Field days – a part of Wimmera life
For anyone growing up in the Wimmera the region’s annual field days have simply been part of life.
As youngsters in Horsham there was always some element of excitement and intrigue surrounding the Wimmera Machinery Field Days, especially for mates who were from farming families.
Happy debates about ‘green’ or ‘red’, depending on your choice of heavy machinery brands, flowed freely, almost as much as questions about what all the fuss was about and where all these people were coming from.
Dust, straw, flies, heat, wind, sun or rain – it didn’t really matter what we were confronted with after entering the gates. From what we could soak up, this event was somehow special and it was ours.
As youngsters we weren’t engaged in the politics or fortunes of the regional farming industry.
What we were more fascinated by were the big, gleaming pieces of brand-new machinery that spread across the site like giants, some complete with fierce metal teeth and others with dramatic limbs, complicated mechanisms and monstrous rubber wheels. Wow!
It didn’t matter that we didn’t know what half of them were for – they were simply impressive because of how they looked, and it was with curious and developing minds that we drew our own, at times fantastic, conclusions.
And yes, there was always some son of a farmer or tradesman in the group who had grown up with toy trucks and Meccano sets who was always quick to shoot down our obscure fantasies.
“Are you blokes nuts?” he would ask of us urban types. “You use that for strippin’, not catchin’ foxes.”
It was a droll response from a future engineering guru that was forever filed away in the memory bank
To this day, the ‘giant monsters’ of agriculture remain the most dominant feature of the field days. The difference is that they are even bigger and much more amazing than in the past, posing just as many if not more questions about how they work.
A day off school
For us, getting to the field days was all about a day off school and getting a ride out to the ‘college’ with someone’s dad who was doing something for work or meeting someone important, and then exploring as a group.
Thinking back and when comparing with what’s on offer at the event now, there was relatively little designed to entertain children.
But the experience was all about wandering through the exhibits, soaking up the atmosphere, enjoying childhood company banter, and if possible, getting a hot dog or pie and washing it down with a Murtoa soft drink – Portello was a particular favourite.
But we had to be on our guard. Heaven forbid if any of us somehow got stuck being minded by an adult farming relative intent on pursuing the long-held field days tradition – catching up with farming mates from the other side of region who they knew through footy, cricket, tennis, farmer meetings, dances, in-laws and so on.
The conversations for ‘trapped’ primary school-aged kids were a nightmare and seemed to go around in circles for an eternity.
Invariably they always came back to something regarding the weather. But for the adults, these get-together chats seemed like revitalising tonics.
In some cases, farming friends of our grandmas and grandads, who us children had dismissed as quiet and boring parts of the family furniture, seemed to suddenly come to life.
Personalities veiled by hours of lonely toil on the land had a chance to surface.
The end of a long day keeping ourselves occupied at the field days would manifest into a background headache, sore legs, and, if we had forgotten a hat, a generous degree of sunburn.
But it was somehow worth it, and while our response to what we had done at Longerenong for all those hours was often a casual ‘nothin’ much’, we had been engaged in healthy rural culture.
The field days remains, as much as anything else, a celebration of culture – at least for some of us who have grown up in the Wimmera.