Can you recall (if you were around then) what 1973 was like. It was the year Queen Elizabeth II opened the Opera House, the voting age went down to 18, Gala Supreme won the Melbourne Cup and Helen Reddy topped the charts with Delta Dawn. In January, wool hit $20 a kilo but by the end of the year, inflation was running at 13 per cent.
On Tuesday 21st in the third week of August, while Canberra was in an uproar over the Federal Budget, in Gunnedah, NSW, something very positive was taking place. It was the start of a new event that, over the next four decades, would have a huge impact on primary industry in Australia, it was the first ever AgQuip.
AgQuip spelt the end of the major city shows like the Royal Easter as venues for agricultural machinery. By taking the machinery to where it was being used, AgQuip catered for the specialised needs of rural producers and kept fairy floss to a minimum. For many companies it became a rare chance to talk with and get a response from the people, the products and services were created for, and many a designer has gone back to the drawing board after long discussions with the savvy consumers at AgQuip.
Another thing that set AgQuip aside to this day from other field days was the absence of any entry or parking fees. Chief Executive Max Ellis conceived AgQuip as a gigantic outdoor rural and agricultural department store and as he frequently said… “whoever heard of Myer charging customers to come into the store”. Placing the financial responsibilities for under-writing the event on the sellers was a major part in building AgQuip into one of the world’s major rural and agricultural field days, which it remains to this day.
The first AgQuip was staged at the Gunnedah Riverside Racecourse from noon on Tuesday to Saturday the 21 to 25th August, over four and a half long days, a schedule that was quickly revised for the following year when the current Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday pattern was established.
As the dates for AgQuip had been carefully selected after a detailed survey of weather statistics, which showed it was historically the driest time of year, you can imagine the organisers surprise when it actually rained during those first days, a phenomenon that didn’t occur again during AgQuip for at least the next 15 years.
With some 63 exhibitors set up in the middle of the racecourse, the event attracted an estimated 23,000 people and created traffic jams that amazed and gratified everyone, though the local police were caught unawares when they suddenly found vehicles queuing up in the main street of Gunnedah some 2kms from the site. There were more than 4.04ha (10 acres) of display and even room for tractor and implement demonstrations that were very popular.
Of the 63 companies listed for the first event, only a handful will attend AgQuip 2017 under their original name… Gyral Implements, Honda, New Holland, Suzuki and Yamaha. Many other names and brands still exist but appear under other banners including Australian Wire Industries, Davey Dunlite, G M Holden, Chamberlain Deere and Ford. And of course some companies have just disappeared.
By 1976, AgQuip had more than doubled in size with 136 exhibitors covering eight hectares of display area and close to an estimated 80,000 visitors. The racecourse was full. A new 121-hectare site to the west of Gunnedah was purchased from the late Cec Herbert and after extensive preparation of the paddock, a move was made in August 1977.
Attendance soared to well over the 100,000 mark, while exhibitor numbers of more than 400 in 1984 remained unequalled until 1995. In those days organisers quoted on stand sales of at least $10,000,000 and follow up sales of some $50,000,000… and that was 30 years ago.
Catering for some 100,000 people had become a huge commitment and, by 1980, 30,000 meat pies, 30,000 icy poles and some 36,000 cans of drink were sold as well as countless other meals out of specially built kiosks. AgQuip’s own catering service was housed in a specially built kitchen where teams of workers prepared tons of sandwiches and other food. Nowadays, the food service is tendered out to private contractors.
Over the years there had been many innovations and changes. Though faced with severe droughts and other natural disasters, AgQuip has proved as resilient as the primary industry producers it serves. In fact, the expertise and experience AgQuip has generated over the past 45 years is now on display at many other events. Fairfax Rural Events (owned by Fairfax Media) owns and runs FarmFest on the Darling Downs and runs the new ProAg field days at Macksville (Nambucca Heads), as well as initiating and contributing to other smaller events all over Australia and New Zealand.
Australia’s biggest field days, AgQuip, will be staged this month, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 22, 23, 24 August.