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Childhood memories of The Newcastle Show

Newcastle Show, to me as a child in the 1960s, was an extravagant feast for the senses that marked it as one of the great highlights of the year. The smells, sounds, lights and crowds of the nighttime show made it seem to me like a magical town, with its streets and alleys and the big public square of the main ring. I drank in the excitement of the event with wide-eyed enthusiasm.

The Show really seemed like a city to me – so huge, with so many different areas, each with an entirely different feel, but all touched by magic. As the years passed the magic wore off and I saw some of the tawdry side, but that couldn’t touch the childhood memories, stored safe beyond the reach of grown-up cynicism.

Summer of the 1960 Doll

Even now I can bring it back, if I try. I can smell it again: the rich scent of animal dung and urine, damp grass and the wafting hints of show food. As the recorded voice on the endless loop proclaimed, there were “hot Dagwood Dogs”, “percolated coffee – the only percolated coffee on the showground”, hot chips, fairy floss, peanuts and lollies.

My parents used to insist on taking me through the maze of exhibits. There were animals and birds of many kinds, mostly in small cages. There was garden produce, baked goods, marmalades and jams, art and craft work. There were stalls showcasing the products of companies large and small, pushing wares that ranged from cars to electrical goods.

The model railway

A big model railway layout promoted the services of the full-sized version. We’d shuffle with the crowds through these halls and stands, my parents collecting brochures and samples as they went.

I tolerated these things, and even paid some attention to the animals and birds. I particularly recall being fascinated by fantail pigeons, and I will never forget the night I ignored the sign that urged people not to put their fingers into the monkey cage and had my finger soundly bitten. But not even that could spoil The Show for me.

Who’s a lovely one then?

Sideshow alley was what I loved the best. It was the sheer number of stalls, with their colourful painted décor, garish lights and noisy spruiking that enchanted me. My father did his best to dissuade me from making him spend money on the stalls, but my insistence occasionally forced him to relent. I put my share of ping pong balls into the mouths of the laughing clowns. I took pot-shots with the rigged slug guns. I threw flimsy balls at weighted cans. Of course I quickly understood that there was no way I was ever going to win a decent prize and my discovery of how the odds were stacked was disappointing. The only prize I can remember was a green plastic crocodile with a suction cup under its crudely moulded hollow body. This disenchantment didn’t completely rob sideshow alley of its charm, however, even after the “us and them” attitude of some of the “showys” made itself apparent.

The sights are bent, guys

I have a faint half-memory of my grandfather being present with us at one Show. All his attention was on the ringside, particularly the woodchop, and I realised The Show was an entirely different event for different people. I saw the bleary-eyed blokes at the bar, downing their schooners. I saw the horse and animal people, intent on their own facet of the big event. I saw the po-faced competitors in the cooking and home arts sections, vying for their prize certificates. And milling about among all this was the horde of mugs, like me, not part of the magic world, but its lifeblood nevertheless.

Big girl on little horse
Little kid on big horse

When it came to rides and tent shows the limiting factors were my parents’ budget and my own timidness. I recollect the dodge-em cars, with their electric motors sizzling the night air as I thrilled to a few moments of free driving before being jammed into the inevitable knot of colliding mugs, waiting for the showy in charge to free us up. I begged for a turn on the ghost train and joined more mugs in our little carriages, rattling and banging through the makeshift castle of flapping and clattering panels, lurching from darkened room to darkened room amid fake spider webs, suspended rubber bats and illuminated fake skeletons and bloodied hands, all to an accompanying soundtrack of tinny horror noises.

Shriek for the camera please girls

One or other of my parents was ritually obliged to accompany me on the Ferris wheel each year. One of the showys in charge would lock down the handrails when we climbed aboard and our stop-start ride to the top would begin. Below us the bright shiny city of The Show spread out and appeared like an island of wonder in the wider sea of dull suburbia. And look, there’s Mum, holding the showbags and waiting for the big wheel to come full circle.

Another aspect of the ritual was a face full of sticky pink spun sugar from the fairy floss van and maybe a bite or two from a sauce-sodden pluto pup.

Good for your teeth

Then the pleasure of the showbags. I seem to recollect the Life Savers bag was my usual prize: it was probably deemed best value by my parents. Paper-wrapped rolls of musk, peppermint, spearmint and five-flavour sweets, along with one or two small junk novelties and a thin comic book – usually The Phantom or a western.

Yum, showbags

I have a memory, maybe false, of the fireworks signalling departure time, to avoid the rush and traffic jam at the end of the long and footsore night. Glimpses of the exploding coloured stars over my shoulder as we hurried out through the thinning edges of the throng and drove home to exhausted sleep.

A few days of eating lollies in memory of the visit and The Show was gone, until next year.

The Wall of Death
Are they chokos or what?
Young farmers and their produce
Climbing Monkeys
Chained monkey

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Dom

    Magnificent little walk down memory alley, the faded marvel coming back to life in all its funny details.
    Love the captions too, Greg.

  2. John

    Another grand collection of memories, mate,

  3. Mary Tarrant

    Beautifully written, brought back many great memories. My husband was into shooting and taught my two sons gun safety and how to adjust the sights. They were not popular at the Shooting Gallery.

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