The New Zealand National Fieldays Society paid tribute to its roots in February when it held the first function of its 50 year celebrations at Te Rapa Racecourse.
Fieldays’ first two events in 1969 and 1970 were held at the racecourse before the Society bought and slowly upgraded the site at Mystery Creek.
Mayors, agricultural leaders, Society and Waikato Racing Club members and other VIP guests relived the early days with speeches and anecdotes, and the unveiling of a specially-commissioned anniversary sculpture.
Many who attended the 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, Society chief executive 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,” Mr Nation said.
“I can only imagine the state of the racecourse after the first day with all those people trampling across it. We’re very grateful for that early relationship with the racing club, a relationship we’re still proud to have.”
He also thanked 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 percent 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 run-down 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 the Fieldays at Te Rapa Racecourse, where it was removed each year and put into storage for safekeeping.
The anniversary sculpture unveiled at the function, 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,” says Mr Nation. “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.
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 says.
Cherise placed second in Fieldays’ No.8 Wire National Art Awards in 2016 with her wire sculpture Korowai, and was a finalist again in 2017.
She says the 12 copper loops framed with native timber is a tribute to the seasonal life of farming, and the dedication of Fieldays’ volunteers and staff. “I wanted the sculpture to represent the cycle of interconnectedness, inspiration and growth that has made Fieldays what it is from the founders’ original vision 50 years ago.”
Origin ’68 will be at Waikato Museum as part of the 50th anniversary Fieldays exhibition in May.
The event at the racecourse is one of many planned to celebrate Fieldays’ anniversary in the lead-up to June 13, when the 50th event kicks off at Mystery Creek.