By MICK ROBERTS.
ALTHOUGH Bulli Show Society president Les Strachan didn’t mind a thunderstorm dumping rain on the inaugural Bulli Show he may have had a differing view if he knew it was to set precedence for half a century.
His society had wisely invested in rain insurance for that first 1953 show boosting the gate taking by £100. Unfortunately rain would plague the exhibition for the following eight years, finally forcing the society to move the show from January to December in 1959 to dodge the wet weather. Despite those attempts rain persisted and another change from December to November was made in 1963.
Wet weather has been a constant companion of the Bulli Show ever since with an estimated 70 percent of the events experiencing showers. And so as attempts to dodge the rain by moving the date.
The Bulli Show has its origins with the development of Slacky Flat as a sporting oval in the late 1940s.
Local identity Les Strachan had been instrumental in a massive community project to transform 65 acres of weed infested wasteland into what would become Bulli Showground.
Small in stature, Les topped the scales at 10 stone (63 kilograms) at his heaviest, but left a lasting impression in the region.
During his active life he was involved in just about every civic and charitable organisation imaginable in the district, serving as an alderman first on the Bulli Shire Council in 1946, and later the City of Greater Wollongong.
Born at Woonona in 1900, Les left school at 13 to become an apprentice painter – a trade he remained at until his retirement.
With his wife Nellie, they built a weatherboard cottage in Hospital Road Bulli in 1928 from where he became an active member of the Woonona Bulli Wartime Evacuation Committee. Les with Dutchy Holland, Gordon Hutton, Sep Woods, Tom Evans and Bob Cram, helped by enthusiastic youngsters, dug trenches around schools and cleared evacuation tracks over the escarpment during the war years.
With the war’s end the committee set to work making Slacky Flat a first-class recreation ground in 1945.
Not much had been done with Slacky Flat since Bulli Shire Council purchased the site for £660 in 1939. It remained a blackberry and lantana infested paddock until Les and his team of volunteers began clearing the property for a sports ground.
By 1952 Slacky Flat was a 24 acre recreation ground with a cricket, soccer, baseball, hockey and basketball oval skirted by a trotting and greyhound track and picket fence. It was the region’s premier sporting complex with pavilion, tennis courts and bowling green.
The Bulli Sports Ground Improvement Committee, which Les chaired, considered forming a show society to fully utilise the grounds in the early 50s.
Les told a meeting of 40 people in April 1952 that the population of the northern end of Wollongong had increased considerably and it was an opportune time to form a show society.
As a result the North Illawarra Agricultural and Horticultural Society was formed with Les Strachan elected president, Mr L Davis treasurer, Mr L Ryan secretary, and Mr C Worth assistant secretary. It was decided that life membership be £25 and immediate life membership subscriptions were received from Messrs G Hutton, L Davis, F Collaery, C Quilkey and E Ball.
Bulli’s first annual show, on January 3 and 4, 1953, was an outstanding success. Gate takings were well over £800 with an additional £100 rain insurance topping the kitty after a storm on the Saturday night.
The official opening on Friday afternoon was performed by the Premier of NSW Mr J J Cahill followed by a grand parade featuring cattle and horses.
After almost 10 years on Bulli and Wollongong councils Les retired his civic duties in 1957 later working part time as a doorman at Woonona Bulli Soccer Club, while helped by his son John, continuing his lifetime hobby of pigeon racing from the family home in Hospital Road.
Les was a life member of the Bulli Police Boys’ Club, chaired both the Bulli Ambulance Committee and Bulli Bush Fire Brigade and was on the Bulli Hospital Auxiliary. Strachan Park in Woonona shopping centre is named in his honour.
The tireless Bulli community worker died in 1973 aged 73.
The Bulli Show Society, assisted for the first time by the Woonona Lions Club, changed the show date for a third time in 2003 in another attempt to finally beat the rain. Suffice to say showers swept through Slacky Flat during the show, as it had done 50 years previously. The Bulli Show dates were changed for the fourth time in 2015, when the event was held in May.
After 65 years of entertaining people at Slacky Flat, the last Bulli Show was held in 2018.