The Royal Melbourne Show has been a signature event in Melbourne since 1848, when it started as a ploughing competition in Moonee Ponds. Organised by the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria (RASV), the Show is Victoria's largest and longest running annual public entertainment event. It is iconic in its own right, attracting around 700,000 visitors each year. In 2005 the Royal Melbourne Show celebrated its 150th Show.
The 30 acres site at Ascot Vale was given to the National Agricultural Society of Victoria (the predecessor of the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria in 1882 and the first show was held there in 1883. The Royal Melbourne Showgrounds are Victoria's largest and pre-eminent agricultural showground complex.
Until 2005 the substantial grounds contained a large number of buildings. The most distinctive building type was the large, long red-brick or concrete basilica-like halls, built between 1910 and the 1930s, with lower side-aisles and a central raised section with a clerestory between, where animals were exhibited.
There were also many other structures built for various purposes that were an integral part of the show, such as: the Arts & Crafts Pavilion of 1904 (demolished), built to display the foods and crafts made mainly by country women; the Royal Luncheon Rooms of 1916; an Administration Building; various pavilions displaying agricultural machinery; and in the mid twentieth century striking outlets for various banks and a chair lift. All this was focussed on the Grand Arena surrounded by grandstands, built from the 1920s to the 1970s.
By the early 2000s the Royal Melbourne Showgrounds had become dilapidated and in need of refurbishment. As a result, the State Government announced a redevelopment of the Royal Melbourne Showgrounds site, to be carried out as a joint venture partnership with the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria and private sector investors, with all work to be completed by the 2006 Royal Melbourne Show.
In 2005 and 2006 the site underwent a substantial redevelopment, increasing open space and providing new buildings.
As a complex, the Royal Agricultural Showgrounds have economic, historical and cultural significance as the largest agricultural show complex in Australia, a vital part of Australia's oldest major industry, and an important location for the enactment of national identity. The site and its Show are of cultural significance as the largest single public event held annually in Victoria, attracting in excess of 700,000 persons each year. The remaining structures at the Showgrounds are the primary illustration of the significant activities of the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria in the past one hundred years. It is by far the largest, most substantial and most significant place of its kind in Victoria, and within Australia is rivalled only by the former Sydney Showgrounds. The various pavilions and halls built for the showing of animals such as cattle, pigs, dogs, and horses are essentially unique to this site, and certainly this is the largest concentration of such structures in Victoria. The Pig or Rural Pavilion is the earliest remaining pavilion (1903) and the most evocative in this regard. The Centenary Hall is important as virtually the only such hall with a notable architectural expression, being a restrained Moderne building typical of the 1930s. The Clydesdale Pavilion demonstrates the original agricultural role of horses at the Show, while the remnants of the once extensive horse boxes demonstrate their later importance as 'show' and performance animals, and the main agricultural use of the site outside the formal Show. The surviving grandstands are important for providing evidence for the parading of large numbers of animals, demonstrating techniques and equipment and events once held in the Grand Arena. The Royal Luncheon Rooms are important as an early building on the site for necessary ancillary purposes, and has a notable Edwardian character.
The Woodfull Pavilion is important as the most architecturally impressive hall on the site, complemented by nineteenth century statues of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The nineteenth century marble 'Big Bull' is important as a symbol of nature tamed in the service of man, a theme of the Show, and the Stockman figure is important for memorialising this quintessentially Australian country worker.
The Epsom Road frontage, the site of the Dog Pavilion, show rings and the Woodfull Pavilion are no longer a part of the showgrounds, its development included a medical centre, supermarket, shops and office space. The heritage listed Woodfull Pavilion, used for dog judging over the last 100 years, was incorporated into the new development, which opened in August 2009. The restored Woodfull Pavilion now provides a new streetscape for Epsom Road.
While there's no doubt the Show has grown with the times, it still retains its connection with the land, featuring some of the largest and most prestigious exhibitions of animals and rural life in the southern hemisphere. The Royal Melbourne Championship Dog Show is the biggest of its kind in the southern hemisphere.
The Royal Melbourne Show is an important date in the club’s calendar. The dog show is always judged by a panel of international Judges and is accompanied by Obedience, Agility, Jumping and Games Trials.