What a relief – the Warkworth A&P Show took place last Saturday, closely following the horrendous terrorist attack on Muslims in Christchurch, without adverse weather, traffic jams or any other problems, writes Allan Barber.
As I have written previously, the annual A&P Show inevitably comes to a head on one day in the year, demanding careful planning, hard work and more than a bit of luck.
This year, the occasion of the area’s 152nd show, the committee had tortuously arrived at a difficult, although apparently simple, decision to hold it on the third Saturday in March instead of the fourth weekend in January. The intention was obvious – to avoid declining crowds as a result of the appalling traffic heading north over Auckland Anniversary Weekend and the mid-summer heat – but the change provoked a clash with the Horse of the Year Show in Hastings, while any other date would have been in conflict with other A&P shows in the north.
Things became simpler with the decision not to hold a cattle section because of the uncertainty over Mycoplasma bovis or an equestrian competition owing to the lack of somebody to take over from the retiring steward. This caused great debate among the committee and members who couldn’t get their heads round the idea of an A&P show without cattle or horses, but eventually reality took over. A majority realised there wouldn’t be a show at all, if we didn’t try something different.
So in June last year the new March date was fixed, although we required permission from the Royal Agricultural Society (RAS) before we could confirm it. The new committee was convinced it was possible to run a really good show without cattle and horses, while retaining the traditional elements like shearing, wood chopping and sheep racing, as well as providing free entertainment for children, kapa haka and cultural Pasifika demonstrations, and good music on the main stage.
We then had some good luck –Young Farmers Kaipara Division asked if they could hold the Northern Region finals at the Warkworth Showgrounds on the same day as the A&P show and well known singer Jamie McDell said she was available and willing to appear. More good luck occurred with some new sponsors coming on board to help with the extra costs involved.
To make up for the absence of livestock, a great deal of effort went into attracting more goats to enter the various classes, while the local Miniature Horse Society volunteered to run a programme to provide entertainment rather than a formal competition. This has risked provoking the ire of the RAS in spite of Kumeu running the same type of event the previous week without complaint.
Because of the date change, it was a long way off sunrise when I set off for the Showgrounds to meet the gate collection team without which there would be no way of collecting money from the public, the main way the show generates its income. They took up their positions when it was still dark because the trade exhibitors were already arriving to set up, followed by goat and miniature horse owners, as well as Young Farmers competitors who had an early start.
By 8.30 the trade field was almost ready for action, but first there was the Health & Safety briefing. I didn’t realise it at the time, but our President who delivered the briefing told me afterwards it had gone extremely well, fortunately, because the Auckland Council H&S representative said he had already closed down four events. If our briefing hadn’t come up to scratch, the show would have been closed down before the first paying member of the public had come through the gate!
At 9 am the tension was almost unbearable – would the public come to enjoy all the entertainment and events that had been arranged? I suppose it’s the same every year, but this year was worse because we had gone out on a limb which could have seen us fall flat on our collective faces. Luckily, we didn’t have long to wait before the cars were queued at the gate (at times back out onto State Highway 1) which put pressure on the gate staff, but at least we knew we had plenty of people arriving.
Between 10 and midday the crowds were pouring across the Showgrounds, queuing for ice creams, coffee and pies, as well as healthier options, looking at or even buying ride on mowers, barbeques and cameras, and enjoying the action on the stage. Wood chopping, shearing, goats and Young Farmers competitions were under way, each with an appreciative audience, Auckland Mayor Phil Goff and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor arrived, although the Mayor had to open the show on his own, as government Ministers weren’t conducting official engagements because of the Christchurch events.
Jamie McDell arrived after lunch and took to the stage after local bands Raw Jam and Otherwise Fine had finished their sets. The crowd sat under the shade tent or stood in front of the stage to appreciate one of New Zealand’s finest young singers and a successful day progressed peacefully towards its conclusion. When I went over to the shearers to collect the cash for the day, competition had just finished and the Coresteel Warkworth team had won the Open competition.
We had an early estimate of the gate receipts which by 2.30 already exceeded last year by a good margin, some of the crowd was still sticking around to enjoy the music and see if they could score a bargain, and my wife had submitted the winning pumpkin on behalf of a neighbour. All told, it had been a very good day. Roll on 2020, as long as the RAS gives us permission to hold it in March!