Volunteer show presidents are central to the continued success and progress of agshows, navigating volunteer teams through the challenges that arise. From inclement weather to council and crown land negotiations, rundown facilities, financial puzzles and finding volunteers – show presidents have a broad remit indeed. Here’s a look at some presidents who have shown enormous leadership in recent times.
Forging through financial hurdles
Making the Canberra Royal Show happen is no mean feat. The show held at Exhibition Park in Canberra welcomes a crowd in excess of 40,000, hosts ten horse rings over four days, and runs not one but three concurrent dog shows.
But Canberra Royal has faced its fair share of hurdles. They decided to run their show in February 2020 despite being in serious financial trouble. The following year, their showground had become a Covid testing centre for the region and they were unable to hold a normal show. Yet, a volunteer CEO got them through it all to a bigger and better future.
In fact, in 2022 they achieved record horse and cattle entries, with competitors travelling from as far afield as Tasmania, Far North Queensland and South Australia to compete.
Geoff Cannock has been the volunteer chief executive for the last two years. That’s right. Thousands of hours and not a dollar for his time. Geoff came out of retirement, put his superman cape on, and set about putting Canberra Royal back in the black in 2020. In 2021, despite the impact of Covid testing on their showgrounds, they ran a very successful cattle and dog show which injected some much-needed cash back into the show society.
Geoff worked very hard with all the stakeholders, especially the ACT Government and sponsors, to enable the committee to run the recently held 2022 Royal Canberra Show. Even with numerous issues thrown their way, including protesters illegally camping on their ground the week of the Show, through Geoff’s experience and guidance they ran a very successful event, popular with exhibitors and, more importantly, the public. AgShows NSW awarded Geoff their Award for Excellence this year.
That leadership in times of crisis is a central skill for show presidents.
Navigating volunteer shortages
A desperate shortage of volunteers is a challenge facing the three-day Albury Show, scheduled for October, in New South Wales after two years of a pandemic-enforced hiatus.
The Albury Show Society is one of the oldest organisations in Albury, having been around for more than 170 years, but the loss of income with two successive years of cancellation has hurt, says president Wal Blezard.
“We’ve had some help from the government, but that’s it,” Mr Blezard said. “We are using any method we possibly can to get volunteers, even asking family members.”
Around 20 people are required to volunteer in a variety of areas, including arts and crafts, directing traffic and ticketing in the lead up to the show in October, so the show has spread the word through the local newspaper.
Throughout the years, the Albury Show Society has managed to grow the event, with agricultural and cultural displays a major feature.
Jacki Waugh, President of Goulburn Show, who has a vibrant volunteer army, taps into a local volunteers expo where people are already “natural volunteers”. She hosts an annual barbeque for 70+ volunteers and conducts volunteers awards to recognise those individuals who do contribute.
“As a leader, you have to be open to personalities and excellent at course correction – it’s an art,” Ms Waugh said.
“You have to appreciate that people have different work rates and different definitions of volunteerism, and recognise those different approaches.”
Revamping with Covid regulations
Geoff Gale was a major figure in steering the Murray Bridge Show during the toughest times of the pandemic and he was subsequently rewarded with the Award for Active Citizenship at the Murray Bridge Australia Day Awards ceremony.
Geoff took on the role of president of the Murray Bridge Agricultural and Horticultural Society at a time of particular difficulty; the outgoing committee had all stepped aside, the society was struggling around issues of debt and financial management and facing all that comes with a Covid environment.
He brought the community together to reinvigorate the society, bringing it success, holding a great dinner, engaging the society with a whole new group of younger people and eventually holding a nationally recognised excellent show. Geoff completed his term with the society financially secure, showing a profit of $30,000.
A humble recipient, Geoff said he was just a figurehead for the group of up to 50 people who put the show on.
“They all pulled together and did a fantastic job in my opinion,” he said.
Meanwhile, in Queensland, vaccine mandates threatened all shows across the state this year.
Kingaroy Show president Craig Lucas said the last-minute news that Queensland would scrap the vaccination mandates was a huge relief.
“I thought it was a dream – I had to pinch myself and it hurt like buggery,” he said.
Subsequently, the South Burnett community came together to celebrate the best of its region’s produce and country traditions at the 114th annual Kingaroy Show.
In Tasmania, after a year where only seven of 23 shows went ahead, the Royal Launceston Show has bucked the trend, forging ahead at a new venue and expanding from a one-day show into a three-day event.
The agricultural drawcard was cancelled last year and in 2020 as event organisers struggled to cope with Covid crowd restrictions, but a move to Quercus Park from the Inveresk rail yards has filled the society with confidence and it will hold the show over three days rather than the one-day show it held in 2018 and 2019.
President Dale Beams said the decision was prompted by the huge interest in the new venue shown by the Launceston community and the business sector.
“Operating over three days provides us with the opportunity to expand our entertainment and competition programme, giving patrons greater value for money,” Mr Beams said.
Being resilient through droughts and flooding rains
A more common hurdle for shows is the weather.
The Wauchope Show in New South Wales made a comeback in April after a hiatus due to the pandemic, with a celebration of community and the agricultural sector. But the rain fell, and fell some more, during what has been one of the wettest periods for the region in recent memory.
Wauchope Show Society president Neil Coombes said it was great to see all the new infrastructure being used at Wauchope Showground.
“We just wish Mother Nature was better to us,” he said.
The rain impacted the level of show entries. The trotting events on Saturday and the woodchop were called off as a result of the wet conditions. But Mr Coombes said the community feedback about the show was positive, it brought the community back together and attracted a record level of sponsorship.
Outdated community facilities
In Tasmania, the Exeter community and the wider West Tamar region will have access to a new Show and Recreation Centre, with $1.5 million in funding announced,
President of the Exeter Show Society, which has been running for more than 100 years, Trevor Clark said the funding was welcome news.
“We’ve been going for four years to have a new building to replace this antiquated one,” he said.
“We have been lobbying the Federal Government for some time now. We have lots of activities here, such as cricket, football, sheepdog trials, market days and The Exeter Show.
“There will be a new kitchen, bar and a new memorabilia collection, so it’s very exciting. I’ve been a part of the committee since I was 20 and I’ve been president for 22 years, so I’m very passionate about this place and the funding is a great help.”
The planned sports facility upgrade is an exciting project for the Exeter community and the wider region, thanks to a vision put forward by a dedicated and professional committee of volunteers ensuring facilities are brought up to date for wider community use.
The common attributes of show presidents
Show presidents are a rare breed, driven to make their shows bigger, better and brighter, more sustainable and enduringly relevant in changing times, according to Agricultural Shows Australia chair Dr. Rob Wilson.
“These are dedicated, visionary people who rise to the challenge of overseeing and growing our shows, protecting tradition and simultaneously embracing progress and innovation,” he said.
“They have to be resilient, diplomatic, incisive, connected, community-minded – and we tip our hats to the 580 show presidents around Australia and the thousands who have gone before.”