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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 7 (October 2, 1939)

The Manawatu Show of 1939 — The A. & P. Complement of the Centennial Exhibition

The Manawatu Show of 1939
The A. & P. Complement of the Centennial Exhibition

When you stand on Mount Stewart, you are looking over the best million acres of grasslands in the world.” That remark was made to me, not by a local enthusiast, but by one of our leading agricultural and pastoral officials, who has travelled the whole world, and made the statement from his own personal observation.

I had been reading a history, an account of one of the early missionaries in the mid-Seventies, who travelled from Wanganui to Palmerston North. He stood on Mount Stewart and “viewed what he estimated to be one million acres of forest and wilderness.”

One of these days, some one will write in prose or poetry of fire and emotion, the epic of human devotion, relentless endeavour, and endless skill and scientific planning, that made possible this magical transformation.

The Manawatu Show, as the display window for this man-made paradise, has therefore grown naturally and inevitably. Its immediate hinterland contains nearly two million acres, but to-day it has taken on national importance, and amounts to a New Zealand exhibition. In fact, the great carnival of November, will be the primary industries’ complement of the vast Centennial Exhibition.

There are approximately a hundred Agricultural and Pastoral Shows in New Zealand. They fall loosely into three classes: the Spring Show, mainly devoted to pedigree stock and the general purposes of farming science; the Autumn Show, mainly dedicated to fat stock and kindred exhibits; and the Winter Show whose main objectives are displays of produce and the mechanical aids, household amenities, and the like, which provide New Zealand with the highest standard of general comfort and efficiency in all the farming communities of the world.

(Rly. Publicity photo.) The departure of a special train from Palmerston North.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
The departure of a special train from Palmerston North.

The Manawatu and West Coast Agricultural and Pastoral Association has forged to the front, and its dominating position will be conceded even by its nearest and greatest rivals. The 1939 Spring Show promises to be the “Greatest Yet,” in the truest possible sense of the words.

The Association was founded before 1886, so that “How are you going to the Show?” has been a saying for fiftythree years now. What an event it was!

Before the days of paved roads and motor cars, getting to the show for those off the railway lines was a matter of intensive planning.’ They made the wayside station somehow or other, for a report away back in 1900 mentions that 14,500 people patronised the special trains of that year.

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All roads were crowded with gigs, traps, push bikes, and saddle horses–every conceivable form of locomotion being pressed into service.

The gayest train that ever steamed into Palmerston North was the “Show Special” that ran over the Manawatu Line when the State first took it over. That was the year when each engine bore in large lettering the name of its destination, but even then the orderly departure of the huge crowds required a triumph of organisation.

It would be interesting, if, by some miracle, some of those dusty and travel-stained holiday-makers of that time could return to see the spectacle afforded by the modern city of Palmerston North, and the spacious grounds and buildings of the Association.

I have before me the official schedule for the great Spring Show to be held on 2nd, 3rd and 4th November, 1939.

It is a fascinating document, promising an array of exhibits and attractions to satisfy everyone from the jaded city-miss to the earnest student of farming lore.

The ring competitions are always strong classes in the Manawatu carnival, and as New Zealand is a nation of horse-lovers, the stands and the whole concourse are always well filled. The jumping course is a steeplechase track in miniature, and the names of the stars of olden days will be recalled by thousands; the perfect equine, Pickpocket; the lovely prima donna, Duchess; the neat Tom Tit; the effortless Jumper, Gay Boy, and many others.

(Rly. Publicity photo.) A View of the business area of Palmerston North.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
A View of the business area of Palmerston North.

The Grand Parade, by the way, is on Friday, the middle day, at 3 p.m., so that everyone will have a chance to see the stock. This will probably be the most impressive “March Past” of the aristocracy of the animal world ever to take place in the Dominion.

The ring events are on all three days, and include such well-known competitions as the Rocket Cup for Champion Open Hunters, the Moutoa Cup for Ladies’ Hunters, and the breathless “Leaping Competition.” In this event, run on steeplechase lines, ladies may, and usually do, ride. Saturday will be in the nature of a Carnival Day, with special “Ring” events.

I am glad to see an entirely new item in the exhibition of thoroughbreds, “Special Progeny Classes,” in which there are prizes for the sons or daughters of four well-known local sires.

The general horse classes are comprehensive and are rich in prizes, but one competition is particularly interesting. This is the “School Team,” which comprises entries of three ponies belonging to children attending school. This always attracts large entries, and is the cause of excited treble cheers when the names of the winners are announced. The horse classes are always a feature of the Manawatu Show, for the district is no richer in horses than in enthusiasts who have endowed all these competitions with handsome prizes.

It is to be expected that in such a region as the Manawatu, the cattle should be notable. In any case, the competitors come from far and near, for a Manawatu award is a prize of prizes. Palmerston North, also, is the centre of a district whose varying configuration means that its lands graze a wide variety of cattle breeds. Calfrearing clubs are numerous, and real excitement is caused by the ingeniously planned calf-rearing competitions for young folk. There are, too, valuable prizes for the chilled beef classes.

The sheep entries comprise all the better-known breeds in New Zealand, and this year a new arrival in the shape of the Dorset Horn will be listed.

It is to be remembered that in the modern A. & P. Show, all the sheep cattle and utility horse exhibits are planned to assist in arriving at practical values.

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The great Manawatu institution is administered by practical men whose tradition and scientific outlook are often of the third generation. It is not overpatriotic to claim that in this development of the Show, New Zealand leads the world.

On the other hand, the governors of the Manawatu Show realise that modern conditions have changed the whole nature of the Show as a panorama or holiday carnival. Spectacle is supreme. Nowadays, fresh thrills and novelty entertainment have to be provided for a world that has the radio, the speed car, satin-smooth roads, cinema at most corners, and in other mediums, the thousand-and-one complex means of amusement for eye and ear that have become commonplaces of our everyday life.

Thus the judging competitions and shearing contests for young farmers and the host of similar events have definite educative values, but they have to be supplemented by a range of attractions with general appeal.

A quick survey promises good things for next November. There is the Cavalcade of Transportation. There is to be also a Cavalcade of Progress. This ambitious spectacle will include Agriculture, Industry and Dress, and will be a panorama of the successive changes that have taken place since this vast district was wrested from the wilderness by our doughty forebears. The dress sections will be arranged in decades, in two sections, daytime, and evening raiment.

A procession is planned for the last day, Saturday, 4th November. Everyone familiar with an old family portrait album will know what genuine shocks and amusement come from this form of entertainment.

On the Oval, besides the horse events, there will be motor cycle chariot races, a thrilling and hair-raising form of modern speedway contests. There will also be the sheep dog exhibitions which are usually as exciting as the New Zealand Cup. For good measure there will be the gigantic dog show, run by the Manawatu Kennel Club, occupying two big halls, and this year promising a record array of canine thoroughbreds from far and near.

Farming, like so many other human activities, has become largely mechanised. The machinery display at the Manawatu Show is an Exhibition by itself. It is colossal, and every year new surprises are sprung. The New Zealand farmer leads the world not only in his standard of amenities and his use of up-to-date mechanisms, but in his understanding of their working. The farm worker of to-day not only understands the moods of a cow or horse; he has an intimate knowledge of the bad habits of a refractory valve, or the location of a short circuit. I think much of this skill with machines is derived from the necessary ingenuity required of everyone in our pioneer days.

(Rly. Publicity photo.) Liberating racing pigeons at Otaki Railway Station, North Island.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
Liberating racing pigeons at Otaki Railway Station, North Island.

The carnival side of the Show is bewildering in its variety. There are rows and rows of booths, tents, sideshows, and novelty devices for the youngsters. All the world seems to want to sell the Show patrons something, and wares of illimitable range are enticingly displayed for actual miles.

The Government has already appealed to organisations such as A. & P. Associations to “carry on” with the good work they are doing to help stimulate the maximum production of quality and quantity in our primary industries. This appeal is being wholeheartedly responded to by the Manawatu A. & P. Association.

On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, 2nd, 3rd and 4th November, Palmerston North will be the venue of a Show which will make history. It will rank with the Centennial Exhibition, as a living pageant of the achievement of New Zealanders in this land so rich in treasures of clime, soil, keen brains and brave hearts.

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