18 February 2023

Generations of self-sufficiency to showcase at Goulburn Show

| John Thistleton
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Graeme Welsh

With a keen eye honed from years of growing experience, Goulburn Show steward Graeme Welsh knows top-shelf produce when he sees it. Photo: John Thistleton.

A country show’s produce section returns people to a time when self-sufficiency was essential in the bush. Most people had little money back then and ate only what they could grow.

Goulburn’s chief steward in the produce section for more than a decade, Graeme Welsh, remembers his grandparents’ and parents’ generations as he prepares for more than 100 different varieties of home-grown produce, from coloured eggs of all sizes, skinny and broad beans, red and green apples, dark and light honey and fresh garden salads, to arrive for judging.

He is reminded of what he grew too, more than 30 years ago when he and his wife Kathy moved out to Murrays Flat east of Goulburn. In no time he had a productive vegie garden feeding his family, extended family and friends.

“My mother Mary was thrifty, she would always be cooking cakes, making scones or making jam,” he said.

”Even up to 10 or 12 years ago, she was making the best pineapple and plum jam or something like that.”

Mary had told him back in her day her father Donald Clarke could repurpose old bottles into jam jars by running a hot wire around the top, breaking it off and sanding smooth the rim. Once filled with jam, it would be sealed with paper over the top of the jar.

“I remember my father (Max) telling me when he was a kid, he used to grow ducks in the backyard and take them down and sell them to the Chinese restaurant,” Graeme said.

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“Myself and another mate would go and catch rabbits and sell them to Andy Bowman, who had the shop on the corner of Kinghorne and George streets where the little shop still is. Andy used to give us about 80 cents a pair, I think. You would get up before school and go to Marsden Weir to check your rabbit traps. I guess I always had a bit of a background that way.”

In the late 1960s, Graeme and his brother-in-law Paul Huggett grew lettuce and boxed them up of a morning for Woolworths, which just opened in Goulburn.

Years later, gardening at Murrays Flat, Graeme began entering his carrots, beans, chilli and corn, and even his honey, in the Goulburn Show. Pretty soon he got to know the stewards, including the chief steward, Lorraine Hunt.

“This particular year she was absolutely flat out trying to handwrite all these entries. I said to her, ‘Do you want a hand?’,” Graeme said.

A few years later, Lorraine handed over the steward’s baton to Graeme, spelling the end of his days as an entrant.

Still a keen gardener, his many years of growing enable him to nominate what sections will be in the show schedule each year, which these days includes everything from compost to a decorated-pumpkin section for children.

In early March, show-goers wander into the pavilion to leisurely browse the melons, squash, capsicum, potatoes and carrots. They see all the prize winners’ and placegetters’ cards resting alongside the pick of the crop.

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The orderly ritual masks the frenzy in the weeks and days leading into the show preparing placegetter cards and how the section will be displayed. Show produce must be timed correctly to look its best over the judging and successive days. Entries arrive on the Thursday and judging is on Friday morning.

“The weather has an influence on how vegetables will stand up in a pavilion which is not air-conditioned and if you get two 33 or 34-degree days, that will take the shine off (entries),” Graeme said.

As a show entrant, he went into his garden under portable lighting at 2 am to pick lettuce to ensure peak freshness. Once, the 12 prime beans he picked on the afternoon before entries opened inadvertently ended up being eaten for dinner that night.

“They were very nice beans,” Graeme said, grinning at his oversight.

girl with lettuce

Graeme’s daughter Summer with a grand champion lettuce he grew in 1992. Photo: Graeme Welsh.

After the judging, there is the inevitable (friendly) rivalry among regular exhibitors, who include high schools, the Men’s Shed, Community Garden and Ron Hemming Centre.

“It’s amazing what Trinity College and Goulburn High grow,” Graeme said. “Their basket of mixed vegetables will have 10 different ones in the presentation.

“We try and mentor people with produce. One of the things I learned from old judges is that it’s not the biggest onion or biggest tomato that is going to win it. It’s the one that, commercially, is what you would pick up at the shop.”

The Goulburn Show will be on 4 and 5 March at the Goulburn Recreation Ground, Braidwood Road, Goulburn.

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