Sideshow clowns open door to grassroots democracy at your local show

Sideshow Clowns at the Bega Show. Photo: Kate Howarth, Bega Show Society.
Sideshow Clowns at the Bega Show. Photo: Kate Howarth, Bega Show Society.

Politics is part of every country show. There is the tongue-in-cheek variety between Jersey and Friesian dairy farmers, between sheep and goat graziers, and between dressage horses and motorbike clubs, but room is always made for the “more serious” variety, the politics that normally takes place in a parliament house or council chamber.

In fact, country shows provide one of the few unfiltered opportunities to speak directly to our leaders.

January, February, March is show season in South East New South Wales and has been for 145 years, from Moruya Show to Bega and Cooma, the region’s politicians make a point of attending, an army of party faithful at their side with marques and billboards marked in party colours and slogans.

The Bega Show last weekend offered some respite for the region’s federal representatives, who seemed happy to be free of Canberra and were looking forward to a week were their own sex lives were a talking point.

“It was like a bowl of sweet and sour Chinese,” Labor’s Mike Kelly, Member for Eden Monaro says.

“On one hand we celebrated the tenth anniversary of the apology to the Stolen Generations, and on the other we had the other business [Barnaby Joyce affair] going on,” Dr Kelly says.

The Turnbull Government was represented at the show by new NSW Liberal Senator Jim Molan, who has just completed his first two-week parliamentary sitting.

Dr Mike Kelly, Member for Eden Monaro. Photo: Ian Campbell.
Dr Mike Kelly, Member for Eden Monaro. Photo: Ian Campbell.

Senator Molan has been described as the Stephen Bradbury of politics. Listed as the seventh candidate on the NSW Coalition Senate ticket at the last election, the former Army General finds himself in parliament as a result of the Section 44 citizenship saga that claimed Nationals Senator Fiona Nash.

Like Dr Kelly, Mr Molan did not want to offer direct comment on the Barnaby Joyce affair or his own recent brush with the media where he was criticised for sharing a Facebook post from the far-right group Britain First.

“What may surprise everyone is that the Government is getting on and doing its job,” Mr Molan says.

“For example, the Minister for Veterans Affairs introduced a Bill last week which he called Veteran Centric Reform,” Mr Molan says.

The Government’s Veterans Affairs website says, “Veteran Centric Reform [is] to provide the veteran community with a greater standard of service through reform of business processes and culture.”

Reflecting on the work of parliament and other matters that might have been missed in the buzz around Barnaby, Dr Kelly points to the work of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.

Last week, the Committee handed down its Review of the listing of Islamic State Khorasan Province and the re-listing of al-Murabitun as terrorist organisations under the Criminal Code.

In a nutshell, their report concluded: “Islamic State Khorasan Province and al-Murabitun continue to meet the definition of a terrorist organisation.”

Perhaps not a front-of-mind issue for showgoers over the weekend, but Dr Kelly who sits on the Committee insists that it demonstrates that politics is more than the scandal and combat we see presented in the media.

“It’s [the Joint Committee] a very bipartisan mechanism, we really do focus on the interests of the country, keeping our people safe and defeating terrorists. There is no politics there,” he says.

The red of the Labor tent sat side by side with the blue of the Liberal tent over the three days of the Bega Show.

Often the different party members could be seen standing on neutral ground discussing the issues of the day or their show winning dahlias.

Passers-by were invited to raise concerns and issues, offer a view on parliament’s current agenda, or find out what’s going on for themselves.

“That’s what we are here for,” Dr Kelly says.

“Sometimes it’s good for people to just get things off their chest, I’ve learned as a Member there’s a lot of therapy you can provide by just being a decent listener.”

This grassroots demonstration of our democracy survives in a political landscape that thrives on extremes and conflict, and one that highlights difference rather than similarity. It’s a style of politics that sits comfortably alongside the giant pumpkins, decorated Arrowroots, and chainsaw racing of the show.

“And I am only new, I am not across the local issues, I am here to learn,” Senator Molan says.

Senator Jim Molan. Photo: Ian Campbell.
Senator Jim Molan. Photo: Ian Campbell.

Show season rolls on this weekend with the Canberra Show, followed by Delegate, Dalgety, Cooma, and Bemboka on March 11.

Head along not just for the sideshow clowns or a pony ride, but ready to see your local politician – the invitation is there to talk to them.

*This article first appeared on RiotACT

About Regional – a new place for the stories of South East NSW. Podcast 8

Sherringham, Tilba. By Robyn Lucas
Sherringham, Tilba. By Robyn Lucas

About Regional – the new place for the stories of South East NSW.

In episode 8…

Show season in South East NSW is coming to an end with Cooma (March 11) and Bemboka Show (March 12) this weekend,  and Bombala Show on March 18.

Bega Show is the biggest in the region, 3 days and 3 nights in the middle of February.

The sideshows are a big part of show time, but at the heart of any country show are the people, produce and animals that grow on this land.

Tilba Dairy farmer Robyn Lucas and her son Charles claimed the prestigious supreme champion dairy cattle award at the Bega Show – the best of the best in the dairy ring.

The win was bittersweet for Robyn, who after 15 years is being forced off her beloved Sherringham Farm through family circumstances.

I spoke with Robyn just after her Bega Show win.

Hope you enjoy the new snappier version of the program, listening options:

Click play to stream here and now…


Or you can listen and subscribe via Audioboom or iTunes

Feedback, story ideas and advertising enquiries to

About Regional – the podcast, episode three, November 6 2016

Tim Elliott and Ian Campbell
Tim Elliott and Ian Campbell

About Regional – the podcast, episode 3, November 6 2016

Thanks for clicking on, in this week’s program:

  • A lesson in youth engagement from Cayce Hill from the Funhouse in Bega and a pitch for their Pozible campaign. They are chasing a year’s rent to expand on their dynamic program in 2017. Read more here.
  • A snap from a literary lunch at Bermagui featuring author Tim Elliott and his memoir ‘Farewell to the Father’, part of a joint effort during Mental Health Month by Candelo Books, Il Passaggio and About Regional
  • The morning after an exclusive 10 course truffle dinner, Executive Chef Patrick Reubinson from Stroudover Cottage at Bemboka speaks of his passion for truffles.
  • Last season’s capsicums brought back to life by Tanja Permaculturalist Kathleen McCann. Read more here.

Feedback, story ideas, and sponsorship options to

Still working out a few little production hiccups, hope you can forgive them.



To listen and subscribe:

Click here to listen via Aubioboom

Click here to listen via Stitcher

Coming soon to iTunes!

A summer of secure water for Nimmitabel – Lake Wallace Dam full and open

The first warm, fragrant licks of spring struggled to get up and over Brown Mountain on the day I visited Nimmitabel.

A cold, icy wind (not unfamiliar to Nimmitabel) laughed as I arrived with no jacket or jumper to inspect Lake Wallace Dam southeast of the township.

I was meeting two well-seasoned ‘gents’ of this community, one of which offered me his jacket as the breeze really started to bite.

John Alcock and Howard Charles
John Alcock and Howard Charles

Howard Charles and John Alcock first started pushing for this dam to be built over 11 years ago, and just a few days prior to our meeting it had been officially opened by the NSW Agriculture Minister.

Beaming with pride for what had been achieved, both men were keen to jump the two fences at the main entry to show me a vision they had been living with for a long time, one that was now a reality.

Named after the former owners of the landscape it sits in, Lake Wallace cost $5.3 million to complete and now holds 320 megalitres of water.

An East Coast Low just after the 13 metre high dam wall was completed ensured Nimmitabel, once described as the driest town in South East New South Wales, would have water security this summer for the first time in many summers.

The potential of this site to capture and store water was recognised during some of the region’s driest times.

“I had cattle on the block next door,” John remembers.

“And I was riding around there, in the midst of the 10-year drought, and there were all sorts of springs (water) still out through the bush.

“And then I noticed what a magnificent big catchment area it was,” John says.

Later hydrogeological studies would also find ‘excellent clay’ in the area, meaning a good seal on the dam floor.

The potential John saw was not obvious to everyone, the dam site had a dry creek bed running through it known as Pigring Creek, and only tended to flow into the nearby Maclaughlin River during and after big rain events – an action that would be used in the dam’s design.

From the About Regional Podcast, John Alcock and Howard Charles:

With the people of Nimmitabel only able to wash themselves out of a bucket at the depths of the drought, in the mid-2000’s the case for a dam was building, spurred on by lobbying lead by the Nimmitabel Advancement Group.

But for a dam to work and capture the imagination of government it needed to rain, and that seemed impossible at the time.

The 2007 Federal Election injected some momentum with the sitting Liberal member Gary Nairn committing $550,000 for geotechnical studies and construction of a smaller farm style dam.

Labor matched the commitment but suggested a bigger plan overseen by Cooma-Monaro Shire Council.

Feasibility studies followed and in 2014 the NSW Government through the Member for Monaro, John Barilaro stumped up $5.3 million to build the dam.

Maclaughlin River 2004
Maclaughlin River 2004

Nimmitabel takes it’s drinking water from the Maclaughlin River, which in 2004 all but dried up.

It was said at the time there was more beer in Nimmitabel than water, the local council had to resort to trucking water in from Cooma.

Howard Charles believes a turning point in the lobbying for the dam came with a photo he took of a dry, sad looking Maclaughlin River in 2004.

“We got huge support from the Catchment Management Authority,” Howard says.

“They could see that through this (the dam) not only were we going to solve Nimmitabel’s problem, but we were also going to solve the problem of river health.”

Howard describes the Maclaughlin as a blue ribbon trout stream and home to lots of platypus.

“Fly fisherman come from all over Australia to fish on it, that’s always been part of Nimmitabel’s history and industry,” he says.

Over the last couple of years, good rain has restored the health of the Maclaughlin and now Lake Wallace sits ready to serve it and the 300 people of Nimmitabel.

“It (the dam) doesn’t supply direct to Nimmitabel,” Howard explains.

Maclaughlin River 2016
Maclaughlin River 2016

“Nimmitabel still pumps from the river, but when the river is too low, then all we do is just let the water flow out of this dam and down into the river and supplement the flow in the river.

“And as it flows down the old natural water course, it gives it a natural cleansing, so it is beneficial to the river’s health in two ways.”

Both men see water security as critical to the future of this small farming community and township on the edge of the Great Dividing Range.

During the worst of the drought, families and businesses fled Nimmitabel, but already Howard and John believe that Lake Wallace is injecting confidence into people’s plans.

The next idea for this body of water adds a new dimension to the town’s future.

Howard and John want to see the Lake’s normally locked gates open for recreation.

“What a tremendous place for fishing, this lake would just be the most perfect trout lake you could wish to find,” John says.

Lake Wallace Dam Oct 2016
Lake Wallace Dam Oct 2016

“People are going to drop in here (the Lake) and of course go into Nimmitabel or Bemboka.

“It would be a tremendous boost.”

It sure would, but for the time being and for the first summer in many summers, Nimmitabel will survive the heat ahead, a testament to a community that invests in its own future.