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  • jdettmann

Highly Commended

It’s the end of January, and with it have come the flies, the return of the Sydney traffic, and a trip down to the country to visit the Kiama Show.

The Show is a two-day affair, Friday and Saturday, and a celebration of all things agricultural. It is also, in its own way and perhaps unintentionally, a hilarious celebration of all things a little bit Not Quite Right.

An entry in the Porcelain Doll class. The stuff of nightmares.

So while outside in the main arena you can watch a proper showjumping competition and serious woodchopping, the winners of which will progress to the regional show and finally to the big one, the Royal Easter Show in Sydney, you can also watch tubby children driving miniature horses pulling tiny carts, you can eat an almost-definitely-poisonous dagwood dog, take a turn on a poorly maintained and dodgily erected ride to help you expel said dagwood dog from your body, watch the fight that invariably occurs at 9 pm beside the dodgem cars, or wander through the exhibition pavillion, to admire the handiwork of the locals.

The exhibition pavillion is my favourite. On display are flower arrangements in such classes as ‘Holiday time’ (‘Flowers must dominate’, stress the instructions); ‘Arrangement in a Wine Glass’ (‘Water allowed’) and, for the under-16s, ‘Miniature Seaside Garden’.

There are vegetables galore, and cakes and biscuits and preserves and homebrew. Then there are the handicrafts: sewing and knitting, tatting and quilting, embroidery and scrapbooking (that’s a new development, and not one of which I approve). In all these classes there are very fine examples of the crafts.

But what the Exhibition Pavilion really celebrates is trying. You can do a dreadful painting, bake tough scones or shove a bunch of wilting weeds in a plastic Gatorade bottle, but as long as you enter it, you will likely be highly commended. It’s not quite ‘everybody wins a prize’, but you certainly get points for entering a class that is clearly way beyond your capability.

At the age of seven or thereabouts, my little brother once entered the ‘Whittling and Carving’ woodwork class with a lump of balsa wood with a small uneven hole hacked out of the middle. It was about fifteen centimetres long. He called it a canoe and it was displayed alongside a coffee table hewn from a solid tree trunk and a life-size whittled mermaid. His effort received a ‘Highly Commended’. Likewise, my older brother once decided that since he had created a longstitch picture of a knight for a primary school history project, there was no point wasting it, so he entered that alongside the work of women who had clearly been needlecrafting since they were in the womb, during the Bronze Age. Despite the fact that he had sidestepped the difficulty of stitching the knight’s hands by giving him two shields, he too was Highly Commended.

I myself was the recipient of Highly Commended certificates several years in a row for my entries in the ‘Mother’s Day Breakfast Tray’ competition. It took me a while to figure out that beautiful china and a silver toast rack polished to a high sheen will only get you so far: the real trick to this highly contested class is to have real food (but carefully chosen so as not to be mouldy or flyblown by day three), a vase with flowers, and a vomitously twee card declaring your everlasting devotion to your mother. After that there was no stopping me and I took out first place for years, until my advanced age (sixteen) forced my retirement.

This year, the pavilion was much the same as usual, though there seems to be a new class called ‘Lego Construction or Model, Displayed on A Tray’, which rather tickled my fancy.

They make bogan hair for Lego. Who knew?

And as always, I was won over by the simple rural elegance of the display of ‘Longest Stalk of Paspalum Grass’ and ‘Longest Kikuyu Runner’. For me, that sums up the show: pegboard, dried grass and brightly coloured certificates. I’d like to see a cityslicker make a handsome display out of the that.

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