Heritage Royal Agricultural Society of NSW ADFEA8E89F1C278F2558834977B546B4 Royal Agricultural Society of NSW Skip to main content

Heritage

Overview

The RAS Heritage Centre tells the story of the RAS since it was founded in 1822. Its unique collection of documents, books, images and reports also provides insight into the history of Australia and the development of agriculture since the early days of European settlement. While the Heritage Centre is a precious in-house resource, the RAS is proud to make it available to researchers and members of the public.

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200 years of the RAS

Heritage Centre

 

The administrative records of the RAS date back to its inception in 1822. These records cover the Society's many facets, including the Royal Easter Show and the competitions, conferences, publications and people through which the RAS promotes excellence in agriculture. The Heritage Centre also preserves the records of many Breed Societies. It holds an extensive collection of photographs, documents, ephemera, perpetual trophies and medallions.  

 

The specialist reference library dates back to 1788 and contains a wide range of agricultural-related texts including: 

  • Easter Show and other Exhibition Catalogues
  • Easter Show and other Exhibition prize lists and results
  • Histories of animal breeds and breed societies
  • Flock and herd books
  • Agricultural Gazettes and Journals
  • History of agricultural and pastoral NSW
     

The Heritage Centre's collection is constantly growing. Donations are the life-blood of the Heritage Centre, which offers climate-controlled storage and professional staff to preserve its treasures. Donations that fit within the RAS Collection policy are gratefully received throughout the year.  As an archive, records, photographs, ephemera and memorabilia created by the Society are continually added to the collection.

The RAS Heritage Centre conducts research at a cost of $40 per hour (or part thereof) including GST (or $25 for Members of the RAS) with the first half hour free. Alternatively, you are able to make an appointment to visit the archives and conduct research yourself at no cost. If you would like to visit the archives please contact us to make an appointment. We are open 9am - 5pm Monday to Friday.

Common research enquiries include competition results, competition and commercial exhibitor information, images, property histories and records of volunteers and Office bearers of the Society.

1822
2022
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1822
Agricultural Society of NSW is formed

The Agricultural Society publishes a prospectus: it announces an Annual Show of Livestock to encourage competition and sharing of knowledge. The prospectus laments the damage done to the land by bad farming practices and resolves to help farmers employ better practices to ensure sustainable farms and land usage. The original members of the Society include many of Sydney's most influential citizens.

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1823
First Show is held at Parramatta

Awards are given for the best Sheep, Cattle, Horses and Servants.  Sheep must be "Australian Merino" and Cattle and Horses must be "colonial bred".  Servants are judged on good conduct, faithful service and animal husbandry skills.

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1825
Medals introduced

The Society contines to award prizes however cash prizes, which tend to encourage 'intoxication and other excesses' are replaced by medals of silver and gold.

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1825
Agricultural Society imports pure bred livestock

The Stock Fund had been established in 1822 to buy good stock, plants, seeds, machinery and textbooks from England and other parts of Europe. Members were asked to contribute to the Stock Fund in addition to their membership subscriptions and £1150 was raised in the first round. By 1825, plans have come to fruition and Durham cattle, Devonshire cattle and Merino sheep are purchased to improve the colony's stock.

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1826
Australian Wine Industry is acknowledged

In the fourth anniversary address to the Society the President reports on the state of the wine industry. Gregory Blaxland has been awarded a medal by the society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce in London for the best sample of Australian wine. It marks the beginning of the wine industry in Australia and recognises the role that wine will play in the agricultural development of Australia. Ever since, wine has played a significant part in Sydney Royal competitions, ensuring for the winners recognition and a valuable opportunity to shine the spotlight on their wines.

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1834
Society lapses

A combination of declining membership, rising debts and waning confidence in the Society takes its toll and the Society lapses in 1834.

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1857
Society regroups as the Cumberland Agricultural Society

In 1858 a Show is held at Collingwood near Liverpool, the property owned by member JH Atkinson.  In 1859 the Society renames itself the Agricultural Society of NSW.

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1858
Prizes awarded for Cheese & Butter

Classes for cheese and butter are recorded in the Prize Schedule of the Show in 1858.  These classes later form part of the food section of the Show and are joined by entries in chocolate, preserved butter, preserved milk and condensed milk.

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1860
Show moves to new grounds - Parramatta

In 1859, six hectares of land are acquired in the Parramatta Domain for the use of the Society - the government sets aside a further 2.8 hectares.

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1868
Launch of the Agricultural Society Journal

The need for a Journal is explained in the first publication "...Those who have been accustomed to grazing and farming in England, or Ireland, or Scotland, have much to un-learn before they can succeed here, and those who have no previous experience of good husbandry - and these form, by far the greater portion of land-holders, have everything to learn.".

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1869
Crafts introduced

Arts and Craft items first made their appearance at the Metropolitan Intercolonial Exhibition. The section ‘Works of Art’ included paintings, photographs, models, wool and waxworks. Another section headed ‘Articles of Colonial Manufacture’ showed a wide range of craft products from glassware to perfumery, along with other manufactured goods.

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1869
Show moves to new grounds - Prince Alfred Park, Sydney

To increase attendance and exhibitors, the Society decides to move the Show closer to Sydney and adopts Prince Alfred Park as its new home. Classes are offered for livestock, farm produce, wine, horticulture, poultry, manures, farm machinery and "articles of colonial manufacture".  A special feature is the fine arts exhibition designed to "improve taste and develop artistic faculty".

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1875
First Schools Competitions

The first schools competitions are introduced at the Metropolitan Intercolonial Exhibition with classes for needlework, wood carving, drawing and natural history collections for girls and boys.

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1876
Displays of produce are encouraged

Show Societies are asked to mount displays of their produce. Depending on space available, the displays are exhibited sporadically throughout the late 1800s. They become a permanent feature in 1900.

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1876
Society raises funds to test T.S. Mort's refrigeration theories

Thomas S Mort, President of the Society in 1863, had a grand plan to establish an export frozen meat trade. Recognising the potential of this innovation, the Society raises £62,000 (equates to over $7 million in today's currency) to help him test his theories. In 1876 a ship was fitted out but the meat spoiled before it sailed. Disappointment hastened Mort’s death in 1878 but only a year later a shipment was successfully sent to England.

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1879
Sydney International Exhibition held

The Agricultural Society responded enthusiastically to the opportunity to be involved in the organisation of the International Exhibition in Sydney.  As the exhibition grew in size, unrealistic expectations, inadequate funds and political discontent meant that in the lead up to the event the NSW Government  took over all  organisation and funding of the exhibition.  The Agricultural Society was awarded a large silver medal for "originating the scheme for [the] International Exhibition".

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1882
Show moves to new grounds - Moore Park

Due to rising costs, the Society moves the Show to new grounds at Moore Park.  The site is described as a "desert of rocks and swamp" with some holes 5m deep.  A major rehabilitation project is required to ensure the grounds are ready in time for the Show to open.  After torrential rain delays proceedings, the first Show at Moore Park opens on 8 April, 1882.

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1891
Society becomes "Royal"

Queen Victoria grants permission for use of the prefix "Royal".

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1899
Shopping improved for country visitors

Retailer Anthony Hordern erects a permanent building, replacing the large tent previously used.  In 1924 this is in turn superseded with a larger, more elegant building which is later repurposed as the Banquet Hall.

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1899
Woodchopping Competition begins

The inaugural competition is held on the last day of the Show in the cattle-judging ring.  In its first year it includes only standing cut competitions, but its popularity means that these quickly expand to include sawing and other events.

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1900
Bubonic plague strikes Sydney

The Society hesitates but decides 'the Show must go on'. Vendors of patent medicine and disinfectant make the most of the situation, selling gallons of infusions and thousands of pills. In Sydney, 113 people die of the plague.

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1900
Free samples give rise to showbags

Business is noticeably brisk at stands which give out free samples, even if the products aren't particularly useful. Soon after, companies start placing samples in labelled bags.

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1900
First District Exhibit Competition

The first formal District Exhibit Competition is held at the Grand Easter Show.

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1901
First mechanical ride introduced

As part of the automobile exhibition, two 'carriages' are sent around at an exhilarating 30 miles per hour (nearly 50km/hr). Rides quickly became a staple of the Royal Easter Show experience.

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1903
Introduction of Prize for Australian Inventions

The Fred Walsh Special Prize for Innovation is introduced. Inventions have to be patented in Australia. It runs until 1908 and encourages innovation in mining, agriculture, manufacture and domestic classes. Exhibits include an automatic rabbit trapping fence, a sanitary extension pan, a ventilated butter cooler and the plans and specifications of an apparatus for elevating water.

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1904
First display of farm produce by school children at the Show

An early pre-cursor of the Schools District Exhibit Competition held at the Show today.

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1907
First Grand Parade

A combined "parade of stock" is held in the Main Arena (or ring as it is known) which includes horses and cattle. The concept is well received and the idea quickly becomes an annual event with new animals joining the parade each year. The 'Grand Parade' celebrates its centenary in 2007 and remains one of the most popular attractions at the Show.

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1911
Plane lands in Showgrounds

Pioneer aviator William Hart takes off from Penrith and lands at the Show.

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1914
Show stays open during WWI (1914-1918)

Outside of Show time, troops are billeted on the Showground throughout the war.

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1915
Side-saddle record

Mrs Stace sets an unbroken side saddle showjumping record of 6ft, 6in (2.01m).

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1916
Field Wheat Competition established

The first field wheat competition is held; established to encourage excellence and sustainability in grain crop production.

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1917
First Show with Electric Illumination at Night

Extra funds are raised from the extended hours permitted by the use of lighting. These funds are given to the Red Cross Society to support the war effort.

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1918
RAS assists returning soldiers

The RAS Council votes to donate funds to assist returned soldiers to obtain instruction and training in Agriculture.

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1919
Show cancelled due to flu

Returning soldiers bring Spanish Influenza to Sydney and the government bans public gatherings to halt its spread. The virulent strain causes 848 deaths in 1918. The larger buildings at the Showground become emergency hospitals and the Royal Hall of Industries serves as a morgue.

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1919
First Scholarship Awarded

RAS Scholarship awarded to W Ryan to study agriculture at Sydney University.

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1920
Junior Judging Competitions first introduced

Students aged 19 and under judge competitions for Light Horses, Clydesdale and Draught Horses, Dairy Stock, Beef Cattle, Pigs, Poultry, Wheat, Maize, Wheaten Chaff, Oaten Chaff, Lucerne Chaff and Potatoes.

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1920
Sideshow Alley established

Sideshow booths dispersed around the ground are collected together to form Sideshow Alley. Early attractions include the Tallest Man at 8ft 6in (2.6m); the Handcuff King; and the Pinhead Chinaman whose head was only as big as an orange.

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1926
Agricultural Leaders meet in RAS offices to discuss modern farming methods

In response to the Soldiers' Settlement Scheme, leaders in NSW Agriculture gather at the rooms of the Royal Agricultural Society to discuss the need for information on modern farming practices. The idea for a network of educational clubs across the state is born - this becomes the Junior Farmers Movement.

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1929
Horse jumping late under lights

The high jump horse event for men starts at 9pm on the last Saturday night of the Show. Competition is so tense 50,000 people stay until it ends at 12.45am.  After a thrilling battle a fellow called Chittick clears 7ft 6in (2.3m) on the champion horse, Dungog. Most of the crowd have to walk home as public transport stopped at midnight.

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1931
Rodeo comes to town

Wild West stars are imported from America as main arena entertainment. Throughout the 1930s, Suicide Ted Elder, Jasbo the Clown, cowgirls, trick riders and Native American Indians are popluar visitors.

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1932
Sydney Harbour Bridge is opened

Livestock in the Grand Parade form the shape of the Sydney Harbour Bridge to celebrate its opening.

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1937
Women strongly represented

Almost one third of the 11000 exhibitors are women, in the entertainment arena, daring cowgirls seize the popular imagination. For the first time a woman, Miss Cargill, bids for stock at the cattle sales.

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1942
Army occupies the Showground

No Shows are held for the remainder of WWII (1942-1946).

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1947
Record crowd at first Show after the war

Everyone celebrates the end of hostilities by flocking to the Show.  Attendance breaks all records at 1, 232, 413 - at the time, the total population of Sydney is just over 1.5 million.

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1948
Show with no beer

A strike at the brewery results in a beerless Show. Many patrons 'discover' wine.

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1957
First Televised Show

The RAS capitalises on the arrival of television to get its messages out - each week summaries from sectional meetings are sent out to 160 radio, newspaper and television programs.

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1958
First Annual Media Tour

Journalists are taken to visit a selected region to generate publicity for the Show. It helps reporters familiarise themselves with the lives and concerns of farmers and rural communities.

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1962
First Showgirl Competition Held

Introduced to strengthen links between the RAS and local organisations, the Competition aims to find a young female Ambassador for rural NSW and the agricultural show movement.

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1964
Space age comes to the Show

The Bell Rocketmen are a main arena attraction, flying through the air with belts charged with hydrogen peroxide.

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1971
Holden Precision Driving Team make first appearance
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1973
RAS establish Chromosome Research Foundation in association with the University of Sydney

The RAS together with Sydney University form the Chromosome Research Foundation, for the "purpose of research into hereditary defects in animals and human beings through the analysis of chromosomes within the stock themselves."  The Foundation makes considerable contributions to scientific research until it is closed in 1984.

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1985
Farm Software Competition introduced

The Technology Pavilion opens to accommodate a RAS agriculturally oriented computer software competition.

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1989
Australasian Animal Registry Established

Created as a division of the RAS of NSW, the Australasian Animal Registry becomes the largest not-for-profit and most comprehensive animal registration and recovery service in Australasia.

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1991
Rural Achiever Competition begins

A state-wide leadership program open to young men and women aged 20 - 29, living and working in New South Wales. Run by the RAS of NSW, the award recognises future young leaders who are working to make a significant contribution to their local community and to rural Australia.

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1994
Sydney Royal Cheese & Dairy Produce Show Established

Dairy Produce had been given its own section at the Royal Easter Show in 1905. By 1994 the competition has grown so large that it is granted its own Show.

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1994
Robosaurus arrives

Imported from the US, Robosaurus appears as the high cost, high profile main attraction.  Standing 7m tall and weighing over 30 tons, the fire breathing, car eating, mechanical monster returned in 1999 and 2010.

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1996
Agri-Challenge for young farmers is introduced

This competition tests individual competitors' practical farm skills and agricultural knowledge; inspired by the successful Young Farmer Contest, held in New Zealand since 1969

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1997
Thanks for the memories - last Show at Moore Park

Emotions run high as exhibitors and showgoers say goodbye to the much loved site which served so well for 115 years.

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1998
Sydney Royal Fine Food Competition established

Fine Food has been a competitive event at the Show since 1870; in 1998 all Fine Food competitions are brought together under one banner to become the Sydney Royal Fine Food Show.  This competition is evolving at a rapid rate in response to an ever-changing industry and new classes are established each year.

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1998
Show moves to new grounds - Sydney Olympic Park

By the late 1980s the Sydney Royal Easter Show has outgrown its Moore Park facilities. In 1994 the NSW government approves its relocation to Sydney Olympic Park at Homebush, where the first Show is held in 1998.

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2000
Man from Snowy River comes to the arena

Many of the skilled horse riders involved in this display also participated in the Olympic Games opening ceremony. The act captivates patrons and returns in 2001 and 2004 and 2016.

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2001
Illabo Prime Lamb Hoof and Carcase Competition

Support from the RAS means the Illabo Show Society can expand their Show to include a carcase competition. The two organisations run the Show as a joint project from this point.

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2006
RAS President's Medal introduced

The RAS President's Medal is introduced to recognise outstanding achievement in Australia’s best producers. The award is the only one of its kind in Australia where producers are judged not only on their product quality but primarily on their triple bottom line - profitability, community engagement and sustainability.

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2007
RAS Foundation is established

The RAS Foundation is created to help build strong, vibrant rural and regional communities through a range of targeted grants and scholarships to support education and community development in rural NSW.

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2007
Sydney Royal Beer Competition established

The competition originally includes only bottled beer but from 2009, draught beer classes became part of the stable of classes. Competition is expanded to include Cider classes in 2013.

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2009
Young Farmer Challenge introduced

This is a revival of the Agri-Challenge competition run in the late 1990s, with a different format allowing teams of young farmers from regional NSW to compete in more complex challenges.

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2010
National Honey Show introduced

The National Honey Competition is established with the inclusion of three commercial classes. Honey has been judged at the Show as part of the Food, Agriculture and even Dairy Produce section since 1888.

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2011
Sydney Royal Beef Challenge is established - Belatta Feedlot, Wilga

A commercially focused feedlot competition is established and is open for entries across Australia. Its focus in on live and carcase assessment of Export and Domestic classes of beef cattle.

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2012
National Young Farmer Challenge established

The first National Young Farmer Challenge is held at the Sydney Royal Easter Show.  The competition is to be held at each State Show on a rotating basis.

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2014
Year round education program introduced

The Stables venue at Sydney Showground is established as the dedicated venue for the delivery of the year-round commitment to the RAS EDU schools education program.

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2015
Commercial Pig Competition introduced

The Sydney Royal Easter Show incorporates a Commercial pig Competition, strengthening the existing competition and recognising the importance of enterprise in farming.

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2018
Big Bush BBQ is introduced

Recognising a need to support Regional Show Societies, the RAS creates a fundraising opportunity - a sausage sizzle with a purpose. Each day of the Show, a different Show Society mans the BBQ, raising much needed funds for their Society.

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2019
All Roads to the Royal introduced

Initiated by the RAS Youth Group, this program provides an all-expenses-paid 4 day trip to the Show for up to 40 students from a regional school. It offers a behind the scenes look at the Show, interactive experiences and an escape from the land.

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2020
Show cancelled due to COVID-19

Mass gatherings over 500 people were banned, forcing the decision to cancel the Show just three weeks before Opening Day.

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2022
RAS Bicentenary – Through events, competitions and celebrations the RAS celebrated 200 years

RAS Bicentenary – Through events, competitions and celebrations the RAS celebrated 200 years

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