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Goroka and Mount Hagen shows

Renowned for their riot of noise and colour, the Goroka and Mount Hagen shows have their genesis in the time-honoured British tradition of the country ‘fayre’. The first show was held in Goroka in 1956 in an effort to unite warring tribes and bring stability to the region. The event not only brought the realm of the colonisers to the highlanders, but also revealed the highlanders to one another.

The highlands shows became a fusion of western agricultural fairs and the dazzling New Guinea ceremonies known as singsings. Vivid displays of ceremonial dance attire by divergent groups – all performing outside their tribal lands – have featured at the shows ever since.

Boris Cook’s film The Mount Hagen Show (see below) captures the event in 1963 that attracted more than 100,000 spectators. Officiated by the governor-general of Australia, Lord De L’Isle, it was one of many shows that Stan Moriarty attended, often in the capacity of judge for the ‘tribal finery’ contest. This exhibition includes a variety of objects collected by Moriarty at the highlands shows.

Questions and activities

  • Research the Goroka and Mount Hagen shows, starting with the blog post by exhibition curator Natalie Wilson. List the types of events and displays that have been included.
  • Find out more about British country ‘fayres’. What fayre traditions have translated into New Guinea culture? Consider the differences and similarities between shows in the New Guinea highlands and those in Australia such as the Sydney Royal Easter Show.
  • Watch Boris Cook’s footage of the 1963 Mount Hagen show and discuss your initial reactions. What is the effect of seeing highlanders in traditional costumes and ceremonial wear en masse? Imagine you are visiting a highland show for the first time. Write an account of your first impressions.