First published on The Senior

This year’s Royal Adelaide Show will be the last overseen by John Rothwell, as he retires after decades of service.

John has been chief executive of the Royal Agricultural & Horticultural Society of SA – the organisation that runs the show – for 20 years, and has served 27 years with them. He did want to retire earlier, but stayed on as the pandemic landed.

The Society Board has appointed Stillwell Select Recruitment to find a replacement.

The society operates the 26-hectare Adelaide Showground site at Wayville, which consists of State Crown Lease and freehold land owned by the society.

John helped to oversee several changes to the show and the showground, including infrastructure projects and the types of events the site is used for.

John worked with the Food Forest’s Graham Brookman and Willunga Farmers’ Market former CEO Zannie Flanagan to launch the weekly Adelaide Showground Farmers Market in 2006, with financial support from the society.

“The market has been a major success, operating continuously including throughout the pandemic as an essential service,” John said.

Society president Andrew Hardy said John had made an “outstanding contribution to the society, and the agricultural industry in South Australia”.

He grew up in the Tasmanian Tamar Valley and became hooked on agriculture and shows through a neighbour, taking up tertiary courses in farm management and agribusiness. He joined the society in 1996 and prior to that, managed farming properties for 18 years.

“The reason for me applying for the assistant director position in 1995 was to progress my professional development in a very diverse and exciting business. I felt I could contribute particularly with the ongoing refinement of the Royal Show and Showground precinct,” John told The Senior.

He was appointed society CEO in 2003. He listed numerous proud moments during his time, including staging the society’s 175th celebration with a dinner for 1460 guests in 2014.

Also, 3.5 million litres of water storage was installed on the grounds, capturing rainfall from 16,000 square metres of rooftop that would otherwise be lost to urban storm water. In 2009, a one-Megawatt solar rooftop power station was installed at the site, making it the largest rooftop solar power station in the Southern hemisphere.

There is one particularly fond memory John has of the Royal Adelaide Show:

“The highlight of the Royal Show repeated each year is viewing the Grand Parade, the top livestock at the show on display,” he said.

Putting on a show requires many hands; the society typically employs 50 tenured staff annually, with hundreds of casual and contract staff brought on to deliver each show. About 500 volunteers, many with specialist knowledge, also help. About 18 months goes into planning each show, with long lead times required for many areas of the event. Just under 30,000 competitive entries are submitted to the show each year, with a big percentage displayed. In addition, there are around 500 exhibits.

John shared why he thought it was important for ‘ordinary’ South Australians to continue to care about learning where their food comes from, how it’s made, and to support local producers.

“As a modern community, we all tend to take for granted reliable supplies of quality safe food,” John said.

“It is important the general public appreciates this is not the case throughout the world and should therefore be cherished, with strong support for good policies and governance to ensure the sustainability of production in the long term.

“Also, importantly for the South Australian community, agriculture consistently delivers approximately 50 per cent of the state’s GDP.”

John said it will be wonderful to see the event delivered following the disruption over the past three years.

“COVID prevented the delivery of the last two shows which has been a major hit for the society and we are all excited about being back on show,” he said.

John has numerous people to thank for their support during his time with the society.

“The Royal Show is all about people and it could only ever be staged with the contributions of thousands of people from all walks of life,” he said.

“I applaud and thank the contributions from the many exhibitors, staff and volunteers I have been fortunate to have known in my role as CEO. I would particularly like to acknowledge the society’s board who volunteer their time to oversee the governance of the society and who have always shown high levels of interest and support to me.”