Fieldays memory fit for a princess

18 December, 2018

Princess Anne was first to receive a copy of a book marking 50 years of Fieldays, ahead of its launch at a dinner in November.

Mystery Creek Magic, co-written by journalists Geoff Taylor and Richard Walker, records the astonishing growth of Fieldays over five decades to become the largest agricultural show in the Southern Hemisphere.

It includes a photo of a young Princess Anne being shown around Fieldays at Te Rapa in 1970 by volunteer Doug Baldwin, who was wearing shorts and walk socks. His garb was to cause consternation with some among the conservative UK press, who thought the lack of a suit showed a corresponding lack of respect.

Forty-nine years later, Fieldays chief executive Peter Nation gifted Princess Anne a copy of the book while at a conference in Edmonton, Canada. His gesture was followed by a letter of thanks from the Princess as president of the Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth.

The dinner at Mystery Creek’s Bledisloe Hall rounded off a year of events celebrating the 50th anniversary since the first Fieldays was held at Te Rapa Racecourse in 1969. Two Fieldays were held at the site and the next 48 at Mystery Creek.

As well as three celebratory events in Waikato and a dinner at Parliament House, the anniversary was commemorated by an exhibition at Waikato Museum while the Society also unveiled a sculpture and a children’s book. The unveiling of Mystery Creek Magic was the final act and chief executive Peter Nation said it was a fitting tribute.

“I said to Geoff Taylor a year ago, the real battle will be what to leave out, rather than what to put in.”

Fieldays president Peter Carr described the book as “a magnificent keepsake – an amazing record of the Fieldays event”.

But while Royals grab the headlines, it is the army of volunteers who have made Fieldays what it is.

Four who have have been ever-present from day one, Kaye and Doug Baldwin, John Davison and Alan Sharp, received special awards on the night, while former general managers Ray Fowke and Val Millington were made life members.

Ethan McKee was named Volunteer of the Year while among other volunteers to be recognised with service awards was Waikato Business News administration manager Margaret Cameron, who has given her time to the event for the past 10 years.

Margaret, who has farming in her background after being brought up on a Hawke’s Bay beef and sheep farm, started out at the International Visitors Centre and then shifted to the information booths, helping the crowds of visitors looking for a particular tent – or often the ATM machine. She’s only been stumped once. A person who had lost their bearings when returning to their car wanted to know where the orange carpark was. “I had no idea and it didn’t exactly tell us on the map.”

As for her best memory, she doesn’t hesitate – it was meeting then Prime Minister John Key during one of his annual visits to the site.

What keeps her coming back? “I enjoy it, I like to be able to help people out and give something back to the community, and just be a part of the Fieldays. I’m a country girl at heart, so it’s nice to be able to connect with that again.”

Thousands of copies of the book were printed through Print House and many will be gifted to Society members, volunteers and exhibitors across New Zealand and overseas.

Message in a capsule

Optimism marks out the attitude to the future of those who contributed to the time capsule buried beneath the new Mystery Creek Pavilion in 1995, to be reopened during the 50th Fieldays celebrations in 2018. 

The capsule, containing 44 envelopes, was brought back to the light of day and their contents revealed at the annual Fieldays dinner in November.

Chief executive Peter Nation read out to the hundreds of guests the contribution of Walton Holmes, who was immediate past president at the time, 23 years ago.

He was also one of the positive. He thought Fieldays would become a week-long event towards the end of May, with individual sites potentially occupied by two successive exhibitors during the week. He picked traffic problems to be a thing of the past with multiple traffic lanes in both directions to SH1 and SH3. He was closer with a prediction that park and ride would become a popular way of attending, but wildly optimistic when he picked commuter trains arriving in Hamilton as part of that option.

But he was on the money with his prediction that Mystery Creek would be used for functions and events throughout the year.

Holmes thought Ag Heritage/Farmworld would have attracted the support of the agricultural sector as the home of its heritage and a training centre, the latter a joint venture with Waikato Regional Council. “With the advent of good hotel accommodation in and near Hamilton, and a big ‘Cat jet’ cruiser on the Waikato River, a trip on the river with a stop at Ag Heritage for morning or afternoon tea will have become a popular way for tourists to go to the top town of antiques on ST1 at Cambridge and from there by coach to Rotorua and Waitomo,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, he accurately foretold that advances in the electronic super-highway would have made great changes in administration.

Matamata-Piako Mayor Ken Thomas was another one game to commit his predictions to the capsule. “It is with much more courage than certainty I respond to the challenge of predicting the farming scene in 2018,” he wrote. He thought prime dairy farms would tend to be units capable of 500 to 1000 cows. He also looked ahead to reafforestation of steeper land, to the triumph of electronic mailing systems and the “cashless” society. 

Perhaps less successfully, he thought: “Dependence on the car will have been restrained, and flexible and efficient public transport will have been encouraged to ensure no parts of the district are isolated from specialised services – health, education.”

School students were also invited to contribute. Form 5 Bethlehem College students were thinking about the environment as they looked ahead. Paul Benn thought methods of effluent and waste disposal would be more friendly on the environment with farmers forced to plant native trees. Amanda Saville also thought farming would be very controlled and environmentally friendly. She predicted all farms would be corporately owned because of the expense of running them. Milking sheds would be computerised, self-cleaning and self-disinfecting while farms would get their energy from wind and solar power. When it came to kiwifruit, Claire Gilling envisaged the advent of huge, highly computerised packhouses with the fruit entirely graded, sorted and cleaned through automation, and with 95 percent of kiwifruit exported.

At Waikato Diocesan School for Girls, meanwhile, a 13-year-old Hannah Wiltshire also saw milking sheds being run by computers with the help of the farmer, rather than the other way around. Sarah Milicich foresaw a shortage of grass and therefore thought grain-like feed including antibiotics would be important.  And Jane Skerman’s imagined farmer, “John”, milked his cows in quarter of the time and therefore had a more relaxing lifestyle as machines took over the work!

- Waikato Business News

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