BIG machinery, crowded aisles, peak hour traffic through Gunnedah and that catchy AgQuip tune are familiar sights and sounds for all those who have trod the rows in the past 40 years at what has become one of the country’s largest agricultural trade shows.
The original site for AgQuip was the Gunnedah Riverside Racecourse and the first event ran from August 21 to 25, 1973 in a five-day format.
Former AgQuip chief executive Max Ellis, who has been to every AgQuip, said more than 60 exhibitors attended the first event.
“It rained – it was not very good weather actually,” Mr Ellis said.
Despite the wet start, late August was chosen because it was a typically dry period for that part of the world, he said, with the next wet AgQuip not occurring for another 15 years.
At the time Mr Ellis worked at Tamworth’s 2TM radio station and had previously been involved in a number of smaller trade events held at the Tamworth Town Hall.
In The Land, August 9, 1973, Mr Ellis, along with 2MO radio announcer George Arklay, were reported as having created the idea of AgQuip after examining ways to expand agricultural interest in their programs.
It was a hit.
In The Land’s preview to the 1973 event they were said to have been pleased with the tremendous response to the event in what was shaping up as the best season in recent years.
Mr Ellis said AgQuip was set up as strictly a commercial event run by promotional and marketing professionals with the backing of the New England Radio Network, which included 2TM and 2MO.
“We decided there was an opportunity to do something at Gunnedah ... we did a bit of research and broadacre farming was booming at the time,” he said.
Among The Land’s advertisers in that first year at Gunnedah were popular brands of the day, such as Leyland, Connor-Shea, Chamberlain-Deere, Honda, Dalgety, White, Silamax and McKay Australia.
Two local businesses, the Gunnedah Municipal Abattoir and the Curlewis Farmers Co-operative, both of which have since folded, supported the feature.
Gunnedah was chosen for its reputation in the agricultural economy of the State, as well as “its fine hard wheat... and the traditional beef and wool equal the best in the State”, a report in The Land said.
The first field day was opened by then deputy leader of the opposition Doug Anthony who was flown into the site in an experimental two-seater McCulloch J2 Autogyro, Mr Ellis said.
“With more than 60 exhibitors set up in the middle of the racecourse the event attracted an estimated 23,000 people and created traffic jams that amazed and gratified everybody, though the local police were caught unawares when they suddenly had vehicles queuing up in the main street of Gunnedah some two kilometres from the site,” he said.
By 1976 AgQuip had doubled in size with 136 exhibitors which attracted close to 80,000 visitors.
“The racecourse was full,” Mr Ellis said.
By the time Mr Ellis left 2TM in 1984 (his career there began in 1966 as a newsman) AgQuip had reached gigantic proportions, pulling crowds of more than 100,000 to see the 400-odd trade exhibitors.
By this stage, the event had been set up west of town for eight years, the organisers having bought 121 hectares where the event is still run.
This new site had 14km to 15km of roads put in and many exhibitors also set up their own permanent sheds.
Organisers also adopted the slogan “bring your cheque book” to promote the fact it was an active marketplace where trade participants sold straight from the stand – a strategy Mr Ellis said worked well.
The early years also featured the Agridome, a ballon assembly hall in which seminars were conducted, but this concept was dropped in the first few years when organisers realised visitors were too busy inspecting trade equipment to spend time in a lecture.
Mr Ellis said by 1980, catering for the event meant 30,000 meat pies, 30,000 icy poles and 36,000 cans of drink were sold, as well as countless other meals being sold by the events specially built kiosks and other food providers.
The co-ordination of all these trade stands and massive crowds was overseen by the initial site manager Max Keating and his offsider Graham Thibault, Mr Ellis said.
“Max and Graham showed a level of commitment and sheer friendliness which played a huge part in creating the great relationship between AgQuip and its exhibitors, which continues to this day through present site managers Dick and Helen Catford.”
* Don't miss our AgQuip Preview in the August 9 edition of The Land.