Henty field days set to celebrate 40 years at permanent site

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An aerial view of the new Henty Machinery Field Days site in 1977.

Henty Machinery Field Days is an agricultural institution with a proud 53-year history and celebrates the 40th anniversary on its own purpose built site.

Over the decades, the not-for-profit co-operative has garnered a reputation for kick starting the last quarter of the agricultural calendar in southern NSW and northern Victoria.

Located midway between Wagga Wagga and Albury-Wodonga, Henty sits in mixed farming heartland.

The co-operative’s board, drawn from local farmers, has never lost sight of the primary reason for its existence – to serve the agricultural industry.

The first official event was held at the Henty showground in 1963 and rotated around district properties until discussions began in earnest to move to a new, permanent site.

The site chosen was an old travelling stock reserve bordering the Buckargingah Creek, 8km east of Henty on the Cookardinia Road.

The committee, armed with $400 and a desire to transform the 89ha reserve into Australia’s premier permanent agricultural field day site, had called on the Henty branch of the State Bank to assist.

Secretary Doug Meyer wrote in July, 1976 to co-operative members that volunteers would be “assured of a hard days work’’, including stick picking.

Mr Meyer had circulated a newsletter that month urging members to attend a general meeting on August 9 of that year.

“The purpose of the meeting is to examine establishment progress of the permanent site, advise on planning for the 1976 field day on that site, and plan involvement of members in major working bees prior to the field days,’’ he wrote.

Up until that point, the site had been cleared, land planed and sown to clover, oats and lupins. Rain was needed to ensure growth for the fodder demonstrations, although interest within the farming community was focusing on cereals.

News releases had been beginning to appear in the press on the new site.

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The travelling stock reserve before it was converted into a field day site.

Volunteers at the working bees erected the storage and luncheon pavilions, pegged and filled the exhibition blocks, installed culverts and spread road gravel, and cleaned up the car park.

Underground power was installed to sites and loud speaker masts connected with underground leads.

The airstrip was formed using an International Harvester disc and Hogg landplane with voluntary stick pickers and a heavy roller.

“The development of the field days has reached an exciting stage with some exhibitors taking permanent sites,’’ Mr Meyer wrote.

The exhibitors at Henty ’76 on September 21-23 included:

John Shearer

Hepburn & Lovett

Napier Grasslands

Huthwaites Massey Ferguson

Elders G.M

Hartwigs

Versatile

Case-David Brown

Farmers & Graziers

Leyland

DSM Kalker

Soil Conservation and Forestry

Ciba Geigy

Everlast Tanks

Elanco

Manns Wodonga

Connor Shea

Allis Chalmers

Hesston

Riverina Machinery

D & D Machinery

M.A.N Automotive

International

Yorstar & Lanes

Southern Cross

Murray Grey Society

Exhibitors, volunteers and visitors were able to celebrate the opening of the new site at the Exhibitors Dinner on-site on the Wednesday evening at a cost of $3 a ticket.

In 1976, the field days were being promoted as the agricultural supermarket to 14,000 rural properties and 250,000 people.

An on-site airstrip, underground power, permanent amenities, unloading facilities, vehicle test areas, and 20 hectares dedicated to agronomic displays at Henty had ushered in a new era of agricultural merchandising.

By 1977, the number of exhibitors had substantially increased.

Specially prepared fodder conservation demonstration areas, over 20 ha of growing hay, cultivation areas, four-wheel drive and motorbike test tracks were featured on-site.

Parking areas were increased to accommodate 4000 cars.

Over 20 new release machines were showcased by exhibitors, ranging from four-wheel drive tractors for the broadacre farmer to ride-on mowers for the hobbyist.

A vintage machinery display by United Farmer and Wool Grower Association members featured a 1917 Roupenstock crawler tractor, believed to be the only one in Australia still in working order.

Grain growers were able to pour over the new Chamberlain 3380 Sedan tractor, the Renault 951 tractor, the Duncan 800 Mounted Disc Harrow and the White Field Boss four wheel drive tractor.

The king of them all was the Steiger Panther Series III tractor with its Cummins 903 turbocharged V 8 diesel engine pumping out a massive 270hp.

Standard options included the comforts of a stereo tape deck, wipers front and rear, tinted glass, telescopic steering column and a heater/air conditioner.

Computers were beginning to make themselves felt in agriculture – just released in 1977 was the Agtron Area Meter, a mini computer providing a constant read out of area covered in hectares by wheeled implements.

The poor state of the Cookardinia Road was a constant point of discussion at the board meetings.

It was resolved in February 1978, to request the Culcairn Shire Council to allocate funds from its Roads Grants towards upgrading the road from Henty to the field days site.

Sheep studs were allowed to exhibit that year, not on an individual basis but as a breed association.

The erection of a permanent office, light towers and the purchase of a much-needed forklift were under discussion in 1978.

Fast forward to 2016 and HMFD chairman Ross Edwards believes Henty has won an enviable reputation as the “friendly field days’’.

“Visitors comment positively on the new amenities, agronomy plots, Country Lifestyle and the Agri-Centre,’’ Mr Edwards said.

Last year’s field days drew a record crowd of 70,000 visitors and the biggest number of exhibitors in the field days history at 870.

Principal sponsor Moane Fitzgerald Constructions, of Wagga, is working on improving the infrastructure of the site through a staged development plan.

Managing director Chris Mo’ane said new toilet blocks and road works were the first step in a larger picture of improving the site for further uses.

“What we do as principal sponsors is overlaid by a strategic plan to prepare the site for growth and year round events,’’ Mr Mo’ane said.