This article by Emma Field originally appeared in ABC Gippsland online.

Victoria’s agricultural shows are back after a year of COVID cancellations

A young boy sitting on a giant pumpkin he grew and entered into the Orbost show
Five-year-old Chad Johnstone wins second place for his massive pumpkin at the Orbost Show.(ABC Gippsland: Emma Field)
The giant pumpkin competition, sideshow alley, the Country Women’s Association Devonshire tea and the woodchop are back, as Victoria’s first agricultural shows open their gates for the first time since COVID-19 restrictions were introduced about 12 months ago.

In Victoria over the Labour Day long weekend two country shows were run with record crowds, all with COVID-19 rules in place, to give regional towns a much needed boost after last year’s lockdowns and disruptions.

Across the country, agricultural shows were cancelled in 2020 — leaving regional towns without a major economic driver and an important social event.

A display of vibrant, colourful flowers in green glass bottles.
The flower display at the Orbost Show was full of colour.(ABC Gippsland: Peter Somerville)

‘Everybody had a ball’

About 800 people flocked to the Tallangatta Agricultural and Pastoral Society show in the state’s north-east from last Friday to Sunday — more than half of the town’s 1,400 residents.

“We had a fantastic woodchop competition, show jumping, and in the pavilion we had flowers and veggies and sideshow alley,” Tallangatta show society president Roger Lees said.

A man holds a small child up to some clown faces
Some of the popular children’s entertainment games were back at Victoria’s first agriculture shows over the weekend.(ABC Gippsland: Emma Field )

Mr Lees said the show society was concerned about whether the show would proceed when a five-day lockdown was announced in Victoria last month to control a coronavirus outbreak.

“We were very determined to run the show, and we worked towards it,” Mr Lees said.

Meanwhile in far East Gippsland, about 370 kilometres from Melbourne, the Orbost show attracted the biggest crowd in 30 years on Monday.

A young woman demonstrating how to milk a goat
Carri Florence from Waygara Livestock and Pet Shop demonstrating how to milk a goat at the Orbost Show.(ABC Gippsland: Emma Field)

The region has been through a rough couple of years with drought hitting the region, then last summer’s fires threatening the small town, which was evacuated twice.

“There have been many difficult challenges for lots of people in the area,” Orbost Agricultural Show Society president Paul Lavell said.

An elderly man with his entry into the giant pumpkin competition
Robert Nettleton won Orbost Show’s giant pumpkin competition with his entry weighing in at 171 kilograms(ABC Gippsland: Emma Field)

Giant pumpkins create rivalry of the ages

One of the biggest drawcards to the Orbost event was the giant pumpkin competition, which was won by local Robert Nettleton with a pumpkin weighing in at 171 kilograms.

It took five men to lift the pumpkin onto a set of portable cattle scales to weigh the winning entry.

Mr Nettleton relegated five-year-old Chad Johnstone to second place by just 3.5kg.

Chad, who grew the large vegetable with his Dad, said he now planned to make a boat out of the giant pumpkin.

A table of pumpkins with award certificates pinned to them. Tapestries and other vegetables in background.
There was a strong showing of vegetables at the 2021 Orbost Show pavilion.(ABC Gippsland: Peter Somerville)

Entry to the show was free, thanks to funding from Connect Well, a Gippsland community-based mental health body, which runs programs to help with fire recovery.

Connect Well community facilitator Sam Forbes said there was a direct link between people coming together as a community and mental wellbeing.

“Especially after the last 18 months, people coming together and connecting again and feeling like they belong and that they are part of a wider community that’s supportive,” he said.