Field days a benefit in work and play

Ann RawlingsCountryman
Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days volunteer Thelma Hatwell.
Camera IconDowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days volunteer Thelma Hatwell. Credit: Ann Rawlings

Its volunteer workforce may be the backbone of the Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days, but that is not to say it is all work and no play for local residents.

For the event’s longest-serving volunteer, Thelma Hatwell, the Dowerin Field Days is all about meeting those who come from near and far to grace its grounds.

“You meet some people only once a year, and that is at the field days, because they come to Dowerin to work at the different venues,” she said.

“I think being a volunteer is good for one’s own self, but meeting people is what I enjoy the most.”

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Ms Hatwell, who has lent a hand at the event for 52 of its 54 years, has lived in the district her whole life.

“I was born in Dowerin when the town had a hospital. My father’s farm was north of Dowerin at a little place called Ejanding, and I married a lad south of town at the Dowerin lakes, so I haven’t moved very far at all,” she said.

Involved in feeding the masses, Ms Hatwell has this year once more taken on the role of Grand Central co-ordinator alongside Carolyn Metcalf, another long-term field days volunteer.

Ms Hatwell, who paid tribute to the tireless work of her Grand Central side-kick, said her role more recently was to simply “back-up one of the venues”. Both have been involved in catering for many years, with Ms Hatwell being a member of the first catering committee.

She said thoughts of field days sparked good memories, with many more to come.

“There were only a few exhibitors on the footy oval when it started, and now it takes up acres,” she said. “Sometimes we would watch the fashion parade on the Thursday, when things were winding down.

“But I enjoy driving around before the field days starts, when the sites have been set up. To see the size of the machines is incredible.”

I think being a volunteer is good for one’s own self, but meeting people is what I enjoy the most.

Thelma Hatwell

Dowerin Field Days event co-ordinator Suzanne Blay said the not-for-profit organisation behind the event, Dowerin Events Management, was owned by the community.

“We have about 300 volunteers annually. They come from more than 180 local organisations and from up to 100km away,” she said.

“While the volunteers donate their time, we pay $17 for every hour they work towards an organisation on their behalf, plus we provide them with entry to the field days and food during the event.”

Cumulatively, volunteer hours amount to about $60,000 per annum, a welcome funding boost to those organisations to benefit from their members’ work.

“In addition, we have two funding rounds each year that are $15,000 in total each, with any club or organisation that volunteers at field days eligible to apply. They can apply for up to $5000 for a large project or $1000 for a small project,” Ms Blay said.

“We aim to put about $90,000 back into our local communities per annum.

“Most of that money is from volunteer hours, that’s why our volunteers are so important, and it sustains not only this community but the communities around Dowerin.”

Ms Blay said it was income that would have otherwise needed to be sourced elsewhere. “It is an easy and fun way of generating revenue,” she said.

DEM has also funded significant projects in the area, including the Dowerin Short Term Accommodation Precinct, built in the lead up to last year’s event, and to which the organisation contributed $400,000.

From manning the gates and ushering visitors into parking areas, to cleaning, catering and moving machinery onto sites, this volunteer force has kept Dowerin Field Days running smoothly year in, year out.

Their skills vary just as much as their age, as the principal of the Dowerin’s school can attest.

Dowerin District High School principal Barb Garner.
Camera IconDowerin District High School principal Barb Garner. Credit: Ann Rawlings

“Our secondary students work in the catering venues, and that is their work placement for the year,” said Barb Garner, principal of Dowerin District High School.

“Our students love field days and are heartbroken if they can’t participate in it for some reason.”

Ms Garner said parents were also keen to lend a hand, with their volunteer contributions going towards the P&C or special projects, such as a recent student excursion to Canberra.

“When the children and parents volunteer, the money they earn is donated to the school P&C or to special projects. They can choose where their money goes but many choose the P&C or these projects,” she said.

“In 2020, we are off to another Canberra camp, so there is discussion already about fundraising.

“The first camp also benefited from a large donation from an anonomous person, and that was significant, and the children did a lot of other fundraising, so the trip was at no cost to the children.

“From a school perspective, our P&C supports us so well. We don’t work separately with the P&C, we work together really well.”

Ms Garner said the Dowerin Field Days had consistenly backed the school’s aims.

“Financially, the field days has supported the school in so many ways. DEM made a significant contribution to the robotics program at school, and because we have been able to have this technology on site, we have been able to lead a few initiatives within our network of schools,” she said.

The school’s Lego Mindstorms EV3 robots will soon also share floor space with several drones, to be used by the secondary students, and a 3D printer.

The benches used within the field days’ food venues are also used by the school throughout the year, and students are able to take advantage of the neighbouring facilities outside of field days hours.

“We were able to use the Lifestyle Pavilion to hold our recent Robotics Cup. It was an awesome venue for that purpose,” Ms Garner said.

“We also organise a field days trail for students from Kindergarten to Year 10, which allows the students to have a good look around the event.

“We are fortunate to be right on site, so students can attend for a couple of hours each day.

“With the activity trail, they have to answer a question for each venue. The exhibitors who participate seem to enjoy the interaction.”

For Ms Garner and many in the community, field days has been, and will continue to be, part of the fabric of Dowerin. “Field days is huge for this community,” she said.

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