Adelaide Showground ‘eerie’ with inactivity after first cancellation in 75 years

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.

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.

Night may have fallen on the Royal Adelaide Show in 2020 but hopes are high for 2021.(ABC News: Malcolm Sutton)

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.

Ripple effects

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.

A boy holds showbags in the midst of a colourful showbag stand.
Some children’s parents have bought them showbags online.(Supplied: John Kruger Photography)

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.

Caravans parked next to grass with a mural of horses in the background.
The new caravan park will be converted back into stables during the Royal Adelaide Show.(Supplied: Royal Adelaide Show)

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.

Don Preistley
A variety of exhibitors, such as Don Priestley pictured in 2018, will lament their chance to show off their best in 2020.(ABC Radio Adelaide: Malcolm Sutton)

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.”

A golden embroidery framed with wood and with a winner's sash beneath.
Susannah Whitney’s winning entry at the show in 2019.(Supplied: Susannah Whitney)

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Murray makes winning return at eerie Western and Southern Open

August 22, 2020

(Reuters) – Andy Murray claimed a hardfought 7-6(6) 3-6 6-1 first-round win over American Frances Tiafoe at the Western and Southern Open on Saturday, as the ATP Tour made a jarring return from a five-month COVID-19 hiatus.

From a tournament normally played in Cincinnati but moved to New York because of the coronavirus pandemic to masked ball boys and girls, there was very little normal about the return of professional men’s tennis.

With no spectators allowed into the sprawling Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, matches were played in eerie silence under the shadow of massive Arthur Ashe Stadium that will be center stage when the U.S. Open starts on Aug. 31.

Working his way back to match fitness after undergoing a second hip surgery in January, Murray got his first tournament of 2020 off to a positive start by surviving a near two hour, 30 minute challenge from Tiafoe to reach the second round where a sterner test awaits in fifth seed Alexander Zverev.

“My goal is to come in and my hip to be feeling good,” said three-times Grand Slam champion Murray.

“That’s what I wanted so I don’t mind how much tennis I get to play, I know that will come the practice, the more matches I get but the concern for me is my hip going to be well enough,” the 33-year-old Briton added.

If Murray’s game showed rust his battling instincts remained sharp, particularly in the first set tiebreak when he trailed 5-2 before fighting back to take control.

Tiafoe secured his only break to go up 5-4 in the second on the way to leveling the match but Murray, twice Western and Southern champion, broke the young American at the first opportunity in the third and closed out victory.

Women’s play began with a rematch of the Shenzhen final in January and another upset as Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova toppled ninth seed Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan 7-5 7-6(6).

Croatian 15th seed Donna Vekic was also a first-round casualty, falling 6-2 6-3 to twice Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka of Belarus.

The tournament also lost one of its marquee names when 13th- seeded Greek Maria Sakkari dispatched Coco Gauff 6-1 6-3 to spoil the 16-year-old American’s Western and Southern debut.

After a run to the Lexington semi-finals last week Gauff was put under pressure by her Greek opponent, committing 24 unforced errors and hitting only six winners.

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, Editing by Ed Osmond)

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