Highlands History | Town rivalry blooms over flower shows

Townspeople at Bowral and Mittagong held their first organised flower shows during 1887, and a flower show at Bowral in February 1888 was an outstanding success.

Controversy developed, however, over their success and about the name ‘Horticultural Society’ adopted by their organisers, as other such societies already existed. An Agricultural Show Society had been established at Burrawang in 1880 and then held annual shows at Robertson. In 1882 the Berrima District Agricultural, Horticultural and Industrial Society was established as a district-wide entity and from 1884 it held an annual show at Moss Vale.

Some locals felt that town parochialism was rearing its ugly head, setting Mittagong/Bowral residents against those of Moss Vale/Robertson. In February 1888 the Bowral Free Press defended the flower shows: “the exhibitors of all the larger collections will in their own interests continue to exhibit at the parent society's Show, and the Bowral and Mittagong shows will create healthy rivalry and exertions among local residents who could not spare the necessary time, nor devote themselves to the labour, of exhibiting at the Berrima District Society's show. The smaller local show is more calculated to create a taste for exhibitions among the class of people whose daily activities lie in an opposite direction; and so far as they do this they must assist the parent society rather than entrench upon it”.

The Mittagong Horticultural Society staged a flower show in April 1889 which was described by the BFP as a pleasing surprise to all who attended.

“The general impression had been that the severity of the season would prevent an accumulation of a respectable number of exhibits for show purposes: but the supposition was not born out by results. Of course, there is a great falling off in the show, nothing else could be expected; but it is at the same time in every way creditable. The fruit and vegetables, although not large in variety, are of the best quality; if the district is capable of producing them in a season like the present, what can it do under favourable circumstances?”

CREDITABLE: Guests and decorations at Mittagong’s first major flower show in 1889.  Photo: BDH&FHS

CREDITABLE: Guests and decorations at Mittagong’s first major flower show in 1889. Photo: BDH&FHS

“Apples and pears are the principal items of notice in the fruit sections; and in vegetables, the pumpkins, preserving melons, potatoes, carrots and onions occupy a prominent position.” The fruit was described as being of first-rate quality, with some grapes being large and of very fine appearance, surprising everybody. “The warm dry summer seems to have been rather favourable to the growth of grapes in this district. Jams, preserves, and jellies were plentiful; this industry seems to attract a good many devotees. What is more strictly the ladies' department (needlework, etc) did not provide too liberal a display; while there seemed to be rather an absence of the class of work which is styled fancy.”

A credit balance of £6 netted from the Mittagong show was praised by the BFP: “the holding of a successful show, and landing the finances on the credit side of the ledger, is a feat for which our neighbours deserve congratulation”.

In November 1889 the Bowral Horticultural Society held its second Spring Show of roses, pansies, and wild flowers in the School of Arts. The BFP described it as a genuine and complete success that “would have done credit to any horticultural society either in or out of the metropolis. Everyone was surprised and delighted with the magnificent display of roses. Nearly every imaginable variety was presented, and bouquets and other deft devices served to show them off in all their glory.”

TIGHT SQUEEZE: By the 1890s, Bowral School of Arts was too small for Flower Shows and other uses; a 2nd storey was added in 1913.  Photo: BDH&FHS.

TIGHT SQUEEZE: By the 1890s, Bowral School of Arts was too small for Flower Shows and other uses; a 2nd storey was added in 1913. Photo: BDH&FHS.

The display of wild flowers was described as unusually good, as were the displays of the unpretentious, delicate, pretty pansies. In the evening, the scene at the hall after tea was described as particularly enlivening. The show was crowded with visitors, and a musical program was provided. An auction sale of the flowers then took place, “nearly all the exhibitors having handed their exhibits over to be disposed of on behalf of the Society”. Bidding was brisk and the sale realised about £7.

The proceedings terminated with the singing of God Save the Queen, and cheers.

Small local flower shows are still held, but now Moss Vale Show has become the main exhibition event for the district.

  • Berrima District Historical & Family History Society – compiled by PD Morton. Part 3 of a 3-part series.

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