8 Mar
8 March 2018

Field days a bumper crop for Manfeild

AS the countdown to a landmark Central Districts Field Days begins, organisers and the venue host have taken opportunity to turn back the clock, reflecting on how this rural centrepiece has grown.

Manfeild chief executive Julie Keane says the instigators of a national classic running on March 15-17 always envisaged it becoming a big thing, yet today’s event has probably outgrown their wildest dreams in terms of its physical size, span of activity and, of course, crowd draw.

“In 1993 this was a small event with about 50 sites taking up a modest area within the circuit layout - this year’s celebration of 25 years of field days has more than 570 sites, is virtually spread across the entire venue and is set to attract at least 25,000 people over its three operational days.

“Obviously, too, over the years the effort that goes into planning and establishing what has always lived up to its billing as ‘the best day off the farm’ has also become far greater.

“In the old days it was a relative handful of core people and it would take just a few days to set things up, hold a show then pack up again.

“Now, of course, this event has a fulltime staff, is a year in the planning and requires our venue for a full month because it takes all that time to create, then disassemble, a small town that is open for business for three days.”

The venue has also altered to best suit the event’s requirements; hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent installing a power network – there are three transformers in the main display area – water reticulation and, most recently, almost two kilometres of crushed lime pathways that service as all-weather access streets for the canvas city.

The townscape’s neat uniformity also reflects technology advance; initially individual sites were measured out with 100 metre tape, which became interesting when it was windy – some would achieve more space than they had expected. It’s no longer a problem with lasers now being used.

“The venue’s development is quite distinct, in that we have an event atop and alongside a very active racing circuit so, naturally, the infrastructure for one has to be in sympathy for the other,” Mrs Keane explained.

“That Manfeild continues to hold equally high status for an event that is on every farmer’s calendar and yet also remains a go-to for fans of world-class motorsport speaks volumes about the flexibility of the venue and the care and attention that has gone into our development.”

Field days sales manager Cheryl Riddell started 22 years ago and can count 25 regional exhibitors who have been with the event since day one. She remembers with fondness, too, a tradition of the early years: Eleanor’s scones.

Noel and Eleanor Mortimer are regarded as the original ‘Mr and Mrs Field Days’, a local couple who were tireless behind-the-scenes toilers – involving initially because their son-in-law, Don Eade, was field days’ first promoter.

“Eleanor had a special kitchen tent where she would bake scones for the workers, some days she would make up to 15 batches.”

Field Days continues to deliver classic events such as the national excavator, tractor pull, wood chopping and fencing competitions, but is always branching out into new areas, hence a Central Districts’ Cuisine marquee and a kids’ zone.

The strong aviation theme also includes a display of flying prowess by the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s Black Falcons aerobatic team, based just over the hill at Ohakea. Their display is at midday on March 17.

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Caption: Manfeild chief executive Julie Keane with Central Districts’ Field Days sales manager Cheryl Riddell reminisce about the event’s growth since it all started back in 1993.