UPDATE: Mount Gambier A&H Society President Danielle Tulak announced at the beginning of August that new restrictions in South Australia have forced the show organising committee to cancel this year’s Mt Gambier show.
“Penola, Millicent and Kingston shows, cancelled. Royal Adelaide and Melbourne, all cancelled,” the president of the Mount Gambier A&H Society Danielle Tulak says.
“There has to be light at the end of the tunnel somewhere and we’re hoping it’s us.
“We are planning for the Mount Gambier Show to go ahead in October but very wary of what’s going on in the background at the same time. The final decision will be made in August.”
It’s a bright spot for South Australia’s regional show sector, which has seen the vast majority of the 2020 events calendar either postponed or cancelled in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
First held in 1861 and averaging a crowd of 10,000 people, the Mount Gambier Show is one of the longest running regional shows in South Australia.
Standing in the showground’s empty grandstand, Tulak admits planning an event for thousands of people is “intimidating”, given the current circumstances.
“Yes, I’m a little bit apprehensive. At the end of the day, it’s about public safety,” she says.
For the 13-member committee, social distancing, crowd control and exhaustive hygiene procedures are now the hot topics of discussion.
“Things like the logistics and cost of providing hand sanitiser for 10,000 people,” Tulak says.
“How do you get hundreds of schoolkids in and out of the Ag Learning Centre, where handling puppies and baby chickens happens all day, all while maintaining social distancing?”
With more than ten different indoor and outdoor sections, from school-led steer competitions to photography, each section brings its own level of complexity.
Due to national border closures, the international dog show judges had to be cancelled and the committee is scrambling to find judges in Australia.
Flow-on effects from the cancellation of royal shows means stud stock aren’t being prepared, so the beef cattle section won’t go ahead this year.
In May, Agricultural Shows Australia (ASA), the peak body representing local, state and royal shows across Australia, called on the Federal Government to financially support the sector through the pandemic.
The ASA estimates the 580 shows held across Australia each year contribute around $1billion to the national economy.
The average cost of putting on the Mount Gambier Show is $120,000, but the committee is preparing to “go back to basics” this year, Tulak says.
“We can’t put down payments on big drawcards, so we’ll be going back to grass roots, like a country field day,” she says.
“It’s so hard to put on events, get people through the door and cover costs and unfortunately, not everyone can see the costs we’re having to pass on.”
Not everyone is supportive of the event continuing this year, and Tulak says the committee has “copped some flak” via the soapbox of social media.
“It’s been a mixed bag. In general, I feel like people are positive and want it to go ahead but we’ve had comments saying, ‘well, if Royal Melbourne Show has cancelled, why aren’t you?’
“We’re not fuelling the fire and hopefully, as restrictions lift, people will start getting excited about it.”
However, the committee has found a silver lining of support in local businesses and long-time show exhibitors.
“Exhibitors are just itching to get out there and make it happen,” Tulak says.
“We have a great relationship with the Showman’s Guild of South Australia, who run our sideshow alley. They said to us if you decide on the Monday before, we’ll come and we’ll do everything you need us to make it safe.”
The final decision will be made in mid to late August and it will hinge on one main factor: whether government restrictions on mass gatherings have been lifted.
“Then it will come down to a vote by the management committee – yay or nay,” Tulak says.
“We’re all really hopeful but there is still that doubt.”
Coming from a family with a strong volunteering background, Tulak believes rural communities are in particular renowned for demonstrating togetherness through times of crisis.
“At the end of the day, all we’re trying to do is put on a
n event and something for people to look forward to,” she says.
“I think the community has missed out on a lot of events and everyone has been shut up for so long, they want to get back out and are looking for something to do.”
The 2020 show may look a little different from previous years, however Tulak is looking on the bright side.
“Exhibitors will probably be lower across poultry, sheep and horses but I reckon entries may be up in the indoor sections this year,” she says.
“Because everyone has been stuck at home, I reckon we’ll see a lot of entries for baking, preserves, horticulture and arts and crafts.
“That’s what I’ve been doing for the last two months – baking, a lot.”
This is story is part of Solstice Media’s Regional Showcase series and awards program. Each week we will bring our readers regional news stories that matter as well as some inspirational tales of individuals and communities doing what country people do best – having a go.
If you have a tale to tell or know of one, get in touch at South Australian Regional Showcase.
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