As A & P shows became primarily entertainment, another type of event emerged. This was the field day – a display of new machinery and technology for the modern farmer, often demonstrated under working conditions. The idea developed in Australia after the Second World War, and began in New Zealand in 1953 with the South Island Agricultural Field Day.
South Island field days
The first South Island Agricultural Field Days were organised by the Christchurch District Young Farmers Clubs, but since 2003 have been run by a society. They are held in conjunction with Lincoln University, and the permanent site is on the university’s research farm. The biennial event alternates with the Southern Field Days, organised since 1982 by the Eastern Southland Young Farmers Club and held at Waimumu, near Gore.
The name of Mystery Creek, the site of the National Fieldays, is itself a mystery. One theory is that there was a murder there in the 19th century, but both the culprit and the policeman sent to track him disappeared. Others believe that a fully saddled and bridled horse was once found near the creek, but no rider ever appeared. A third view is that a captain in the New Zealand wars travelled along the creek on a horse named Mystery.
The North Island’s major field day is an annual event at Mystery Creek near Hamilton. The first New Zealand National Fieldays were held in 1969. They grew out of an attempt to expand the established Ruakura Farmers’ Week and the winter show. The A & P association was initially unhappy and insisted that there be no competitions for animals. Instead the aim was to bring manufacturers of agricultural products face-to-face with farmers – the coat and tie meets the bush shirt and the gumboot. Products had to have an agricultural focus.
Since 1971 the Fieldays have been held at their own property at Mystery Creek over four days in mid-June. Other ventures have been tried at Mystery Creek, including Farmworld, a geodesic dome with audiovisual displays set up in the late 1980s. But this failed and the Fieldays are the main business.
In the late 1970s over 50,000 attended, and in 2006 the Fieldays drew over 115,000 visitors and almost 1,000 exhibitors. Eighty per cent of the visitors are from farms, and only 20% are under 20 – very different from the local Waikato show, where half the visitors are children or teenagers. There are no sideshows at the Fieldays.
One feature of the Fieldays is the farmer invention competition, with a piece of No. 8 fencing wire as the prize. One competitor entered a goat as the ‘Caprine post peeler’, which was claimed to be ‘self motivated, produces mohair, meat, milk and reproduces’. 1
Other field days
Other parts of New Zealand have now copied the field day format. There is a large annual event at Feilding in March, and a number of events cater for lifestyle farmers.