Many communities around the state are facing their second year without a country show as concerns about coronavirus and the financial impacts of running a COVID-safe event take a toll.
- More than 20 shows scheduled for January and February have made the tough decision to cancel or postpone their 2021 events
- Concerns about coronavirus and strict restrictions to run events are behind the cancellations
- The Sydney Royal Easter Show is still going ahead with the team working with authorities to make sure its safe
One of those is Wingham, on the NSW Mid North Coast, which made the “tough decision” this week to cancel for 2021.
The cost of complying with COVID-19 restrictions played a part, despite a $5,000 grant from the State Government.
“It would have been a financial blow if we ran the show with all these restrictions in place. It wasn’t really financially viable for us,” show society president Elaine Turner said.
“We were committed to putting [extra government funding] towards the show but it wouldn’t have been enough to cover all of the additional costs … [and] with all the additional security, and we would have had to pay for people to come along to do our COVID marshalling.
She said it was a disappointing move to have to make after the impacts of drought and bushfires.
“A lot of our small businesses in Wingham rely on events happening in the area, to get that boost of business,” she said.
“There’s a lot of disappointment out there but we had to be realistic and try and look at every single avenue of what we could do. But it wasn’t working.”
In the Central West, the Rylstone Kandos Show has also pulled the pin due to concerns about coronavirus.
The president of its show society, Phil English, said they were “gutted” by the decision but promised the show would be back in 2022.
Up to half of shows cancelled
The Wingham show is one of about 20 not going ahead in the first two months of the year — half of the total schedule, according to Tim Capp, the president of the Agricultural Societies Council of NSW.
“We’ve got 40 shows scheduled for January and February throughout New South Wales. Unfortunately, probably 20 of those have cancelled or postponed,” he said.
“Some have changed a bit, they’re only putting a part show on. We’re encouraging everyone to go ahead if they can.
“But particularly our metro shows, or those shows closer to Sydney, where they draw a crowd and competitors from the red zone or the COVID hotspots. That makes it very hard for shows to go ahead.”
Mr Capp does not expect any of the show societies to fold but said some were doing it very tough.
“Apart from their expenses just in running the show, all the show societies with their grounds — whether they lease them or whether they own them — have got ongoing costs all through the year anyway, and they only have the one opportunity to make enough money to cover those costs,” he said.
Shows on a stream
At Manilla, in the state’s New England region, the show’s going virtual.
Manilla Show Society secretary Louellen Overton said they wanted to make sure they could host an event for their community in a safe way.
“We’re having basically a virtual pavilion where we’re still asking people to prepare their entries and to enter them as per usual,” she said.
“We’re trying to organise a virtual tour of the pavilion, which will then be put up online, and people can then see what the community has contributed, the cooking, handicrafts, fine arts, and photography.
“We’re also hoping to run some kind of competitions with competitors only in the yard, dogs and the sheep and the cattle, and again those things will be either live-streamed or videoed and then put up online.”
The Manilla Show Society used grants it received to upgrade their website to allow the virtual show.
“It is a bit of a challenge but we were hoping that we can get this all together,” she said.
Royal Easter Show powering ahead
Despite the cancellation of many regional shows, the Sydney Royal Easter Show is all set to go ahead in April.
Murray Wilton, the general manager of the event, said the team has been working day in, day out to make sure the event was safe.
“We have been working very closely with NSW Health to ensure we can deliver a COVID-safe Sydney Royal Easter Show,” he said.
Mr Wilton said the cancellation of regional shows was devastating.
“It’s often the largest event they run into their community and it brings the community together,” he said.
“From a mental health perspective it’s incredibly important, and it’s also showcasing agriculture.”
Competitors in the horse events at the Royal Show may be affected by the lack of regional events but Mr Wilton said the biggest losers were the young people who will miss out on the experience.
“You’ve got a lot of young people and their first experience of exhibiting and competing in cattle or sheep or arts and crafts is in their local show,” Mr Wilton said.
“[It] gives them the confidence to participate at Sydney Royal Show, so that is being eaten away with shows being cancelled this year.”