With the chairman of Agricultural Shows Australia (ASA) and former president of the Royal Agricultural Society of WA, Dr Rob Wilson (centre), who officially opened the 69th LiveLighter Esperance Agricultural Show were his wife Lola and Esperance & Districts Agricultural Society president Graham Cooper.

This article by Wendy Gould originally appeared in Farm Weekly

THE LiveLighter Esperance Agricultural Show “returned bigger and better than ever” last Friday and Saturday, with record crowds and outstanding trade exhibitor and competitor support.

This included a record 2141 entries in the hall, in part housed for the first time in the new sporting complex, 172 trade and machinery exhibitors on the grassed hockey oval and indoors, 176 fleeces in the wool section, the second highest ever – and probably the biggest wool showing at any event in WA this year including the Perth Royal Show and Wagin Woolorama – a strong showing in horses and equestrian classes and reinvigorated junior judging and parader competitions.

An emotional Esperance & Districts Agricultural Society (EDAS) president Graham Cooper said at the official opening on Friday it had been a tough couple of years for his staff and he couldn’t thank them enough for their resilience and dedication. Mr Cooper said of the team from the Esperance & Districts Agricultural Society who helped ensure the 2021 show was such a success. “They have put in hours of work to get this show up and running again and have been an enormous support to me,”

The team from the Esperance & Districts Agricultural Society who helped ensure the 2021 show was such a success.

“We didn’t get to celebrate our 70th show but we have had a hell of a practice run for next year. I also have to thank our shire because we were nearly $40,000 out of pocket after last year (with no show) but thanks to them we got through.”

“And then there are so many others who have helped us out, our hidden heroes, who have done things for us and not charged us, plus our magnificent (major) sponsors the Shire of Esperance, Healthways, Southern Ports Authority, South East Petroleum, IGO, Elders, CBH, Qbe, Farm & General, Triple 747AM Esperance and the Commonwealth Bank.”

Mr Cooper said despite the adversity, the past two years had also marked some significant changes and improvements.

“We moved into our new offices, this great new building, the Noel White Pavilion, which also has a meeting room, this function room we are in and plenty of storage,” he said.

“We got a $15,000 Federal government grant to help with the $25,000 upgrade to our sheep shed pens, something that had to be done for health and safety reasons and a new (secondhand) forklift tractor with assistance from Darren West (Labor Agriculture Region MP). “It’s all helped to put on a bigger and better show.”

The best indoor trade exhibit was awarded to Dalyup Bee Farm owners Lawrence (centre) and Janis Beilken with Esperance and Districts Agricultural Society (EDAS) vice-president David Pengilly (left) and judges, chairman of Agricultural Shows Australia Rob Wilson and EDAS president Graham Cooper, Esperance.

Rob Wilson, the Agricultural Shows Australia (ASA) chairman since its formation in 2016 and former president of the Royal Agricultural Society of WA, who officially opened the 69th LiveLighter Esperance Agricultural Show, echoed Mr Cooper’s sentiments about the resilience of local show societies and the importance of agricultural shows to their communities.

“Today we see Kellerberrin and Quairading holding their 100th shows, Hobart will celebrate its bicentenary show in a couple of weeks, as will Sydney early next year,” said Dr Wilson. “I don’t know of any other community organisations in Australia that have existed for that long. “It shows the resilience of agriculture, but also the communities and their societies and we are trying to get greater recognition for this.

“It’s said there are about 50,000 volunteers contributing to shows each year, but I would say this is under-recorded.”

“We have 580 shows under ASA held around Australia annually and as a mark of how tough it has been, last year 400 of them were cancelled, this year it will be 250.

“We have to give enormous thanks for the support we have had through this period from the Federal government and, in particular, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud.”

“The government had already given $20 million to a pre-COVID Regional Agricultural Shows Development Infrastructure Grant for infrastructure projects and under round one of the Supporting Shows and Field Days Program $34.5 million for ag shows and field days cancelled in 2020.

“Last week the minister announced a further $25m to support ag shows and field days that have had to cancel, which included $4m to the Australasian Showmen’s Guild, the travelling showmen and sideshow people, for a rent relief program.

“The other thing we, at ASA, have been working hard to encourage is the involvement of youth in our shows with competitions for young judges and young ambassadors.

“It’s education through competition and we are hoping to build on the events we already have but also include other categories, such as soils and grains.”

The team from AFGRI Equipment organised by Renae Spencer won best outdoor trade exhibit 30 metres and over.

Dr Wilson noted that Friday was also International Day of Rural Women highlighting their contribution to agricultural shows over the years and pointed to an opinion piece in that day’s The West Australian newspaper by Esperance’s own, show secretary Fleur McDonald.