Bill’s never missed a Fieldays

Te Puke Times - - SPORT -

When Bill John­ston went to the first New Zealand Agri­cul­tural Fieldays in 1969 — or the Town and Coun­try Fair as it was then known — he prob­a­bly wasn’t think­ing about the half-cen­tury long tra­di­tion he was start­ing.

This year marks Fieldays’ 50th year of show­cas­ing agri­cul­ture and in­no­va­tion.

It’s also a spe­cial year for Bill, be­cause 2018 will mark his 50th Fieldays. The In­ver­cargill farmer hasn’t missed one since it started.

Fifty years ago Bill trav­elled from his fam­ily’s dairy farm in

toro­hanga to at­tend the very first Fieldays’ event, then held at Te Rapa Race­course in Hamil­ton.

For the first few years, Fieldays was held in the sum­mer months un­til June, with its wet­ter and mud­dier weather, be­came ‘of­fi­cial’ Fieldays month.

“Not that you’d have to worry about the win­ter weather now. These days you can just about get around Fieldays in your good shoes,” says Bill.

Traips­ing into a wet Fieldays could be haz­ardous.

“A bit of rain would mean about six inches of mud and cars slid­ing all over the place try­ing to get out. It’s much more or­gan­ised now — they’ve got it down to a fine art.”

The Race­course housed Fieldays in its first two years be­fore the event was moved to its cur­rent lo­ca­tion at Mys­tery Creek, just out­side Hamil­ton, in 1971.

In the early days, Bill says you could get around Fieldays in about three hours.

“Now it’s more like three days,” he says.

He has a method for mak­ing sure he sees every­thing, one he fol­lows ev­ery year.

“I start at the be­gin­ning, at the big main en­trance, and have a wan­der up and down the rows, get­ting in about half of every­thing over the first two days, then on the third day I go back to the things I want to see again.

“It’s al­ways nice to see all the big new machin­ery and have a bit of a dream about it all. In the early days trac­tors were a lot smaller — over the years they’ve be­come more like tree top­pers.”

Of course, Bill’s seen a lot of change in the 50 years he’s been go­ing to Fieldays, from what was orig­i­nally a con­cept to bring “town and coun­try” to­gether, to the in­ter­na­tional agri­cul­tural show­piece it is to­day, show­cas­ing hun­dreds of in­no­va­tions and al­most 1000 ex­hibitors.

But he reck­ons the core pur­pose has stayed the same — and that’s what keeps him com­ing back.

“The ba­sics are still there,” he says. “New ideas and in­ven­tions can come and go at times but the core of farm­ing is still there.”

Bill never set out to have 50 Fieldays events un­der his belt, but when Fieldays put the call out on its Face­book page to hear the sto­ries of its ded­i­cated event-go­ers, Bill’s name cropped up in a com­ment from his niece.

“She dobbed me in! I wasn’t re­ally think­ing about hav­ing a record or any­thing like that, it’s just al­ways been a bit of a tra­di­tion to go.”

Mak­ing the big move down south to In­ver­cargill hasn’t de­terred his tra­di­tion ei­ther. Bill moved to help son Graeme con­vert his sheep farm to dairy in 2008, and con­tin­ued to travel to Hamil­ton for Fieldays ev­ery year.

Bill project-man­aged the con­ver­sion, which took about six months, build­ing the shed and do­ing the fenc­ing. Now, he’s more than happy to take a back seat on the farm in what he calls the of­fi­cial “gofer” role.

Now his visits to Fieldays of­ten in­clude fact-find­ing tasks for his son.

“Graeme sends me off with an ex­pected list of what he wants me to get in­for­ma­tion on,” Bill says. “I’ve done my time in the shed, so it’s nice be­ing told what to do for a change.”

One of the farm helpers not likely to make the jour­ney to Fieldays this year is farm “over­seer,” Jet the dog.

“He’d go if he could — if some­thing’s hap­pen­ing he’s usu­ally try­ing to get his nose in.”

Bill will be a guest of hon­our at the flag-rais­ing cer­e­mony which opens Fieldays on June 13.

New Zealand Na­tional Fieldays So­ci­ety chief ex­ec­u­tive Peter Na­tion says Bill rep­re­sents many of Fieldays’ long-stand­ing sup­port­ers over the years.

“It’s quite ex­tra­or­di­nary to have a sup­porter like Bill, and the fact that he comes up each year from the bot­tom of the South Is­land is as­tound­ing,” says Mr Na­tion.

“We’re hon­oured to be cel­e­brat­ing 50 years of his tra­di­tion, as we cel­e­brate 50 years of Fieldays.”

Catch Bill John­ston, with a spe­cial ap­pear­ance by Jet the dog, in the new doc­u­men­tary box set Fieldays Sto­ries, avail­able on TVNZ OnDe­mand (TVNZ.co.nz).

Bill John­ston has at­tended all 49 Fieldays and will be a guest of hon­our at the 50th next month.

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