Offcuts: Welcome to the show

Friday, March 16th, 8am.

I’m putting the finishing touches on the Quality marquee before the South East Field Days, trying to hammer some flag bases into the hard ground and to be honest, making a ‘dog’s breakfast’ of it.

All of a sudden, a gentleman emerges from the tent opposite ours, a hardened, old-school ‘cockie’ baring a striking resemblance to the character Curly from the film City Slickers for those who’ve seen it.

Without so much as a word, he walks over with a giant sledgehammer, smashes the remaining spikes in so hard it’s like they’ve personally offended him somehow, nods to me in acknowledgement and then goes on his merry way.

Welcome to the world of the agricultural show! 

And while I hadn’t been to such a show since I was a kid, this kind of act was actually what I expected to encounter as I headed down the South East Freeway to Lucindale – a community coming together as one and helping each other stage a major event, to benefit the region and industry collectively.

My time in the South East also got me thinking about the role and relevance of agricultural shows in 2018.

We do after all live in the iPhone and Netflix era, a time when instant entertainment is demanded and available at your fingertips 24/7 and competition for people’s attention has never been higher.

Add to that the fact that new boutique festivals of all kinds are popping up every five minutes, spreading the consumer dollar even thinner.

Surely these factors and others mean that the humble agricultural show, for so long a staple and pillar of rural communities, must be about to go the way of the dodo bird?

Well that’s not the impression that I got, admittedly from a small sample size.

One of the most heartening sights in the Quality marquee was the number of parent/child duos who came through, many looking as though they were continuing a tradition of spending the day together when the show’s in town.

And just as the father (or mother) will hand down the reigns of their respective enterprises to their son or daughter in the future, hopefully they will also pass down an appreciation and understanding of the importance of country shows in Australian rural culture.

And important they are, for many reasons.

For Australia’s agricultural sector to thrive in the future an understanding of its value must be fostered, especially among non-rural people and the next generation.

This is where country and agricultural shows, with their numerous competitions and youth pathways, play a vital role.

Having seen the many enthusiastic youngsters come into the Quality marquee to try their hand at our guess the micron competition, it gave me a sense of reassurance that there’s enough interest to paint a positive picture for our farming future.

And while some members of older generations might take delight in dismissing younger Australians as ‘not caring about anything’, the truth is they’re actually pretty good at keeping the country’s cultural traditions alive.

I remember it was only a few years ago when people were worried that our appreciation and interest in ANZAC Day may start to diminish as the years go by and the older Australians who endured wartime are lost.

Since then, younger people have begun flocking to dawn services in huge numbers, not only preserving the tradition but taking it to new levels.

I can see a similar groundswell occurring to ensure that agricultural shows continue to play an important role in rural Australia.

In fact, SA has even established the South Australian Agricultural Shows Next Generation Group to target those between the ages of 16 and 40 and with the mandate of “driving participation, education and innovation in the South Australian show movement and local rural communities for young people”.

The group holds a number of events every year including the Boots and Black Tie Ball, Young Farmer’s Challenge and Youth in Ag Day, all with the goal of increasing awareness and participation in country shows and the state’s flagship Royal Adelaide Show.

With similar organisations emerging in other states as well, the future appears to be in good hands.

Regional economies too will benefit greatly from the continued success of agricultural and country shows.

Those local watering holes, motels and takeaway shops that can so often struggle for patronage in small towns all recieve a big boost to their bottom line when major events bring people to the area.

Without these businesses there is no community and that, along with many other reasons, is why we need to ensure agricultural shows continue to play a pivotal role in Australian culture.