The very first exhibition of Grafton produce was in 1866 and was held at corner of Fry and Queen Street, Grafton.
Samples from that exhibition were sent to the Melbourne International Exhibition in September, 1866.
Several awards were won by the Grafton District in that prestigious exhibition with Schaeffer House in Grafton, housing one of the winning trophies.
Exhibits were sent to the Melbourne International exhibition since as far back as 1862. These entries included red cedar, white cedar, Moreton Bay pine, bean trees, silky oak, rosewood, red box grey gum, sugar cane, tobacco leaf, arrowroot, and even white wine and red wine!
About 640 people attended that first 1866 exhibition, 120 being pupils from the local National School and the gate takings were 25 pounds.
In July 1866 the formation of the “Clarence Pastoral, Agricultural and Horticultural Association”, took place. Aldermen Payne, Avery and Jacobs with Messrs Martin and Bultitude had responsibility for the drawing up of the Association’s rules.
Ploughing matches were held each year in those early shows with rivalry between residents of Grafton and Ulmarra and in 1866 they were held on land near the present Grafton Racecourse.
Competition was in two sections, using bullocks and horses. Judging was on the quality and speed they could plough one quarter of an acre.
The first winner (using a pair of horses) was Alexander Waters whose prize money was four pounds, whilst William Want won three pounds, using a team of bullocks.
Income from the 1867 show, totalled 177 pounds and a profit of five pounds, 12 shillings was made, after the Secretary was paid one pound in recognition of his services to the Association!
In 1884 “The Barn” (T J Ford Pavilion) was erected at the old showground venue (Turf/Hoof and Cranworth Streets).
The late 1800’s saw the birth of the dairy industry in the Clarence Valley, which brought cattle into the picture, adding to the show exhibits.
Up until the Second World War many of the dairy cattle were transported to the Grafton Show by river steamer and walked down the main street, to the showground.
In 1906 the showground moved from the Grafton Racecourse to its current location after a severe wind storm devastated buildings at the racecourse. “The Barn” was relocated to the new showground.
In 1920 the 52nd Grafton Show was held and for the first time fat ox, sheep and pig competitions were conducted. Admission was 2 shillings. During this show, a horse named Radius jumped 6 feet, 11 inches – a record that remains undefeated.
Doctor, (and later Sir) Earl Page, Federal Member for Cowper, opened this Show – after a stint of two years as Mayor of South Grafton, between1918 -1920.
“People’s Day” became a feature of the Show and in 1940, 12,000 people attended the four day show – a huge event.
Once again, Sir Earl Page opened this Show and stated, quote: “At present every problem is overshadowed by the cloud of war”.
The original grandstand at the Prince Street, showground was destroyed by fire in 1948.
In 1950 Sir Earl Page was again present, but this year the shows special guest was the great Australian, Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies who said, quote: “I am pleased to be in such a beautiful fertile district. Grafton Show proves what a district can provide”.
Sir John McEwen, Federal Minister for Agriculture officiated at the 1954 Show with Sir Earl Page attending yet again. The NSW Governor Sir John Northcott attended a very wet 1956 show.
In 1969 the new grandstand was completed and opened by the Hon. Mr T E Lewis MLA and officially named Badgery Grandstand.
The Captain Cook Bi-centenary show was held in 1970, when the great Olympian John Fahey from Taree, won the Open Horse jumping event.
This is just a small snapshot of the history of the Grafton Show.
Sources: Schaeffer House – Clarence River Historical Society Inc., Ian Tiley (former Clarence Valley Council mayor – 140th official opening speech), Frank Clark – (former Grafton Show president) dec., Trove.