By Cam Lucadou-Wells
Dandenong Show’s poultry steward John Betts remembers a time when the backyard chook was commonplace.
“My parents had poultry at home for eggs and for eating. My relatives also had poultry in the country and they were showing birds.
“Everybody had their back yard birds. We’d have roosters crowing all over the joint.”
As an adult, Mr Betts used to breed and keep up to 70 chickens in his Noble Park back yard.
“We got a bit carried away,” he says.
“All my birds were Bantams because I could fit more in the yard. They’re much smaller.”
He started to cut the numbers down as the neighbourhood built up.
“I had to pull my head in. I was clever enough to realise other people had rights as well as myself.”
He’s kept a variety of breeds – such as ‘old English game’ in about six different colours, the fluffy Silkies, Pekin Bantams and Kunshan Bantams, as well as turkeys.
His favourite ‘Indian game’ is a quiet, docile bird that’s very easy to handle, he says.
Mr Betts first entered Bantam chooks in the Show as a kid in the early 1950’s, back when the arena was at Clow Street.
After a long break, Mr Betts went back as a competitor in 1986 when his late father-in-law brought him two Bantams from the country.
After basing himself in Noble Park most of his life, Mr Betts recently moved to Wonthaggi to retain some of his former lifestyle.
“I keep a couple of (egg) layers but no roosters. I think to think of the neighbours.”
Mr Betts has been running the Show’s poultry section for the past three decades.
The art of breeding poultry for shows is a complex and exacting one, Mr Betts says.
There’s a precise formula for getting the right mix of colours, head, body, feather, leg for each breed.
The part he loves the most is meeting the poultry enthusiasts and Show people in general, he says.
“As enjoyable as it is in looking after and breeding the birds, the real enjoyment is meeting good people.
“We’re almost like a family.”
The Show committee is stacked with stalwarts and generations of family members who have served for decades.
“We keep doing it and we’ll keep doing it a while longer. It’s partly pig-headedness that we don’t want the Show to fall over on our watch.
“And we’ll keep going until we get the people to take over from us.”
After the past two Shows were cancelled due to Covid lockdowns, Mr Betts says there’s a hunger building up to the 150th event this weekend.
“That’s going to be so good to get there and running the event.
“I’ll be disappointed if we don’t have a record bumper crowd – if we get good weather.”
Dandenong Show is at Greaves Reserve, Bennet Street Dandenong on 12-13 November. Details: dandyshow.com.au