later, the Bass Coast Summer Agricultural Show goes from strength to strength.
HERE’S a thing. At a time when most local agricultural shows have disappeared off the map, attendance at Wonthaggi‘s show has grown by 50 per cent over the past decade.
While the life in other community events flares and fizzles, the Wonthaggi Show comes round every January on the knocker, bigger and better, regular as clockwork. You could bet your house on it. It’s a phenomenon.
You understand it better when you talk to Rosemary Loughnan. Her family have been on the committee for 35 years. She’ll tell you it started for her when she and her sisters, Joan and Brenda, tagged along with their dad, Ernie Asquith, to the Dalyston Show.
The Dalyston Show was the biggest day of the year. Farmers would spend hours grooming their cattle. Mrs Trewin regularly won prizes in every category: jams, baking and floral. She used to stay up baking all the night before and then take a nap in the back of the truck on the day. Wonthaggi ladies, hatted and gloved, took the train. Farming families went home to milk the cows and returned for the show ball. The show was bigger than footy or cricket, Rosemary says. “It had a bit of class about it.”
As kids, she says, they’d have entered something in the show, probably handwriting or drawing. “I was shy and didn’t have a lot of self-esteem. But I often won the handwriting. I won the drawing once. I remember how much pleasure that gave me.”
They’d also grown up with Shetland ponies and as young adults shown ponies at the show. So years later, when there was a real risk of the show being lost to the area, and a group of them were called to a crisis meeting, they were desperate to save it. “It was something about the agricultural show that felt right for us.” It was to do with the animals, the tradition of showing, the focus of a community on its best efforts.
Around that time, a regional show official told her that his show was the only one in South Gippsland that would survive. “Stuff this!” thought Rosemary. “I’m in for the fight!”
Thirty-five years later, the Bass Coast Summer Agricultural Show is in sound health and bopping along with the times. In 2013 that old unwieldy competitors’ book is reduced to 28 economical pages – links on the website have absorbed the sponsor’s advertising. Technology married to tradition and everyone’s happy.
The task is this: to volunteer your time year after year to attract large numbers of exhibitors, competitors, community groups, entertainers, sponsors and a very large crowd so the day hums, everyone’s happy, and we all come back next year. Easy peasy.
Heading the army of workers ─ a committee of up to 20 and close to 300 volunteers – is Margaret Eskildsen as president and Rosemary as secretary. On the committee are Rosemary’s sisters, Joan and Brenda, her husband, Wayne, and other family and friends. Everyone gives as much as they care to, as much as they’re able. Cheryl Russell, a steward in the cookery section, is there in the final week, “just floating”. Someone’ll say: “Can you give me a hand lifting this?” And she’ll say: “Of course I will!”.
“We just love it,” she says. “We’ve worked together for years. We’re sort of show family.”
The champ ... horses play a major role in the show.As secretary, Rosemary is the public face of the organisation, with an all-encompassing management role. She works part of nearly every day of the week throughout the year, marketing, seeking sponsors, delegating, troubleshooting ─ and then on Show Day itself, at the end of which she’s been heard to say: “This has been a fantastic day. I couldn’t have done more if I tried!”
The program is huge. The public expects to be entertained and the show is for everyone from the most elderly, who sit with a scone and a cuppa and watch the events, to the youngest kids who might never get out of Wonthaggi. There’s a bit of carnival, some rides, motor bike stunts. “And our African drummers are back; it’s a fantastic sound around the grounds.”
Maintaining the connection with agriculture is crucial – bridging the gap between the town and farm. Down at the animal nursery, children can hold the animals. Rosemary loves their look of wonder and surprise. They’re thinking: “This is what feathers feel like!”
Senior photography steward Joan Hales and her husband Gus (who doubles as the Mr Fix-It of Show Week) came on board because they admired the people who had made such a success of the show. Now what keeps Joan involved is the challenge of building the photography section. These days they have hundreds of entries every year, despite the fact – and she laughs – the first prize in each section is just $2.
When disasters occur, the team goes with the flow and rides the bumps. Six weeks out from the 2008 show, they had all the equestrian entries in, the program printed, accommodation booked and judges in place when the equine influenza hit Australia and they had to cancel two days of equestrian events. “It felt like unravelling an intricately knitted garment,” Rosemary says. “We’ve never got the same volume of horses back. And then, even though we’d let everyone know, there were all the people who said: ‘Oh, we came for the horses ...’.”
High flyers: the stunt motorbike riders draw a big crowd.But they’ve always got Plan B or C ready. That’s the importance of all the entertainment on the arena. The fire trucks, fly ball, stunt motorbikes, archery, puppet shows, medieval pageantry, stilt walking, clowns, carnival, sideshows. “The wood chop is massive this year.”
Their biggest enemy is the beach. We love `em but they’re fickle, says Rosemary of the public. “They desert us in droves when it’s hot.”
But that’s just another reality to be worked with. The crowd around the arena will enjoy the shade of five marquees again this year; the hydro station from South Gippsland Water, a trailer with fountains, will also return.
Past president Wayne Loughnan will only allow constructive criticism. “He’s the grand statesman. He doesn’t like people to be too disappointed or dwell on failure.” So they plough on, faces to the wind.
Rosemary admits the pressure puts strain on family relationships. ”Often couples drift apart”, she says, but the show has brought Wayne and her closer. “You know that song, ‘The wind beneath my Wings’? That’s Wayne.
“We get so much out of the show. It’s given me so much confidence; it’s kept me in touch with the real world.” She’s amazed at what she’s taught herself on the computer. “I do temp work at the hospital in administrative roles. They say: ‘Why aren’t you applying for this job?’ and I say: ‘I have my job. I’m show secretary’.
“It’s a different world, though. Have you noticed that?” She’s been talking to a girl in her mid teens who’d emailed to ask if she could get involved. “We agreed on a role, she checked it out with her parents and said: “Mum and Dad want to know if I’ll be paid.”
What kind of magic explains the success and growth of those 35 years? Diplomacy, you might say. Leadership. An ability to think outside the square, to move with the times. All of those.
But also the old-fashioned qualities: loyalty, effort, generosity, love. “While I can, I will keep doing it,” Rosemary says. “When I stop loving my show job, I’ll know it’s time to back off. I’ve got a good five years in me yet.”
And at that point, no doubt, she will say: “This has been a fantastic job. I couldn’t have done more if I tried”
The Bass Coast Summer Agricultural Show, Wonthaggi Recreation Reserve, Korumburra Road , 9am-5pm Saturday, January 12. etails: basscoastagshow.org.au.