25 February 2024

Ag show season shaping up in the Riverina: hard work but worth the effort, say organisers

| Vanessa Hayden
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Group of people painting on easles

The Henty Agricultural Show tried out some new activities this year including a guided art class. All photos: Henty Show.

The agricultural show season has kicked off with Henty Show’s president Graham Lieschke saying organising an event of this type is a lot of hard work and comes with its challenges but is always worth it in the end.

Undeterred by a range of struggles that his, and other agricultural shows face, he says they still have a strong future and an important role to play in the community.

“They are a great training ground for young people for a start, and the pavilion activities showcase such a great range of hobbies, crafts and talents, they lend themselves to both town and rural people.

Despite numbers through the gate being slightly down on the 8 February event this year, Graham said there was a better than ever atmosphere at the show.

“Our numbers were down on previous years, and I think there’s a few different reasons for that, mainly expendable money. After you pay electricity, the mortgage, fuel and food bills, which have all gone up, it makes it harder, and people have to make decisions what they do and don’t do.”

He said there was a renewed effort this year to offer some different activities.

“One of the things we had was Al’s Skating School. He was just going to run a couple of sessions but when the kids kept coming he just kept going all day; I think he was happy with the result.”

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A new attraction in the sheep pavilion this year was the display of Valais black nosed sheep, shown for the first time at any local rural show – a big hit by all accounts due to their compact size and undeniable cuteness.

“We also introduced a bottle and brush event where people came and painted a landscape scene during a three-hour guided art class and it was very well supported.

“We have a new member on the committee so she was keen to promote it and push it. I’m still not convinced it’s the right thing to have at a show but then I’m not always right,” he chuckled.

He admits one of the challenges is offering things that will draw people back to the event year after year.

“It’s a lot harder to entertain people than what it was years ago.

“But if people go away from the show and tell others that they missed out on a good day out, that’s the comments you need to have. Those people will then think, ‘If it’s that good I might have to go next year’.

“I also think there’s too many other things on in some ways and I think COVID has probably changed how we do things a bit too.

“We had to change all our ways while COVID was on and now we are trying to go back to normal. But we’ve got a new normal and I don’t know if it’s normal yet, if you know what I mean.”

An agricultural show presents an occasion for all ages to showcase art, craft, hobbies and things you do and grow.

It’s an opportunity for school students to take part in competitions, such as junior judging, and to fine-tune their animal handling techniques and livestock skills.

“Henty Show Society coordinates three group finals in junior judging competitions which are beef cattle judging, merino fleece judging and grain judging with finalists from these competitions are eligible to go on to compete at The Sydney Royal Show,” said Graham.

It’s also a place where you can catch up with fellow farmers or others in the community you may not have seen for a while.

However, gone are the days, says Graham, of lingering at last light, sharing tales over a cold beer.

“I did see a few different people at the show that were enjoying a catch-up with others.

“It would be a good place to stand around a bar and chat about things but shows seem to finish earlier than what we want them to. We want them to run through to 5 pm or 6 pm but sometimes by 4 pm the people are all gone.”

Graham led a team of 12 to 15 committee members in bringing the event together and said a six-month lead time is what you need to be successful.

Different members have their areas of interest and rally up entries and support for the sheep, cattle and horse competitions, organising and running them on the day.

The committee also relies on support from other show societies and collaborate with Albury, Corowa, Culcairn, Ganmain, Holbrook, Illabo, Junee, Lockhart, The Rock, Wagga Wagga and in particular, Walbundrie.

“We help each other by providing manpower. On show day the biggest thing is getting help with the gate, horse stewarding and things like that.

“We’ve got an agreement with Walbundrie where 10 people are meant to go back and forward but sometimes that is a struggle.

“I’d like to think that if only two people from every show committee went to another show you might end up with an extra 24 people who turn up to help.

“It doesn’t have to be the same two people every time, but it would make an enormous difference.”

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As with many volunteer run groups, another albatross is the never-ending battle to attract new blood into the fold, ready, willing and able to dedicate precious hours and labour to the cause.

“It’s one of our biggest struggles. We were lucky to have a new secretary this year, Monica Schrader.

“I don’t know if she’s had much to do with shows before at all and I told her early in the piece you’ve got to delegate, you can’t do the whole lot yourself. She said, ‘I need to do it all myself, so I know how everything runs!’

“She has done a tremendous job. She deserves a fair bit of praise for what she did.”

He emphasises it’s the dedication of all the committee members, along with the support of the stewards for all sections, which is paramount in running a successful show.

Graham remembers his first year as president – on his first run which saw him stay in the chair for eight years. He’s now returned to the role for a second, and hopefully shorter, bout.

“I was just about a nervous wreck before the show started but I realised it still went on. It doesn’t matter what you try or try not to do, you just have to run with it and be prepared to roll with how it goes.”

Henty must be doing something right. They have now staged 118 shows and Graham’s secretly hoping that one of his vice presidents will “step up” in the coming year or two.

“We need some more energy!” he declares.

Holbrook Show – 24 March
Ganmain Show – 24 August
Wagga Wagga Show – 13 and 14 September
Lockhart Show – 22 September
Culcairn Show – 5 October
Walbundrie Show – 7 October
Ilabo Show – 12 October
Corowa Show – 13 October
The Rock Show – 19 October
Junee Show 26 – October
Albury Show – 1 to 3 November
For a full list of agricultural shows visit the AgShowsNSW website.

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