Time to Show Off

July 29, 2012

Step right up to see the all-new, open-planned, space-age Royal Melbourne Showgrounds. Get set for a 21st century show this year, thanks to a $108 million revamp. But for a few familiar landmarks – the Pie in the sky for one – much of the Royal Melbourne Showgrounds is unrecognisable. Most startling is the giant new centerpiece – the $2 million Grand Pavilion, described as the biggest tent in Australia.

Daylight streams the 12,000sq m of fabric stretched in billowing curves over the big top’s giant supporting legs. The pavilion creates 8000sq m of indoor exhibition space and will display rural produce. It will host anything from rock concerts to sporting events over the rest of the year. Construction workers have until the middle of August to apply the final touches to the Showgrounds redevelopment. Royal Agricultural Society workers then have a month to prepare the site for this year’s Show, which will run from September 21 to October 1.

The most obvious loss is the spectacular 15,000-seat main arena, for many years home to the traditional animal events. Show operators are at pains to point out the new arena is more “intimate” at a third the size, and say the old arena was too big at times. The new arena, in a new spot next to the huge new livestock pavilion, seats 4300. A heritage-listed grandstand from the old main arena has been restored and looks over the new town Square, a large grassy pen space.

During the Show, crowds will be able to watch bands on stage from the lawns or the grandstand, part of a new pitch to youth. “We’re very keen to attract back the 16 to 25-year-old age group.” Explains the Show operations manager Tim Morgan. “We’re endeavouring to differentiate between the day Show and the night Show. “In the Town Square, we’re proposing a music venue with top-40 bands over the Friday and Saturday nights, and good quality pub bands on the other nights.”

A new attraction for children will be a reworking of the Animal Nursery. To be called the Animal Nursery Discovery Farm, it will offer hands-on rural experiences for children as well as the usual baby animals. “They’ll be able to visit a chook shed and pack the eggs. They’ll even be able to walk outside into an orchard and pick the fruit and put them into packing boxes.”

A new ultra-modern headquarters for the Royal Agricultural Society overlooks the Town Square. Historic buildings including Centenary Hall, the Royal Block and the Agricultural Hall have been restored. The heritage-listed Pie in the Sky was hoisted back up on its legs with a giant crane recently after its own facelift.

The new Showgrounds is less crowded, with vast open space, lush lawns and hundreds of new trees and shrubs. Last year’s popular Human Cannonball and the Monster Truck will return for this year’s Show. But Rocket Man, who crashed-landed last year, won’t be back.


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