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Only decade left for shows

Written by student3

There could only be another decade left in the Australian country show circuit. As financial pressures mount and people become time poor, communities are less able to support the agricultural events that roll through town each year.

For the guild of traveling showmen and women who drive the rides and man the sideshows, it’s a sad thought.

“It does make me sad. I work 52 shows a year and I know people all over Australia.”

Max Laurie is the president of the Victorian Showmen’s Guild. He’s a member of one of the half-dozen families that started the show industry in Australia a century ago. Now there are more than 250 families involved.

Max’s father started out with a stem merry-go-round. Max ran dodgem cars for 40 years, but now operates the Tiapan rollercoaster. He rides it a couple of times each day.

“The show circuit as we know it in Australia today will be non-existent, I would say, within 10 years,” says Max. “We would look to be moving to what has happened, probably 30 years ago, in the United States, where they have a mainly a state fair or a divisional fair.”

He says the industry is suffering and there will be a lot of change during the next five years. One of the biggest challenges is finding reliable labour to help run the rides and sideshows.

“On the country show circuit it is getting difficult to find people to help run shows. As a result many country shows find themselves in a financial dilemma, having to pay for all the things that volunteers used to do.”

What used to be a lucrative business has become more competitive in the past 10 years and Max says showmen’s profits these days are about 20 per cent of ticket sales. He can remember when it was 40 per cent.

But for Max and the 400 or so members of the Showmen’s Guild, the circuit is a life choice. Except for Christmas, the year is a constant stream of shows, starting in the southern states and moving north and south again stopping in small towns and regional cities before moving on to the capital cities.

George Pink is president of the Showmen’s Guild of Australasia. He grew up with Max and also descended from one of the original show families. His people began in show business in 1899 and one of his aunts adapted the American corn dog to Australian tastes. Today George makes a living selling her invention – the Dagwood Dog.

“It’s a lifestyle. It’s the way we live. It’s an exciting life because you know everybody … I know everybody in show business in Australia, I know a lots of people in America in the same business, lots of people in England in the business and we are all identical, we all have the same aims, we live the same way.”

Show business, he says, is a bit like farming: “If you wasn’t born there you couldn’t live there.

“For us to survive in Australia we’ve got [to travel to] so many small towns. You have to go to Ningin and Cobar and towns like this – and they are beautiful towns – but the facilities out there for showmen are very rough – you’ve got power and water, and they are dusty.”

The Brisbane Ekka is one of the bigger shows on the circuit. The Royal National Association of Queensland has been hosting the event in the inner city since 1876. Back then the show attracted 5,000 people, this year more than 400,000 came over 10 days – 20 per cent more than the year before..

“Brisbane’s a great show. It’s been going a long time,” says George. “It’s got it’s problems like all the big shows, they’re a property in the centre of a capital city that they have to maintain and look after … but as a show it’s a good show.

“It’s been battered the last few years with the flu and we suffer badly … but it should be a good show this year, everything is very positive.”

But wet weather on two of the busiest days hit some showmen’s margins. Max calculated the RNA would earn more than he and his business partners this time.

 

There could only be another decade left in the Australian country show circuit. As financial pressures mount and people become time poor, communities are less able to support the agricultural events that roll through town each year.

For the guild of traveling showmen and women who drive the rides and man the sideshows, it’s a sad thought.

“It does make me sad. I work 52 shows a year and I know people all over Australia.”

Max Laurie is the president of the Victorian Showmen’s Guild. He’s a member of one of the half-dozen families that started the show industry in Australia a century ago. Now there are more than 250 families involved.

Max’s father started out with a stem merry-go-round. Max ran dodgem cars for 40 years, but now operates the Tiapan rollercoaster. He rides it a couple of times each day.

“The show circuit as we know it in Australia today will be non-existent, I would say, within 10 years,” says Max. “We would look to be moving to what has happened, probably 30 years ago, in the United States, where they have a mainly a state fair or a divisional fair.”

He says the industry is suffering and there will be a lot of change during the next five years. One of the biggest challenges is finding reliable labour to help run the rides and sideshows.

“On the country show circuit it is getting difficult to find people to help run shows. As a result many country shows find themselves in a financial dilemma, having to pay for all the things that volunteers used to do.”

What used to be a lucrative business has become more competitive in the past 10 years and Max says showmen’s profits these days are about 20 per cent of ticket sales. He can remember when it was 40 per cent.

But for Max and the 400 or so members of the Showmen’s Guild, the circuit is a life choice. Except for Christmas, the year is a constant stream of shows, starting in the southern states and moving north and south again stopping in small towns and regional cities before moving on to the capital cities.

George Pink is president of the Showmen’s Guild of Australasia. He grew up with Max and also descended from one of the original show families. His people began in show business in 1899 and one of his aunts adapted the American corn dog to Australian tastes. Today George makes a living selling her invention – the Dagwood Dog.

“It’s a lifestyle. It’s the way we live. It’s an exciting life because you know everybody … I know everybody in show business in Australia, I know a lots of people in America in the same business, lots of people in England in the business and we are all identical, we all have the same aims, we live the same way.”

Show business, he says, is a bit like farming: “If you wasn’t born there you couldn’t live there.

“For us to survive in Australia we’ve got [to travel to] so many small towns. You have to go to Ningin and Cobar and towns like this – and they are beautiful towns – but the facilities out there for showmen are very rough – you’ve got power and water, and they are dusty.”

The Brisbane Ekka is one of the bigger shows on the circuit. The Royal National Association of Queensland has been hosting the event in the inner city since 1876. Back then the show attracted 5,000 people, this year more than 400,000 came over 10 days – 20 per cent more than the year before..

“Brisbane’s a great show. It’s been going a long time,” says George. “It’s got it’s problems like all the big shows, they’re a property in the centre of a capital city that they have to maintain and look after … but as a show it’s a good show.

“It’s been battered the last few years with the flu and we suffer badly … but it should be a good show this year, everything is very positive.”

But wet weather on two of the busiest days hit some showmen’s margins. Max calculated the RNA would earn more than he and his business partners this time.

 Image courtesy of Skye Doherty, used with permission




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