Behind the scenes – making the field days a success

HMFD staff Heather Bidgood, Bec Clancy and Heather Barrett during the 2017 field days.

There are few events around the nation the size of the Henty Machinery Field Days so dependent on its members from the surrounding community for its operation.

Henty is Australia’s biggest machinery field days and one of the nation’s largest outdoor agricultural events, with each event more than 12 months in the planning.

Last year, the field days boasted 14km of street frontage and a record 870 exhibitors across 1200 sites.

Celebrating its 55th year, Henty has an exhibition area of 50ha, backed by over 50ha of car parking.

The field days are organised by a staff of nine, led by chief executive officer Belinda Anderson and including six office staff and three outdoor staff.

A board of seven directors oversee the co-operative and are drawn largely from the local farming community.

Much of the manpower is provided by the 100-strong membership of the HMFD Co-operative, comprising people from the local farming, agribusiness and business community.

They come from Henty, Howlong, Brocklesby, Holbrook, Burrumbuttock, Yerong Creek, Jindera, Walbundrie, Lockhart, Pleasant Hills, Walla Walla, Boree Creek, Cookardinia, Mangoplah, Gerogery, Culcairn, Gillenbah, Bathurst, Lavington, Morven, Woomargama, Corowa and Goolgowi.

All HMFD members dine together at lunch and dinner in the staff canteen to promote camaraderie and mentoring over the event.

An economic impact study undertaken by Crowe Horwarth in 2015 found the field days creates around $30 million in economic value and sustains 321 full-time jobs in southern NSW and northern Victoria.

The field days also provides a further $62 million in “economic value add’’ across other regions in Australia.

The study showed the total spend from the field days is worth $92 million to the national economy, sustaining 986 equivalent full time jobs.

The field days draw almost 50 per cent of visitors from more than three hours away.

Planning starts 12-18 months ahead with the development of key concepts, themes and ideas for the next field days.

On-site projects are ongoing as part of strategic and long term planning to continually keep the site regularly maintained.

The logistics of bumping in and out almost 900 exhibitors on 1200 sites across the week consumes the manpower of both members and paid staff.

Last year, individual sites used 1251 small squares of hay and 484 cubic metres of chip bark for aesthetics.

Five hundred sheep are required over the three days for the 200 entries in the yard and sheep dog trials, and are sourced from Walbundrie farmer, Snow McMaster.

Sheep used by exhibitors as part of their sheep handling displays are contributed by Henty farmer Roger Meyers.

HMFD chief executive officer Belinda Anderson said the internal roads and drainage system was maintained throughout the year by site foreman Mal Pumpa.

The balance of creek frontage and mature trees makes for an attractive purpose built site.

“Henty is a level site making it easily accessible to pedestrian traffic, prams and mobility scooters,’’ Mrs Anderson said.

“Some of the internal roads have been sealed in recent years but the majority are all-weather gravel.

“We have to order in road base every year to resurface the roads.’’

Outdoor staff ensure the site is kept mown and tidy throughout the year.

Managing the field days during times of unseasonally wet weather can be challenging, with exhibitor sites in 2016 requiring 800 cubic metres of bark chip and 1332 straw bales.

Diamond harrows and a frontend loader were used to repair the surface of both public car parks in that year.

“This year, Peter Meredith Consulting and Spotto Consulting have assisted us with a review of our traffic management plan,’’ Mrs Anderson said.

“That also involves consultation with NSW Police, Greater Hume Shire and Roads and Maritime Services and our external traffic control provider, Riverina Traffic Services.’’

Five HMFD members have their Implement Traffic Control Plan qualifications, and 15 have Traffic Control qualifications for directing traffic on public roads.

“We ensure our members are qualified, with those qualifications renewed every three years,’’ Mrs Anderson said.

“Our members prepare the car parks by shallow ripping parking lines and placing row markers at each end.

“Culcairn and Mangoplah football club volunteers are responsible for vehicle parking.’’

HMFD directors John Maher, Matt Noll and Mark Hasler have a team to man the main entrance and control traffic from the Monday to Thursday of field day week.

“By day one of the field days, signage has been erected to direct traffic as it comes off Lubkes Road, and the traffic crew from Riverina Traffic Services start at 7am, along with some of our ticketed members,’’ Mrs Anderson said.

Each car park is serviced by a courtesy bus hired from local churches to transport people to and from the entry gates.

In turn, the entry gates are manned by volunteers from two local schools, Billabong High School at the east gate and St Josephs Primary School at the west gate.

The free unloading provided to the exhibitors by HMFD is at its busiest two weeks prior to the field days when trucks are making daily deliveries of machinery and products, and operates from September 3 to October 5.

HMFD supplies cranes, forklifts and telehandlers for loading and unloading the equipment, with HMFD members operating the equipment during this period.

Waste and garbage disposal is taken care of by volunteers from the Osborne Football Club, using a HMFD-owned garbage truck, while Yerong Creek Community Progress Association maintain more than 80 toilets on the site.

More than 100km of toilet paper and 3.6km of paper towel is used across the field days.

A 370,000 litre water storage harvests rainwater from the roof of the 125m long Country Lifestyle pavilion for use across the site.

In the past, the majority of the water supply was transported to the site via tanker.

Mrs Anderson said HMFD has a Quality Assurance Program for the water supply, with NSW Health testing the water prior to the event.

The large rainwater tank also acts as a fire suppression system for the Country Lifestyle pavilion.

During the event, a Rural Fire Services tanker and Fire and Rescue NSW are on site, with each food shed equipped with fire extinguishers and fire blankets.

“We also have emergency personnel on site, including St Johns First Aid and the police, plus a strong security presence,’’ Mrs Anderson said.

Each year, Hutcheon and Pearce loan five John Deere side-by-side all terrain vehicles for use on site by HMFD members.

“This assists us with the control of traffic movements on site. Vehicles are not allowed to move around the site between 9am and 5pm with the exception of official and service vehicles,’’ Mrs Anderson said.

Since the first HMFD event, community groups have been encouraged to participate in fundraising and volunteering at the field days.

This has created social capital benefits for the community, which go beyond economic data.

The most significant area of fundraising for the community groups is within the catering sheds, including Henty Public School, St Patricks Catholic School, Holbrook; St Pauls Lutheran School, Henty; Henty Football Club; Pleasant Hills Public School, Culcairn Swimming Pool Committee and Walbundrie Building Committee.

Henty Early Childhood Association receives payment for running The Family Resting Place, and the Osborne Football Club receives funds for managing the waste disposal at the field days.

“Henty Public School P & C has two permanent catering sheds – the Steakhouse opposite the public bar and the Barbecue Shed on the eastern end of Hutcheon and Pearce – while the Henty Golf Club run the bar,’’ Mrs Anderson said.

“The balance of the community groups (excluding Pleasant Hills school) rotate around the remaining catering sheds.

“Between them all, those community groups gross well over $300,000 a year. This fundraising allows them to return those funds into both their communities and selected projects.

“Walbundrie, for example, invests the funds into their recreation ground – they are able to host the Hume League grand final because of their facilities.

“Culcairn Swimming Pool & Community raised enough money to install a motorised lift for swimmers with a disability while the schools put funds into technology and equipment.’’

Last year the main catering shed sold:

1700 steaks

1800 eggs

825 sausages

1 tonne of hot chips

664 lamb roast rolls

315 slushies (Thursday only)

3936 hamburger rolls

842 expresso coffees

900 salad rolls

266 sweet slices (216 made by one volunteer)

330 loaves of bread

724 pies

1250 bottles of water

3174 cans of soft drink

15 whole lambs

When it comes to organising the public entertainment, the program evolves from a think tank session held at the start of the year.

HMFD staff often visit other field days around the nation to glean ideas and trends in both entertainment and operational procedures.

The public entertainment, including the dog trials, fashion parades, machinery demonstrations and celebrity cooking, are designed to appeal to a broad audience of all age groups.

The HMFD office staff take care of the administration for the Country Lifestyle pavilion and work with co-ordinators Lyn Jacobsen and Leonie Kohlhagen.

Last year, the pavilion catered for 105 exhibitors.

Mrs Anderson said the 105ha site was almost at its physical limitations so continuing to enhance exhibitor and visitor experience was important.

Balancing the site layout is a continual challenge.

“We are planning all the time because every exhibitor should receive foot traffic,’’ she said.

“We are always trying to be creative but we can’t lose sight of who we are, what we do and where we began. Our priority is to place agriculture in the spotlight.’’

Existing exhibitors are given first preference when it comes to site allocation while new exhibitors are placed on a waiting list.

“There are areas where agricultural products will go, and other areas for more general interest and livestock businesses are grouped together,’’ Mrs Anderson said.

“We use detailed aerial images of the previous year’s event to help plan the sites.’’

Marking out the outdoor sites involves stapling over 750 exhibitor names to wooden stakes.

The outdoor sites range from 3 x 3m up through to the Hutcheon and Pearce site boasting 180m of frontage.

“Businesses continue to invest in promoting their products at field days and choose Henty as we are considered the friendly field days.

“Nothing is a bother for any of our members.

“But, we must remain relevant by keeping up with technology and taking on board all the feedback.

“Exhibitors and visitors provide valuable feedback. Sometimes it may be something we feel is logistically impossible but we will keep it in mind for all future considerations.

“Information sharing between field days has improved significantly in the last few years so if we do have problems, we can ask other events how they overcome them.

“We have had many other field day managers and staff visiting Henty in recent years and that promotes good will.’’

The 12-16 hour days are long and hectic for the staff and members but scheduled breaks allow them to have a look at the fruits of their labours.

The field days attract enormous media interest and a three-person team caters to the needs of the print, electronic and digital media.

This year there will be four radio stations broadcasting live from the site while Henty has its own mini radio station where interviews are pre-recorded and distributed to the commercial networks.

Henty’s Facebook created new records among the field days last year by achieving a reach of more than 200,000.

An award winning 80-page HMFD program is compiled in-house, laid out by The Border Mail and distributed by Fairfax Media.

“We all work massive days but are running on adrenalin – there is a real sense of camaraderie and accomplishment at the end of the week,’’ media manager Kim Woods said.

“We are all so proud of what we have achieved and delivered – this gets us through the week on minimal sleep.’’

When the last visitor is exiting the car park on the Thursday, the massive job of cleaning the site has already begun.

Most of the exhibits are packed on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday for moving on to the next field day at Elmore.

“As soon as we finish the 2018 field days, we will start on content for our 2019 prospectus and application forms to have them ready for distribution in February,’’ Mrs Anderson said.

“And, the on-site projects continue as part of strategic and long term planning.’’