A rich history on display

by Andy Bryenton

The Ellesmere A&P Association’s Spring Show has been a red-letter day for so long now that it’s an integral part of the region’s history. In an era when many events are proud to have been run annually since the turn of the century, this celebration of the best of Canterbury country life can trace its origins back to the Victorian era.

That makes things interesting when it comes to seeing how times have changed, but it also raises the question of how much has stayed the same.

Certainly, there has been a resurgent interest in the good old fashioned displays and competitions which make a Kiwi A&P show such a singular event. More and more, in this age of the tablet and the smartphone, there’s a novelty to seeing the wood chopping, sheep shearing, horse riding skills of the farm and field up close and personal. We challenge even the most video-game obsessed kids not to enjoy a day out among such traditional attractions. Even a look at the Society’s own past reveals that people may dress differently nowadays, and drive a 4×4 instead of a wagon but there are some things which will always make good entertainment.

Putting together a huge show was the job of William Scott in 1919. As President of the Ellesmere A&P Society 100 years ago, his job was very similar to that of the President for 2019. He may not have had the internet and his iPhone to help with the task, but his family and business colleagues were a ‘who’s who’ of the Selwyn region as New Zealand came out of the long and painful night of World War One and into peacetime. Perhaps the fact that he was organising the first such show since the Armistice made him want to do an even better job. Then again, perhaps it was simply pride in his family’s farming past.

William’s father was Samuel Scott, who came to New Zealand in 1840, then spent some time in the dangerous job as a gold escort in Australia, literally ‘riding shotgun’ on shipments of gold in an era of highwaymen and bandits.

He must have been a tough customer; not only did he take on this rugged work, he then came back to Lyttleton and opened not one but two hotels. He went on to purchase a farm named ‘Southdale’ in the Rakaia country, and fathered a staggering 24 children.

William, one of this large family, learned farming at Southdale, but would turn his hand to mercantile pursuits. In 1894 William met another William (William Star Hill) and the pair went into business supplying any and all necessities for the farmer. Coal and timber, seeds and tools, even insurance services and Massey Harris farm equipment. As farming took off on the plains, the two Williams were in the right place at the right time. Also in the right place were their neighbours; The Southbridge Town Board, Ellesmere Domain Board and the North Rakaia River Board. William Scott must have been won over by their community focus, because he soon became heavily involved in many local groups, including the brass band, primary school, public library, and the Southbridge town board.

In his spare time (it seems he packed a lot into each day), William was a keen sportsman. He was a notable angler, winning trophies for fishing. He played for the Little Rakaia cricket team as well as serving as team secretary. In the winter codes, he enjoyed football, and was a committee member for the Southbridge club. All of these factors came into play when, 100 years ago, the ‘powers that be’ chose this farm-raised, commercially savvy and community minded country gentleman to put together a real barn-stormer of a spring show.

So, what did he deliver? Exactly the same kind of fare which will make this year’s 2019 show both familiar to those who love a traditional family day out, and different to so much else on offer out there. The sounds and sights of the highland pipers would have been poignant to those who had last heard their tones on the battlefields of France in 1919. The new, cutting edge farm machinery on display in 1919 may very well be back for 2019 in the vintage section, lovingly restored. But the prize farm animals, the poultry and the pies, the craft ales and the woodsmen with their axes would have been much the same. The dog trials would be held in the same expectant silence with the same fierce pride. The shearers would have been just as skilled and quick. In short, if William Scott were to walk out of his photograph and onto the Spring showgrounds 100 years later, it’s a certainty that he’d approve of how those who followed have ‘taken the ball and run with it’.