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The Royal Melbourne Show, through your screens

This year's Royal Melbourne Show isn’t on the Showgrounds.

A ride at 2019’s Royal Melbourne Show. Photo by Gabriela Caeli Sumampow


Like any other major event involving vast masses of people in close proximity to one another, this year's Royal Melbourne Show isn’t on the Showgrounds.


Even though Melbourne was one of the cities that has yet to take a few steps closer to loosening restrictions, the Adelaide Royal, Brisbane Ekka, and Sydney Royal Easter Show has also responded to COVID-19 with a cancellation.


Announced back in April, this is The Royal Melbourne Show’s third cancellation in its history of “bringing the country to the city” for over 160 years. The first being when Melbourne’s Showgrounds were requisitioned for the 1915 war effort, and again during the second World War (1940 - 1945).


The Royal Melbourne Show is also home to more than one thousand exhibitors, contractors and suppliers. From owners of rides to showbag salespeople and all agricultural communities bringing animals to the show, everyone is at a loss during the pandemic.

“I think a lot of them have just had to temporarily shut down, unfortunately. Some are supported by JobKeeper, which is great; others are not because they’re sole traders or contractors. They have to get through 2020 and hope that 2021 returns to normal,” said Showbag Shop Online director Emily Williams.


A Royal Melbourne Show is rarely ever complete without a Bertie Beetle chocolate. Photo supplied by Showbag Shop.

But this doesn’t mean we’re saying goodbye to the show, showbags or Bertie Beetle this year.


Every September, the Melbourne Showgrounds is transformed into a world of excitement filled with vibrant lights, upbeat music and different forms of entertainment.


Given the overflowing happiness and fun that blanketed the Showgrounds last September, The Royal Melbourne Show is definitely a nostalgia for parents and grandparents, which their children will experience when they grow up.


The Royal Melbourne show is also home to the largest showcase of agriculture, conducted annually by The Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria (RASV).


Taste a wide range of food and drinks, win a prize or two in carnival-style game booths, get up close with farm animals and feast your eyes on various demonstrations available throughout the show. There are also rides suitable for all ages (and all heights, it’s not just roller coasters!).


After your day at the Royal Melbourne show finishes, walk out with a showbag or two (or three!) in hand — and make sure at least one of them has a Bertie Beetle.


Showbags? Now online!


As Ms Williams said, showbags are “uniquely Australian”. You can’t find them anywhere outside the show.


In a nutshell, showbags are basically goodie bags of branded products. The brands of these bags range from chocolate, confectionery, health and beauty, movie or TV show merchandise, and even magazines.


A deconstructed showbag. Illustration by Joan Tran.

Some showbags offer cooking and arts and crafts products, such as a My Kitchen Rules showbag. Inspired by the popular Channel 7 cooking show, the bag includes the iconic apron worn by its contestants, if you want to feel like you’re cooking for judges Manu and Colin.


Other than its unavailability outside Royal Shows, showbags have been a part of Australian history for about 65 years.


“People remember going along to the show as children, and our parents and grandparents have always had showbags at the royal show. It’s a big part of the year.


The only place you can buy showbags, usually, is at the royal show, and royal shows are the largest event in Australia, so I think there’s a lot of nostalgia that goes along with them,” Ms Williams told me through the phone.


She added that showbags offer outstanding value for money, and it’s just part of the Royal Melbourne fun.


The showbag business is generally very competitive, with over three hundred different brands being sold in the show.


There has always been a limited amount of showbags sold online when the show graced the Melbourne Showgrounds, but now, all showbags - even those meant to be sold on the Showgrounds this year - are available online at showbagshop.com.au.


"It also appeals to a lot of rural Australians who often can’t get to the major big event anyway. They can now have their showbags available if they never could,” Ms Williams said.


She added that even if people obviously can’t go to the event, they can revisit the nostalgia through ordering these showbags online.


The Royal Melbourne Show Showbag Emporium. Photo supplied by Showbag Shop.


Ms Williams found that a lot of customers buy showbags as gifts for different times of the year, and not just during the show’s season.


Showbags have thus been made available all year round with international shipping to spread the joy. They can also be delivered locally within a week.


Unfortunately, the amount they earn from selling showbags online doesn’t compensate for the show’s cancellation.


This year is tracking towards 30% of what the showbag business usually earns at the Royal Show. However, they still save up money from not having to pay costs of setting up their stands and hiring casual staff for the show.


Some businesses have benefited from the JobKeeper subsidy as well.


“Even with huge reductions in sales in 2020, we’re able to keep our doors open and keep our staff on, which is great,” Ms Williams said.



The Bertie Beetle logo. Photo supplied by Showbag Shop.

Who’s Bertie Beetle?


No Royal Melbourne Show trip is ever complete without coming home with a Bertie Beetle showbag, or Bertie Beetle merchandise.


Bertie Beetle was THE icon of The Royal Melbourne Show, and it’s also safe to say that he is the show’s mascot.


First manufactured in 1963 by the producers of Violet Crumble,

the Bertie Beetle chocolate was made in response to Cadbury’s own chocolate icon, Freddo Frog.


Unlike the fully milk chocolate frog, Bertie Beetle contains shards of honeycomb made up of Violet Crumble offcuts. Bertie is exclusive to the Royal Show, like its showbags, and a Bertie Beetle chocolate used to be sold for $1 each.


A vintage Bertie Beetle stand, selling the chocolate for $1 each. Photo supplied by Showbag Shop.

The Bertie Beetle chocolate was highly popular, without a doubt, for more reasons than its delicious taste. Bertie Beetle was the cherry on top of The Royal Melbourne Show nostalgia.


Ms Williams believes the nostalgia of buying a Bertie Beetle showbag is passed on from parents and grandparents to today’s children.





By revisiting these memories of The Royal Melbourne Showgoers’ youth, Ms Williams says Bertie Beetle, and going to the show, “just becomes a phenomenon”.


To keep Bertie Beetle in the minds of those who miss going to the show, Chicane Showbags is hosting a Bertie Beetle Budding Artist Competition.


There are three categories in the competition — “Best In Show”, “Meme Creator” and “The Kids Category”. The best entry wins one thousand Bertie Beetle chocolates, which are meant to be shared, of course. As Ms Williams said, “it would be impossible to consume that many, we don’t advocate that”.


Submissions are open until 30th September. A shortlist will be created on 1st October, and people will be able to vote through Instagram.


More information available on the Bertie Beetle Budding Artist Competition page.


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