ACT News


Nostalgia keeps Bertie Beetle bags alive

For a quarter of a century this humble blue showbag has resisted the economic forces that have driven up the cost of virtually everything else inside the nation's showgrounds and beyond.

At $2, the Bertie Beetle bag is still the cheapest way to get a showbag into a child's hands, at a time when the most desired cost $25.

Incredibly the retail price of a Bertie bag is the same as it was in 1989 - the first show year after the $2 coin was introduced. For perspective, back then petrol was about 50 cents per litre.

But while Bertie Beetle might seem to be offering time-defying value, when the same hands that once reached greedily into the blue bag as kids now pass pocket money over to their own children, they may be disappointed.

According to old newspaper reports, a 1989 bag included five Bertie Beetle chocolates, a Violet Crumble, a Kit Kat, a Smarties box and a "novelty beetle toy".

This year, families attending shows will find in the bag just the five 10-gram Bertie chocolates.


Royal National Capital Agricultural Society (RNCAS) commercial sales manager, Derek Ironside-Hughes, admits his first peek into the legendary showbag was a little disappointing.

"I didn't grow up in Australia, so I didn't really know what this Bertie Beetle was what everyone in the office was talking about. When I finally got a look at it, I was a bit deflated," Mr Ironside-Hughes said.

The uniquely Australian tradition of showbags dates back to the first part of the 20th century when showgoers were offered trial quantities of soap powders and other household items in free 'sample bags'.

But over decades they evolved into an industry of dizzying choice aimed at sugar-charged children.

The Bertie Beetle bag represents the most traditional purchase of all.

The story goes that the Nestle chocolate was made using honeycomb left over from Violet Crumble production.

It is an unspectacular chocolate, but its appeal has been that it is cheap and, with the exemption of a few years when it was sold in supermarkets, it has been exclusively carried in showbags.

But to maintain its traditional price, something has had to give, hence Bertie losing his friends.

The bag's distributor Belinda McPherson said it was an unfortunate reality.

"The thing we try to do is keep some showbags at the same price point, because kids might only have $2 or $5 to spend," Ms McPherson said.

"But if you want to do that, the only choices you have are to find a cheaper product or to reduce what you put in there. We have to stay in business."

Ms McPherson said showbag operators always aimed to offer good value for money. The most expensive bags at the Canberra Show this weekend, the $25 range, are sold with supposed retail values of up to $75.

Ms McPherson's company, Showbag Corner, which will provide about 40 types of bags at Canberra, and will stock "a couple of thousand" of the Bertie Beetle bags. Even though $2 doesn't buy what it once did, nostalgia will ensure they remain popular.

"People get very upset when you run out," Ms McPherson said.

"The thing about them is they are a tradition, people remember buying them as kids and they come to the show and they want to buy them for their own kids."

*The Canberra Show runs from February 22-24 at Exhibition Park.