The purpose of these walks is to acquaint myself and my nose with the smells of whatever environment I’m in, to pay more attention to these smells, beautiful or not, and to attempt to describe them. Think of them as meditations based on the sense of smell.
Saturday morning, 15th November. Clunes Agricultural Show.
I continue my journey in smell walks today with a visit to the 154th Clunes and District Agricultural Show. This was my first visit to the show since moving to the area early this year. In my last smell walk, I documented some of the smells in my backyard in rural Victoria. In this report, I focus on the multifarious and fascinating smells that the Clunes Show had to offer for the first hour or so of our visit.
We park the car and walk with excited anticipation towards the entrance of the show. The smell of greasy, salty sausages and caramelising onions wafts our way, luring us in, making me salivate. Outside the entrance to the show grounds, we come across a display of vintage cars and engines. There is an intense smell of rubber, smoke and warm oil coming from the engines. A distinctly familiar smell cuts through all of this: kerosene! One of the old engines is powered with it. This smell instantly conjures up a sense memory of the two elderly sisters – Jos and Joyce – who baby sat me as a child. These two intellectual, vivacious and inspiring women used kerosene heating throughout winter and it is a smell that I am intensely fond of because of this association.
The sausages lure us again through the entry gates, and we head straight towards the animal arenas to look at the sheep and cows entered for the various competitions. We watch the sheep for a little while. They are incredibly elegant animals, beautifully clipped and perfectly formed. The sheep on our property look quite rough in comparison! The cows are similarly striking, large, beautiful and graceful. They are gently poked, prodded and examined as they go through the judging process. Although elegant, there is a large amount of animal waste being produced by the cows during the judging, but curiously, I don’t notice an obvious smell. Does the poo of prize-winning animals smell of roses perhaps?! I don’t get close enough to check, but I do notice a marked absence of unpleasantness.
The smell of engine oil dominates again as we approach the fifty or so utes lined up for entry into various competition categories. There are awards for best vintage ute, best “chick’s” ute, best feral ute, and the loudest ute. It’s an education, and when the loudest ute contest begins, we cover our ears for fear of permanent hearing loss. There’s no escaping the smell though: all that revving of stationary engines creates an acrid smell of burning petrol that flares my nostrils and turns my stomach.
As we walk towards the other attractions, I notice the smell of drying, late-spring grass, mixed with dusty dirt. This aroma underpins most of the other smells while we wander around the show. There are intermittent wafts of cigarette smoke too, a smell that surprises me every time I encounter it nowadays. It is a much rarer smell than it used to be, so its presence and intensity surprises me much more than it did twenty years ago. I don’t enjoy it, actually I find myself holding my breath so as not to inhale the chemical toxins, but it makes me nostalgic in a strange way.
Providing a lovely counterpoint to the smells of machines and cigarettes, the Homecrafts Hall contains some lovely aromas: freshly baked cakes, the cozy, lanolin smell of newly-knitted woollen jumpers, and an incredible chorus of perfumed roses. The vast array of roses on display, both fully open and in bud, creates a cacophony of fresh sweetness – the most gorgeous, intense and rich combination of rose scents that I’ve encountered in a single place.
We stumble out of the comforting, domestic cocoon of the Homecrafts Hall and make our way up to the other end of the show grounds. Finally, we encounter our first really stinky animal: an adult wombat. There is an extremely strong combination of musk, urine, ammonia, and digested grass emanating from this creature. The smell is repellant enough to make me recoil involuntarily, but I make sure I have a good sniff so I can convey the smell to you, dear reader.
We make our way past the other Australian animals in the petting zoo (including a very cute, recumbent baby dingo) towards the ferret display. Most of the ferrets are female, very sweet and soft, and seemingly odourless, until we get introduced to the male, “unfixed” ferret, whose smell, while musky and distinctly strong, doesn’t come even close to our stinkiest beast of the day, the wombat. The wombat wins the trophy!
To finish off our trio of animal smells, we move towards the goats: comical and friendly creatures who like to stand up on their hind legs in their pens and say hello to the passing humans. Most are female and not particularly smelly, but the male goat at one end gives off the most extraordinary, funky aroma, again, redolent of the animal musks once used in perfumery, but in this case mixed with a curious buttery, or ghee-like note. I realise that it’s like the smell of a soft goat’s cheese – lactonic, buttery, and a touch lemony-tart, mixed with that funky musk. It’s an odd smell, but I like it, in a curious way.
At this point I decide I’ve smelt enough, it’s time to expand my consciousness and experience all five senses again. We head off to enjoy the rest of the Clunes Show. It’s been a wonderful smell walk, full of a plethora of aromas, both machine-made and natural, vegetal and animal, pleasant and unpleasant, expected and unexpected.
The Clunes and District Agricultural Show is held once a year, each spring. You can find out more about it here. It’s a lovely traditional show with a focus on agriculture and is a fun community day out for all.