By Lyndsey Douglas
This article was originall posted on LinkedIn.
Every year, six million Australians go to an agricultural show. Whether it’s one of the big, spectacular Royals (in Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Adelaide, Brisbane’s Ekka or Bathurst in the Central West of New South Wales) or their local show in towns as tiny as Pinnaroo in South Australia or as big as Penrith in Sydney’s west, Australians like their shows.
Our motivators to attend are all unique. Some attendees go for the entertainment, some for the competition, others for an entree to agriculture and animals (a now distant but interesting concept to many modern suburban and town-based families).
It might surprise you to know that the show movement boasts the single biggest volunteer network in Australia. Cumulatively, across each of these little towns, regional centres and royal shows, tens of thousands of people contribute their time, knowledge and energy year round to ensure that ‘the show will go on’. But shows are not without their challenges. The 600+ shows nationwide all face situational hurdles that they must overcome: financial constraints, unpredictable weather, population declines, competition with other events so on and so forth.
Five shows that I am aware of have been cancelled or postponed in recent times: Launceston Show (after 144 years) and Devonport Show (after 108 years) in Tasmania, Castle Hill Show (after 130 years) in Sydney, Uralla Show (after 143 years) in northern New South Wales, and Maclean Show (after 122 years) in the northern rivers district. Conversely, there are examples of ingenuity and innovation occurring across the nation that are helping to ensure the viability and modern relevance of the agricultural show movement. And these successes should be recognised.
Kellie Mullins of Warwick Show Society in Queensland says her show recognised that their show could improve their inclusion of the broader community in their show, namely local disabled children. Kellie and the team now run a full show day the day prior to the official show whereby the entire day is tailored towards the enjoyment and experiences of the show for those children. The local schools get involved, the Showman’s Guild prepares the rides, the local fire brigade provides the transport and the results have been outstanding. Kellie says the ‘Days for Disability’ concept has given a whole new relevance to their show and the rewards have surpassed their expectations.
Bridging the city-country divide
Caitlin Crothers comes from the tiny agricultural community of Dirranbandi, which has been ravaged in recent years by water buybacks and drought. As farming became more challenging and the local population declined, the show suffered too. But far from being subject to the whims of those factors beyond their control, the committee got pragmatic. They realised that the closest capital city of Brisbane was full of cashed-up city-slickers who would happily pay for an authentic rural experience, so they created a great rural escape that included show time.
And it worked.
Owen Daly of Cairns Show Society tells the story of a decline in dairy cattle numbers at his show over a period of years to the point where they virtually disappeared from the show only a few years ago. Realising the unique opportunity that shows afford producers to directly influence and educate consumers, mums and dads and the next generation of milk-drinkers, the local dairy cohort banded together to provide financial subsidies for local dairy farmers to bring their cattle to the show for competition and education. Today, dairy cattle numbers are back up, and producers get that critical time to liaise directly with their end consumer via the show.
These examples are only three of many who put creativity into practise and solidify their purpose and longevity of their local show.
I’m curious. What are you seeing in your community? Is your show flourishing? If you don’t attend your local so, why is that?