Royal Agricultural Society of NSW: Launch of Bicentenary and ‘Sydney Royal’
Tuesday, 22 February 2022
Government House Sydney
Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC
Diyn Babana Gamarada Gadigal Ngura
Welcome to Government House Sydney which stands on Gadigal land. I pay my respect to Elders, past, present and emerging, and to all First Nations’ peoples across their traditional lands here in New South Wales.
This year commemorates the 200th anniversary of the Royal Agricultural Society, deserving not only of a right ‘Royal’ celebration, but also a right ‘Royal’ publication to record and commemorate the place of this great institution in the annals of our State history.
The 200-year history of the Society is a ‘blimp’ - a very important blimp - in the timeline of this land, which after some 65,000 years, continues to be the source of the produce which is showcased each year at the Royal Easter Show. Today, we increasingly understand, as the first settlers didn’t understand, that what works best for the land works best for the produce of the land.
And that, in itself, is part of the history and the development of the Royal Agricultural Society and its work.
The first colonists naively planted ‘nine acres of corn’ near to the Harbour foreshore. They optimistically called the area ‘Farm Cove’, but which the Gadigal called ‘Wogganmagully’. I say naively because the soil was quite unsuitable to sustain European crops. Soon, the urgent need to find arable land sent the settlers west – all the way to Parramatta!
In one respect, that initial failure was instrumental in the foundation of the Agricultural Society of NSW. In 1822, with the encouragement of Governor Brisbane, whose commitment to agriculture was as strong as his passion for astronomy, the Agricultural Society of NSW was established. Early members included Samuel Marsden, William Cox, Hannibal MacArthur and John Blaxland. Governor Brisbane was its Patron. The Society is the oldest and continuous of the patronages of the New South Wales Governor.
As the Society’s first Journal acknowledged “Those who have been accustomed to grazing and farming in England, Ireland and Scotland have much to unlearn before they can succeed here”. The purpose of the Society from the outset was to change that, instilling “… a public spirit of agricultural improvement …in the breast of all.”
Its first show was held in 1823 at Parramatta, fostering that competitive spirit that ‘excite[s] in proprietors an ambition to excel each other’ and to encourage the sharing of knowledge.
The annual subscription of 5 guineas funded the purchase of good stock, plants, seeds, machinery and textbooks from Europe, establishing a pattern of research and agricultural improvement that would continue throughout the Society’s history.
In 1891, Queen Victoria gave assent to the Society having the prefix ‘Royal’.
This year, the Society is honoured that the Princess Royal, in her capacity as Patron of the Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth, will officiate at its 200-year celebration.
The Society has remained steadfast to its primary objective to ‘improve agriculture’ throughout its history. It has done so with its commitment to research and innovation and by responding to the circumstances of the times. In 1917, in the difficult years of the First World War, the Society established the Scholarship & Prizes scheme to further advance the study of Agricultural Science.
From the initial prize of 5 guineas to the best student at Hawkesbury Agricultural College, the Royal Agricultural Society’s Foundation has, since 2007, granted 598 Scholarships with a value of over $3 Million to rural and regional students studying at university, TAFE and college.
So it is, that from a failed crop of corn, the Royal Agricultural Society, over its remarkable 200-year history, has contributed its vision, experience and knowledge to the $12 billion NSW agricultural industry. Through its continued research, commitment to agricultural excellence and innovation, the Royal Agricultural Society is building a sustainable future.
This history is now captured by Gavin Fry in Sydney Royal – Celebrating 200 years of the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales. Congratulations, Gavin, and congratulations to the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales. In every respect, it has been a ‘Royal’ 200 years!