With two firsts and two seconds at the Bass Coast Agricultural Show on Saturday, Michael Grounds was feeling chuffed.
He’s got about 60-70 birds. He’s lost count. His speciality is the Plymouth rocks, langshans and Rhode Island reds. He’s even bred a black Plymouth rock – the black tulip of poultry breeders. As you breed for black, pairing darker blue birds with ever darker blue birds, the legs and beak start getting darker too, and it no longer meets the specifications. But in 2011, after many years of trying, he finally bred a couple of yellow-legged, yellow-beaked black birds.
At Wonthaggi on Saturday, his champion dark barred Plymouth rooster stands an imposing half a metre high but seems amiable and unperturbed by the commotion in the judging tent. Some people shampoo their birds – especially the white ones – before a show but Michael doesn’t bother. “I wash their legs and spruce up their comb with a bit of baby oil and vinegar and that’s it.”
A Melbourne jeweller by profession, he finds the birds soothing after the bustle of the city centre. “I used to play golf but I find this much more relaxing. You look forward to each breeding season with excitement, wondering what it will bring.”
His other motivation is helping to revive rare breeds, or rare colours within those breeds. “There are so few people left breeding poultry now. A lot of the older breeds and colours have disappeared.”
He’s bred blues, whites, blacks and dark barred Plymouth rocks. “As far as I know I’m the only person in Victoria breeding those colours. I’ve actually brought back some of the colours that have died out.
“If you select your breeding pairs properly, you should get what you want – but there’s always an element of surprise. Every now and then you get a throwback and that’s what I’ve used to create the colours.”
He’s not that fussed about winning shows. It’s a convivial rather than competitive pursuit, with breeders swapping eggs and birds.
Asked if there’s money in it, he laughs. No. As for the eggs that come with 60-70 birds, he gives them away at work or to his friends. “Some people have suggested I sell them but why would I bother? I buy and sell diamonds.”
Mary Morgan is also a repeat champion in the horticultural section with her basket of home produce. Her basket, or crate, or fruit and vegetables is so heavy she can hardly lift it.
It’s got peaches, plums, apricots, lemons, apples, limes, pears, figs, two sorts of eggplants, garlic, kohl rabi, Savoy cabbage, Chinese cabbage, red cabbage, beans, zucchini, cucumber, beetroot, chillies, potatoes, asparagus, lettuces, snow peas, bok choy, daikon radishes, olive herb, parsley, rosemary, basil, mountain pepper and – her piece de resistance – macadamia nuts.
All are grown in her garden at Bass. “Gardening is my switch-off time,” Mary says. Even hot weather holds no terrors for her. “I cover the beans and lettuces with Terylene curtains and give everything a good watering the day before a hot spell.”
Why go to so much trouble for a $2 first prize? She says she’s entered the show since her daughters were young. It was a family highlight of the summer holidays. You don’t have a show without the entrants.”
IT’S been a good day for Inverloch’s Patricia Briggs, but then show day always is. She’s lost count of how many prizes she’s won in the handcrafts section but she made $50 in prize money, at $2 for each first and $1 for each second. It’ll more than cover the entry fee of 50 cents for each of the 50 items she’s entered.
Most of them were handcrafts – knitting, crochet, felt toys, rugs – but she’s also entered jams and jellies. She got a first for her cumquat and ginger marmalade and a second for her plain scones. “I used the CWA recipe.”
She entered a zucchini too but that wasn’t so successful. “I brought a big one and I should have brought a smaller one. They told me mine was a marrow. I’ll know better next year.”
Never mind the marrows: crafts are her thing. She’s the aggregate winner for knitting and needlework this year, as in many other years. No one else is within a hand-stitched hem of her.
She should be happy but there’s a faint cloud over the day. “I'd like a challenge next year,” she says. “I really would.”