Fiel­d­ays’ hum­ble ori­gins

Waikato News - - FRONT PAGE -

In 1969, the first New Zealand Agri­cul­tural Fiel­d­ays was held at Hamil­ton’s Te Rapa Race­course. The Town and Coun­try Fair, as it was known then, aimed to bring ru­ral and ur­ban au­di­ences to­gether to cel­e­brate New Zealand’s farm­ing in­dus­try and life­style and the con­tri­bu­tion it makes to the econ­omy.

Fast for­ward 50 years, and Fiel­d­ays is a sta­ple on many agri­cul­tural peo­ple’s cal­en­dars, with hun­dreds of thou­sands de­scend­ing on Mys­tery Creek each June.

This year, it cel­e­brates its 50th year of show­cas­ing agri­cul­ture and in­no­va­tion to ru­ral and ur­ban au­di­ences alike.

Cel­e­bra­tions kicked off last week with an event at its first home for lo­cal politi­cians and dis­trict may­ors, agri­cul­tural lead­ers, past and present pres­i­dents and mem­bers of the New Zealand Na­tional Fiel­d­ays So­ci­ety, Waikato Rac­ing Club mem­bers and other VIP guests re­lived the early days with speeches and anec­dotes, and the un­veil­ing of a spe­cial­ly­commis­sioned an­niver­sary sculp­ture.

The Race­course housed Fiel­d­ays in its first two years be­fore the event was moved to Mys­tery Creek in 1971.

Many who at­tended last week’s event were re­spon­si­ble for or­gan­is­ing the in­au­gu­ral Fiel­d­ays in 1969, in­clud­ing John Knee­bone, who first sparked the idea for a town and coun­try fair in New Zealand on a trip to the UK as a Nuffield scholar.

Speak­ing at the event to a back­drop of pho­tos and film of Fiel­d­ays through­out the decades, New Zealand Na­tional Fiel­d­ays So­ci­ety CEO Peter Na­tion thanked the Waikato Rac­ing Club for its col­lab­o­ra­tion in the early days and the sac­ri­fices they made to help pull it off.

“The or­gan­is­ers at that first event in 1969 thought they’d have a cou­ple thou­sand peo­ple turn up. But on the day, it turned out to be more than 10,000 with cars parked all the way up Te Rapa Straight, which was farm­land back then,” said Peter.

He gave thanks to the orig­i­nal six farm­ers of the Fiel­d­ays So­ci­ety, whose tenac­ity and per­se­ver­ance he said paved the way for Fiel­d­ays to be­come the pre­miere agri­cul­tural show­case it is to­day, con­tribut­ing half a bil­lion dol­lars to the global econ­omy each year.

“Those first six farm­ers ap­proached ANZ in North Hamil­ton for a 100 per cent loan of $62,500, $430,000 in to­day’s money, so they could move Fiel­d­ays to Mys­tery Creek. At the time, Mys­tery Creek was a run­down dairy farm but had been iden­ti­fied as the site to house the event for fu­ture growth.

“The story goes that when the So­ci­ety went into the bank they were asked what se­cu­rity they had for the loan, and one of the farm­ers threw a roll of cop­per wire on the bank man­ager’s desk and said, ‘this is the only as­set we own’.”

That wire had been used for com­mu­ni­ca­tion at Fiel­d­ays over the loud­speak­ers at Te Rapa Race­course, where it was re­moved each year and put into stor­age for safe­keep­ing.

An an­niver­sary sculp­ture un­veiled at the event — en­ti­tled Ori­gin ‘68 — in­cor­po­rates the same cop­per wire that was thrown on that bank man­ager’s desk decades ago, mounted on the re­claimed na­tive tim­ber that once lined the Fiel­d­ays So­ci­ety’s orig­i­nal board­room.

“The cop­per in the sculp­ture is very im­por­tant,” said Peter.

“It’s not only a val­ued com­mod­ity, but it sig­ni­fies com­mu­ni­ca­tion and the trans­fer of in­for­ma­tion, and re­la­tion­ships and col­lab­o­ra­tion,” he says.

“It also speaks to that No.8 wire men­tal­ity, that Kiwi way of just get­ting it done.

“It’s im­por­tant the sculp­ture be for ev­ery­one to en­joy, be­cause Fiel­d­ays isn’t just an event for farm­ers and the agri­cul­tural in­dus­try — it’s a chance for ev­ery­one to get to­gether and cel­e­brate agri­cul­ture as a fan­tas­tic, in­te­gral part of New Zealand’s life­style and econ­omy.”

Auck­land-based sculp­tor and jew­ellery de­signer Cherise Thom­son was de­lighted to work on a sculp­ture of such sig­nif­i­cance.

“It was such an hon­our to be cho­sen,” she said.

Cherise placed sec­ond in Fiel­d­ays’ No.8 Wire Na­tional Art Awards in 2016 with her wire sculp­ture Korowai, and was a fi­nal­ist again last year.

Ori­gin ’68 will be at Waikato Mu­seum as part of the 50th an­niver­sary Fiel­d­ays ex­hi­bi­tion in May.

Artist Cherise Thom­son and New Zealand Na­tional Fiel­d­ays So­ci­ety chief ex­ec­u­tive Peter Na­tion with Ori­gin ’68.

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