bertie.
Showbags are a big deal at the Melbourne Show. The first thing I noticed, once I got over the mass of people, was how often the word ‘mega’ seemed to be used, often in association with multiple exclamation marks. Mega-Ninja! has your plastic shuriken and katana, Mega-Cop!! is where to go for fake sunglasses, flak jacket and handcuffs, while Mega-Sumo!!! is, I don’t know what actually… plastic jockstrap and fake man-boobs, presumably.
There were also plenty of ‘bags covered in branded characters – Batman and Green Lantern sitting next to Ben 10, Ninja Turtles and Dora the Explorer – but my eyes were only for Bertie, and after a few minutes fighting the crowds I found him up the back. The Bertie Beetle showbags themselves looked a little sad, though, so I ended up going for a $12 ‘violet crumble’ bag with about six chocolate bars and a couple of Bertie Beetles. The value was made up by a Rubik’s cube thrown in which, once I got out and looked in the bag, I realised wasn’t included at all. Looks like I did get ripped off by a carny after all – huzzah for me, I guess!
So, worth it? Sure, of course. Good friends, good company, and the animal pavilion was interesting. There was a pug-judging competition on as we walked past, which of course made us think of Batman Pug. Oh, I did see a clown riding a bull. That’s probably worth the price of admission right there.