For many years, Rick Priest’s caravan was a familiar sight parked near The Stump and acted as the pulse of the field days.
Radio Henty was transmitted on the FM band 107.3 to within a 10km radius of the site from the caravan, plus the PA announcements and official opening co-ordinated from within.
Audio technician Rick Priest, of Wagga Public Address Systems, is celebrating 25 years of involvement at the field days, starting in 1992.
Accompanied by his son Ben, Rick would be on site the weekend before the field days to erect the public address system, ensure everything was working the day before, attend to any exhibitor needs and then dismantle the entire system afterwards.
“There was no other event which lasted for a week,’’ he said.
In the early 1990s, Henty Machinery Field Days was growing and needed a specialist to extend the public address system.
“At the time, there was a single building on the site,’’ Mr Priest said.
“I had been supplying the PA system for the Henty show – it had a big horse event program and they had no means for communicating to the competitors.
“It was the Henty show and Henty Machinery Field Days which put me into a system which I now use – it is a caravan equipped with battery operated two way radios.
“There was no power at the sheep and cattle judging at Henty showground so I had to make portable PA systems.
“Other shows saw this and the whole thing just blossomed. I ended up going to shows all over the region with the caravan catering for the dog, horse, sheep and cattle events.’’
When Mr Priest started at the field days, there was cable installed underground across the site to power the PA system.
“It was limited to where we could put speakers up because we were restricted by the cabling in the ground,’’ he said.
“We extended the cable but the field days just kept growing – eventually they couldn’t put anymore cabling underground in case it was accidentally dug up.
“As it was, we spent so much time doing repairs to the underground cable.’’
Mr Priest erected solar powered speakers on posts and built a transmitter to establish Radio Henty, broadcasting on 107.3FM within a 10km radius of the field day site.
“We had about 14 speakers mounted on towers and operated by remote control so we could turn them on in the morning and off in the afternoon, giving the batteries a chance to charge up via the solar panels,’’ he said.
“We had the place running at a low level of sound so no one was getting blasted.
“The area where The Stump is now was always used for the presentations, and directly opposite that is where I had the caravan.
“It had the transmitter and amplifiers in it and all the PA work was done from there.
“There was no wire – we used radio all the way and it worked well.
“With the advent of radio microphones, we took one and a PA system to The Stump, and we could broadcast the official openings to the whole site.’’
Mr Priest has observed the field days growing exponentially over the past 25 years.
“I still go down to look at one type of machinery which has staggered me from day one – crop sprayers,’’ he said.
“It started as a machine you could almost spread your arms across but now the self propelled sprayers are so enormous.
“The other thing which amazes me is the farmer inventions – I’ve always considered farmers to be frustrated engineers.
“I can’t get my head around the advances that have been made since it first started.
“I’ve made many friends there and can hardly walk around the place without running into people every minute.’’
A member of Wagga Wagga Men’s Shed, Mr Priest enjoys attending the field days with fellow members.
“One of the changes over the years at Henty has nothing to do with farming and agriculture but is men’s health,’’ Mr Priest said.
“It didn’t exist but all of a sudden it turned up and is now very important.’’
Field day visitors can still find Rick running the PA system at the sheep and yard dog trials from an upgraded caravan, or showing his grandchildren the wonders of the field days.
He was foundation president of the Wagga Men’s Shed in 2008 and now serves as the junior vice president.
The Australian Men’s Shed Association is the chosen charity for this year’s Henty Machinery Field Days.
Mr Priest will speak on the movement at the official HMFD luncheon while the Wagga and Thurgoona men’s sheds will combine to stage a display in 9th Farm Avenue.
There will be wood turning demonstrations, men’s health checks and information on Donate for Life.
The Wagga organisation survived a disastrous fire in 2008 and has since grown to 146 members.
The shed is based around 10 core activities – gardening, site maintenance, computing, library, catering, woodworking and turning, metal work, recycling, brewing and bee keeping.
Much of the equipment has been donated or recycled.
Mr Priest said less than two to five per cent of members knew each other before they joined the Shed.
“There is no minimum or maximum age limit – the youngest fellow we have had was nine and the oldest is 95,’’ he said.
“There is laughter and stories going on all the time here – we see a lot of men suffering from depression after retiring or losing their partners, and the shed turns their lives around.
“They have a reason to get out of bed every day, they talk to the fellows of their own age and era about a subject matter they all know about – they are happy and content.
“The things the men are doing are things they wanted to do when they were working, and didn’t have the time.
“They are discovering new and hidden talents – some simply do large jigsaw puzzles but there is banter going backwards and forwards, laughter, giggling and taking the mickey out of one another.’’