Free show bags at the Easter Show.

How much have you spent on show bags at the Sydney Royal Easter Show? How much are you planning to spend, or how much do your kids expect you to spend?

What if those show bags were free?

In the early days of the Easter Show, show bags were all free.

In the good old days the show was held at the Royal Agricultural Society grounds at Moore Park, in what is now Fox Studios and the EQ complex beside the SCG, and show bags were sample bags. The bags were distributed by various companies and were originally quite useful. They included products like food staples, soap and laundry liquid, and allowed families to stock up on essential items for free.

Realising the popularity and the potential of the bags, confectionary companies began to offer a sample of their existing products, or a new product, in the hope that crowds would enjoy their products then rush to stores to buy more in the weeks that followed. It was also effective PR for the companies.

The bags themselves were much smaller, and were paper bags which carried the logo of the company. They contained a limited number of products which guests normally snacked on as they wandered the agricultural displays or admired the prize winning cows. They did not hang heavily off the handles of prams while burdened parents lumbered from ride to ride behind children high on sugar.

At one point, the samples were given out for free in the mornings, then sold at a small cost in the afternoon.

It is a stark contrast to the show bags of today. Companies from a diverse array of industries compete with each other to outsell their rivals, in a massive hall that could house an entire airline fleet. Bags are now predominantly plastic, as are many of the contents. Food and confectionary companies still dominate the selection, but pressured parents can now splash out on bags from football clubs, Hollywood movies, toy companies, lifestyle programs, cartoon characters and even Aussie rock legends. In the high-tech present, bags are listed online with a description of their contents, and sell for as much as $30.00.

Show bags can even be ordered online and delivered to your door. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose? Isn’t the show bag part of the grand experience of attending the show, negotiating the crowds, seeing the livestock and fruit stands, watching the woodchopping, eating dodgy takeaway and vomiting on the pirate ship?

The sample bags belong to an era when the Easter Show was more focussed on the agricultural aspect. It was dedicated to bringing together farmers from across the state to socialise, network and compete for best in show, and to educate and entertain city-slickers about life on the land.

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