This article created by Laura Mayers and Selina Green originally appeared on ABC News online.

Since the 1800s, Australia’s country agricultural shows have played a key role in our society. These events are not just centred on cattle, cooking and crafts — country shows are about connection. This year, these grassroots community events are proving to be more important than ever, after the pandemic triggered mass cancellations of agricultural shows. About 500 events were cancelled Australia-wide in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, according to the federal government.

“For many a regional community, it’s the one time of the year that everybody goes in for that event,” Agricultural Shows Australia executive officer Katie Stanley said. “And people are recognising that agricultural shows are a great way to engage the community,” Ms Stanley said. “This provides that connectedness and wellbeing that is so important to our mental health.”

In 2021 and 2022, the Hobart Royal Show and Sydney Royal Show — some of the oldest institutions in Australia — will celebrate 200 years in operation.

Australia’s agricultural shows attract more than 6 million people annually and are backed by more than 50,000 volunteers.

Show will go on

After making the devastating decision not to proceed with what would be its 150th event, organisers of the Mount Gambier Spring Show are preparing for this year’s event.  Since its inception in 1860, it is one of the largest regional shows in South Australia, on par with the Gawler Show. Held on the third weekend of October, the show attracts 10,000 visitors over two days. With restrictions easing and Victorians now able to enter the state without requiring a COVID-19 test, visitor numbers are anticipated to be strong. But the impact of the pandemic will mean things will be a little different this year.

Mount Gambier Show’s junior vice president, Tammy Flier, has been busy with the rest of the organising team to work through a COVID management plan. “We have been busily organising the show since before Christmas,” Ms Flier said. “So, we are looking at entry points, exit points. We are going to be having online ticket sales this year – which is a first for the show.”

Ms Flier said the team was lucky to operate at the expansive Mount Gambier Showgrounds. She said the COVID-19 drive-through testing clinic adjacent to the showgrounds would continue to operate while the show was in operation. “We have so much space. We have the room to spread out traders, spread out show rides … we’ve got the room to move everyone around and make sure we have the distance that we need,” Ms Flier said. “Obviously, things can change in a heartbeat … but we need to just plan as if everything is going to be happy days.”

‘Essential’ for education

For Katie Stanley, regional shows play an essential educational role in broadening Australians’ awareness of agriculture, and answer vital questions. “How do they get the food that they are eating? How do they get the clothes they are wearing on their backs?” Ms Stanley said. “I do think agricultural shows will always have a place in our society. “There will always be a need. As long as shows continue to adapt and attract … people will see the validity of the agricultural show.”