Death at your local show

Pastoral and Agricultural Society shows across Australia showcase primary production. Some also hold dark and deadly secrets from their long history. I told a version of this story on West Bremer Radio.

The first Ipswich Show in Queensland was held on the 13th of May 1873 and this weekend is celebrating its 150th anniversary. Deaths, disasters, and scandals feature in the show’s history. There was a fifteen-year period from the mid-1930s in which pandemonium reigned. The first clue of its past today is when you enter the gates.

Those gates were erected in memory of twelve men who lost their lives when their fishing boat Nerita exploded in Moreton Bay in 1939. All those on board lost their lives. Nine of them were from Ipswich.

One was Harry Biltoft. He was licensee of the Palais Royal Hotel that was on the corner of Brisbane and East Streets in Ipswich. Harry’s wife Maude took over the license until she died just four years later, which wasn’t long before their son Kevin was Mentioned in Despatches while serving in the Second World War with the Royal Australian Air Force.

Harry Biltoft

Death came to the show itself in 1951 when a man called Frank Quiller collapsed and died in the grandstand while watching the ring events.

Scandal troubled the show in 1948 shortly after Mr Oswald Hart of Station Road at Booval in Ipswich won seven poultry championships. He also was one of the most successful exhibitors at the most recent Brisbane Exhibition. Eighteen of his fowls mysteriously disappeared, included his three championship-winning white Wyandotte chickens. Police investigated but the perpetrators were never brought to justice.

Terror beset the show in 1940 when a monkey called Jerry escaped from a monkey circus and eluded capture for hours by swinging through the rafters of the main grandstand. Women screamed while frantic attendants implored Jerry to come down.

Jerry the monkey

In 1939 a nurse was thrown from the Chair-o-plane ride. Crowds surrounding the attraction gasped in horror as they looked up to see Miss Maisie Allen fly overhead with her having been flung from the ride, screaming as she went. She was a nurse at the old Oakdale Private Hospital on Milford Street. Maisie landed with a heavy thud on the grass far from the ride and survived. She died in her sleep just one year later.

Chair-o-plane ride

Ahead of all this chaos, there was one year 1936 that stands out more than any other for death and scandal. It wasn’t just for Ipswich but across the whole of south Queensland.

At the Toowoomba Show that year, the body of a champion Berkshire sow was found dead in its pen. The owner was Mr Frank Bach from Oakey. He and his son Frank Junior would later be implicated in a horseracing ring-in scandal at Brisbane, Ipswich and elsewhere. Frank was cleared of conspiracy, and his son Frank Junior not guilty of attempted murder, but he was banned for life by the Queensland Turf Club. And his pig – she had been killed with arsenic.

Frank Bach Jnr and Frank Bach Snr

Shortly afterwards, there was a similar discovery at the Goodna asylum at Ipswich. That’s when the body of a champion Berkshire boar from the same Toowoomba Show was exhumed and also found to have been killed with arsenic.

At the same time, a pony called “Lady Blue” that had jumped with distinction at the Bundaberg Show, also died from poisoning. She was owned by trick rider Noel Noakes from Childers.

Noel Noakes jumping two horses bareback including Lady Blue (left) at the Brisbane show

The carnage of that year spread to the 1936 Ipswich Show. On the morning of the show, Heinrich Reisenleiter from Gatton announced the scratching of his premier Clydesdale mare called “Meadow Bank Phyllis”. She was a champion from the most recent Brisbane and had been entered in four classes at Ipswich, which she was favoured to win. Phyllis was discovered dead in her paddock. She had been killed by two bullets shot at close range, and finished off with a bayonet through the heart.

This was an awful blow to the show societies particularly across the south of the state, and of course to Phyllis’s owner Mr Reisenleiter. He would go onto to serve twenty-two years on the Gatton Shire Council including several times as chairman. Phyllis had actually cost him 350 guineas which is around $150,000 in today’s money.

The year 1936 was an exceptionally violent year at the shows. Let’s hope this weekend at the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary Ipswich Show is a safe and happy for visitors and participants alike.


Photo credits:
Ipswich Show – Ipswich Tribune 2023.
Henry Biltoft Ipswich 1930s – Picture Ipswich.
Jerry the monkey – Telegraph, Brisbane, 23rd May 1940, page 13.
Chair-o-plane – kentonline.
Frank Bach Jnr and Frank Bach Snr – Truth, Brisbane, 8th June 1941, page 27.
Noel Noakes in The Woodgate Files, by Philip Hobbs, 2014, page 160.

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