A veritable ghost town has replaced what should have been the city’s busiest location at this time of year, according to Royal Adelaide Show (RAS) stakeholders, but all is not lost thanks to online interest in some of its most popular offerings.
- Adelaide Royal Show would have kicked off on September 4
- Royal Agricultural & Horticultural Society of SA loses 95 per cent of revenue
- Some events being held online as exhibitors lament showcase opportunities
Originally scheduled for a September 4 start, the Adelaide Show’s stages, carnival rides, marquees, stables and exhibition displays would have been getting assembled behind the Showground fences for an annual event that brings about $317 million to the SA economy.
“We’d be in the final stages of set-up here, about seven days from where the livestock start rolling in, so we’d be right in the thick of it,” Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society of SA chief executive John Rothwell said.
Instead, the show was cancelled in April due to COVID-19 restrictions, the biggest in a string of event cancellations at the 26-hectare multi-purpose venue in Adelaide’s inner-south.
Other than skeleton staff, maintenance workers and perhaps a few tourists in its new caravan park, the showground has been at its quietest since the last disruption during WWII.
An ‘eerie’ atmosphere
Mr Rothwell said the “dark days” in the pandemic’s first few months created an “eerie” atmosphere at the venue.
Just 10 per cent of its full-time staff were still coming to work, while others were made redundant or put on reduced hours with the support of the Federal Government’s JobKeeper package.
The show is by far the biggest loss, however, accounting for up to 60 per cent of the society’s revenue in regular years.
The digital world has offered some respite, with the show’s two high-profile ram sales, the Elite Sale and the Merino and Poll Merino sale, to be held online.
The Royal Adelaide Beer and Cider Awards will also still be held, along with its Wine Show, despite the public elements of those competitions having been cancelled.
“We have a few exhibitions and events still booked for the last quarter of this year, so our focus now is on those we can accommodate, as well as those in February and March next year,” Mr Rothwell said.
Other stakeholders feeling the loss include Showbag Shop director Emily Williams, whose company usually produces about 1.1 million showbags for capital city and rural shows, including about 250,000 for the Adelaide event alone.
She said 90 per cent of their income came from shows right across the country, most of which had been cancelled.
Despite her company also relying on the JobKeeper package to retain staff on reduced hours, Ms Williams said they turned out to be busier than expected thanks to a boost in showbag sales online.
“I think there are a lot of families who couldn’t go to their show but wanted to retain their tradition of buying showbags,” she said.
“When they hear they can still buy them, they do.
Gone into debt
Mr Rothwell said the first time the Adelaide Show was cancelled was during the Victorian Gold Rush of 1852 when men rushed interstate, erroneously “assuming that the women who were left behind could not run the show”.
It was also cancelled during the WWI and WWII years, as well as during the Spanish Flu pandemic, which was spread by soldiers returning from WW1.
He said the society had gone into debt in order to stay afloat, but had benefited from the City of Unley waiving its council rates for 12 months, and a Federal grant of more than $2 million.
It had also used the time to finish a versatile caravan park ahead of schedule in the south-east corner of the showgrounds, where old stables were demolished.
Exhibitors at a loss
Among those missing their chance to present their best efforts at the Adelaide Show this year are photographers, artists, cooks, horticulturists, pet owners, livestock workers, dairy farmers, tropical fish enthusiasts and flower lovers, to name a few, plus countless companies from the exhibition halls.
Embroiderers’ Guild of SA member Susannah Whitney, who won Best Handicraft Exhibit in Show during 2019, said members would otherwise be very busy preparing for the show.
“Normally we have our stitching group meetings every week, where we all meet and stitch together and look at what each other is doing, but we had to close down in March and are only just starting to reopen.”