Events part of farming story

Ann RawlingsCountryman
Countryman, September 15, 1983, p8.
Camera IconCountryman, September 15, 1983, p8. Credit: Countryman

The machinery may now be bigger, and the woollen fashion a tad more modern, but the aim of WA’s three big agricultural field days has remained the same.

Each exists to serve the farming communities that surround them, and serve them well they do.

For decades, the Mingenew Midwest Expo, Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days and Newdegate Machinery Field Days have excelled in presenting the best in the business of farming, a fact that has been well-documented in Countryman’s own history.

In the late 1960s, as the newspaper toyed with the idea of colour print, details of the first showcase came to light in Countryman.

It was September 5, 1968, and the small Wheatbelt town of Dowerin had in the week before held its fourth machinery field day, with 5500 visitors from across WA passing through the turnstiles.

More than 70 firms were in attendance that year, with exhibits reported to have ranged from “tractors, ploughs, scarifiers, harvesters, motor cars, fertiliser and aircraft to cosmetics, farm inventions and polished stones”.

Tractor display and ploughing at the 1968 Dowerin Machinery Field Days.
Camera IconTractor display and ploughing at the 1968 Dowerin Machinery Field Days.

A neighbouring field hosted more than 20 aircraft, while an oat crop was grown so farmers could see haymaking machinery in action. Ploughs and scarifiers cut up another section of the site, an early form of the Dowerin Field Days’ modern-day Lifters and Diggers Arena. By 1978, exhibitor numbers had swelled to 168 — a far cry from the first event in 1965, in which 20 entertained a crowd of 2000.

A haymaking machine moves through an oat crop specially grown for the 1968 Dowerin Machinery Field Days.
Camera IconA haymaking machine moves through an oat crop specially grown for the 1968 Dowerin Machinery Field Days.

Close on the heels of the Dowerin Field Days was a one-day gathering in the Great Southern, with this event quickly gaining ground in the hearts of farmers.

In 1973, the Newdegate community held its first spring machinery field day. Ten years later, and with rising exhibitor and visitor numbers, the committee president of the time, Frank Whittington, flagged the move to a two-day event in Countryman.

Countryman, September 15, 1983, p8.
Camera IconCountryman, September 15, 1983, p8. Credit: Countryman

In the September 15, 1983 edition, exhibitors were said to have “agreed enthusiastically” to the idea, with the article citing the cost and time involved in setting up displays for one day as reason enough to expand. “In this industry you can’t afford not to be present,” one representative said.

That year in Newdegate, there were 172 site exhibitors, 40 more than the year before, covering a total area of eight hectares and with equipment on display worth an estimated $30 million. Also in fine form was Newdegate grower and CBH chairman Wally Newman, pictured alongside the article in the driving seat of a restored Lanz tractor.

Interestingly, a field days with (one assumes) no beer is worth noting. Countryman reported: “Last year’s episode regarding a shortage of beverages almost happened again, despite the order being doubled for this year’s field day.”

As Mr Whittington said at the time: “And to think it all started with 20 exhibitors, run by the local Jaycees, 11 years ago.”

One edition later, on September 29, 1983, Countryman reported on another event that was set to take the Mid West by storm.

Countryman, September 29, 1983, p14.
Camera IconCountryman, September 29, 1983, p14. Credit: Countryman

Mingenew’s inaugural event that year, initiated by local Lion’s Club member Bob Paskins, attracted a crowd of about 2500 and was officially opened by Winston Crane, then the president of the Primary Industries Association.

“It is difficult to measure an event like an exposition,” the journalist wrote.

“The organisers were slightly disappointed that the attendance was not more but the 103 exhibitors reported that most who attended were genuine and not just tourists with no intention of buying.

“Most exhibitors have booked additional space for next year so it appears the event will become a fixture for the northern agricultural calendar.”

The year after, Mingenew Expo set about building its presence, adding a shearing contest, inventors section and displays that highlighted new technology in agriculture, with advertisements of the time stating “All roads lead to Mingenew”.

This year, Mingenew Expo will celebrate its 37th event on August 14-15, followed by the 55th Dowerin Field Days on August 28-29 and the 47th Newdegate Field Days on September 4-5.

Countryman, meanwhile, will continue to cherish its association with these events, reporting on what matters most to WA farmers.

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