Backward Glance: Nambour Chelsea Flower Show - community effort and a high point on the township’s social calendar
  • Wednesday 29 June 2016
With the award-winning Queensland Garden Expo set to return to Nambour Showgrounds next week, we take the opportunity in today’s Backward Glance to shine the spotlight on the first Chelsea Flower Show which was held in Nambour on October 25, 1957. 

The Red Cross Chelsea Flower Show Committee had formed in Nambour in 1957 and held their first two flower shows in the Digger’s Hall in Howard Street, Nambour. The early shows were very popular and due to its success the Chelsea Flower Show then moved to the Methodist Church Hall while the civic hall was under construction. Tremendous interest was reported in the local paper with the committee advising there were many enquiries in the late 1950s. The show inevitably grew to become one of the gardening event highlights of the year in South East Queensland attracting crowds from far and wide.

In Queensland, the name ‘Chelsea’ belonged exclusively to the Red Cross and was modelled on the Chelsea Flower Show in England. Due to the show’s popularity the publication of a brochure to accompany the Chelsea Flower Shows was first introduced in 1966. The brochure included the names of the Chelsea Committee members and details of the show with descriptions of the different sections, the concepts behind them and the flora materials used. Native flora was used wherever possible to create the spectacular displays.

Funds were raised for a Red Cross Centre in Nambour by the Nambour Chelsea Flower Show Committee. Construction began in August 1969 on land donated by Maroochy Shire Council. The Red Cross Society paid part of the cost for clearing the site. On December 9, 1969 Sir Francis Nicklin, former Premier of Queensland, unveiled a plaque on the interior wall of the newly built Red Cross Centre to commemorate the official opening. The President of the Nambour Branch of the Red Cross Society, Mrs EA French, presided. The low set building included a main meeting room, store rooms and kitchenette. 

In 1977 Nambour Chelsea Flower Show turned 21. Chelsea President Mrs Rowena Kittle and her committee chose ’21 Today’ as the theme. No such celebration would have been complete without a feast and the band of willing workers created just that. There was an authentic look of party fare and table settings in the Nambour Civic Hall. Although the food looked like the real thing everything was made from materials gathered from the garden or native scrublands. There was even a three tiered birthday cake standing over a metre tall made entirely from bark painted pink decorated with Rhodes grass stems and apple seeds. That year’s show attendance was a great success - over 7,500 visitors attended and raised $7000 for the Red Cross. During its first 21 years the Chelsea Flower Show had raised close to $50,000. 

The Flower Show held in the Nambour Civic Hall on September 12-13, 1985 included a Red Cross stall, displays by the region's floral art groups, garden clubs and orchid societies. There were scenes with titles such as 'Little Green Men from Mars', 'Blue Gardens of the East' and 'Winter White', all created using various flora.

A spectacular display was among the highlights of the Chelsea Flower Show held in the Nambour Showground pavilion on September 7-10, 1988. The show marked the Bicentenary of Australia by recreating the events of 1788 using 'Nature's floral gifts for raw materials'. Nambour Chelsea Committee selected the theme 'The First Fleet in Flowers' and recreated the events of 1788 using a variety of flora, including plants, flowers, grasses and bark as their raw materials. The displays depicted spectacular scenes of England, South Africa and Brazil as well as Australia. Floral arrangements were also prepared for display in business premises around Nambour. A four metre high abbey was one of several scenes relating to England. It was constructed from Tea Tree bark and banana trash with stained glass windows made from pressed flower petals. The entry fees for the 1988 Show were adults $2.50, pensioners $1.50 and children 50 cents, with all proceeds donated to the Red Cross Society.

From those early beginnings and background stories of the Chelsea Flower Show Nambour now hosts the Queensland Garden Expo, one of Queensland’s largest and most celebrated gardening events. There are over 360 exhibitors where full sized gardens are the centrepiece of this event. The Garden Expo will be held at Nambour Showgrounds from Friday July 11 - Sunday July 13, 1916.

Thanks to Sunshine Coast Council’s Heritage Library Officers for the words and Picture Sunshine Coast for the images.

Hero image caption: M866989 Margaret Drake and helpers preparing for 'The First Fleet in Flowers' show presented by the Nambour Chelsea Committee, Nambour, 1988.

Carousel image captions:
Image 1: 'Magnificent Maroochy' Flower Show presented by the Nambour Chelsea Committee, Civic Hall, Nambour, 1990.
Image 2: Westminster Abbey display at the 'First Fleet in Flowers' show presented by the Nambour Chelsea Committee, Nambour, 1988.
Image 3: Sir Frank Nicklin standing with President of the Red Cross Society Mrs A E French at the official opening of the Red Cross Centre, Price Street, Nambour on 9 December 1969.
Image 4: Chelsea Flower Show held in the Civic Hall, Nambour in 1965.