Three days a year in Henty, traffic comes to a standstill – cars banking up for kilometres either side of the small town.
For a place where the closest thing to a bottleneck is usually a full carpark at the bowling club’s monthly meat raffle ‘fish and chip night’ – the contrast is stark.
Every year as people flock to the Henty Machinery Field Days the small town of 1200-odd residents grows by nearly 49 times with more than 60,000 visitors.
And with them comes a yearly influx of money into the town and its community groups which helps keep the region ticking along the other 362 days of the year.
This year St Paul’s Lutheran School – which boasts 42 students –will run one of the catering sheds.
President of St Paul’s Parents and Friends Committee Joanne Knobel said you only have to look around the town to see the benefits of the three day event.
“Henty doesn’t want for anything it’s very well serviced,” she said.
“It’s fantastic, it’s the hub of the universe, Henty is, well for three days anyway.”
Profits from the catering sheds, public bar and children’s rest area have funded improvements at the region’s schools, preschools, footy clubs, swimming pools and the golf club.
But the money is hard earned, with 160 residents volunteering in the St Paul’s catering shed alone – nearly four times the number of enrolled students.
Mrs Knobel said many of their volunteers also do shifts in the main catering shed to support the Swampies – Henty’s football and netball club.
Without the field days money, she said, the school be reliant on donations from the same people time and time again.
“Because we’re a small school this is our major fundraiser but it’s also just a great time to get out there,” she said
“Our mandate for P’n’F is to get outside money so you’re not always drowning the same families. It’s really important.”
Through field days – and the accompanying economic boost – Henty has been able to survive comfortably, while so many other small towns face dwindling populations and boarded up main streets.
Narelle Morey’s family has been involved with the field days for decades, saying the event put Henty on the map, or more accurately got the town stuck in people’s head.
“If you say you’re from Henty, in general people start singing the field days jingle,” she said.
Mrs Morey manages Dale’s IGA along Henty’s main drag, Sladen Street.
“It’s great for the whole town,” she said.
“Henty has always been a place that helps itself and has been community focused.
“It hasn’t been a place asking for handouts from anyone, and field days has been able help that because the funds go to different community groups or schools.”
Mrs Morey said field days, this year on September 18 to 20, was always a busy time of year for the store and town.
It’s a real hype for the town – it really comes alive.Graham Scholz
Dale’s IGA extends its opening hours so the many Henty residents who work or volunteer at the site have somewhere to buy dinner after a long day in the heat.
“People leaving field days on their way out of town call in quite often because with the traffic sometimes by the time they get to Henty, they want a drink and ice-cream,” she said.
“The ‘dessie driver’ will have an ice cream, the other, a drink – else they’ll grab a chook for tea.”
But the busy days start well before field days officially opens, this year on September 18.
Dale’s IGA along with the Henty Bakery and a handful of other small unassuming shops, supply most of the community groups with bread, soft drink cans, eggs, coffee, sugar, vegetables – in short everything needed for thousands of hamburger rolls.
But it’s not the windfall for them one might expect.
As a part of the tight-knit town, businesses do their best to help community groups, not gouge them
“It’s a very good week for us but because we do good prices for everyone and we’re trying to match prices, it’s probably not as profitable as you might think,” she said.
“Mainly it’s good to keep the money in town and support locals, and they support us.
“They also know if they ring me at 6am in the morning saying they’re desperate and out of something I’ll run to the shop and take it out.
“It’s good for town, outside money comes in for organisations and we’re lucky a lot organisations shop local.”
Next door to Dale’s IGA, on the corner of Sladen Street, opposite the railway station, sits the town’s lone watering hole, the Doodle Cooma Arms, which becomes a hot bed of visitors throughout field days.
Further down Sladen Street, the newly opened Henty Bakery, an expansion of the Vintage Coffee Shoppe, is preparing for a big week.
Co-owner Graham Scholz said the three days were nothing like normal trading.
He said the town comes to life, residents stepping up and helping out wherever needed.
“Already the amount of bread and pies and sausage rolls and things like that for the field day’s committee, football club and school – it’d probably be 20 times normal,” Mr Scholz said.
“It’s a real hype for the town – it really comes alive.
“We’ve got two bakers working together from Friday, it’s all hands on deck.”
Former deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer, himself of Lockhart, knows the importance of strong small town economies.
He said the field days have driven the town’s development but also reached much further.
“It’s been a great footprint for Henty, the Henty economy and the region,” he said.
“The field days have anchored so much of the renewal and the productivity in farming and information.”
Chair of the Henty Machinery Field Days committee Ross Edwards said the benefits of the event flows through Henty and the surrounding small towns.
“After health we’re the biggest employer in Henty and the Henty people are passionate about the field day,” he said.
“It services the area around, it’s very close to Henty, but there’s also a spin off for the other towns around.”
For Mr Edwards, the fact the field days provides so much for the surrounding small towns is no small thing, but something that is a vital part of the event.
“We’re a community field day, a lot of the organisations around here locally volunteer, the money goes back into those small communities,” he said.
“We pride ourselves on that.”
Last year the main catering shed alone sold:
- 1700 steaks
- 1800 eggs
- 825 sausages
- One tonne of hot chips
- 664 lamb roast rolls
- 315 slushies in one day
- 3936 Hamburger rolls
- 900 salad rolls
- 842 expresso coffees
- 266 sweet slice (216 made by the one volunteer)
- 330 loaves of bread
- 724 pies
- 1250 bottles of water
- 3174 cans of soft drink
- 15 whole lambs
- More than 100km of toilet paper is used across the three days and 3.6km of paper towel
- $120 million worth of machinery descends on the field days site
- A 2015 Crowe Horwarth economic impact study found the Henty Machinery Field Days creates about $30 million in economic value and sustains 321 full-time jobs in Southern NSW and Northern Victoria.
- HMFD is worth $92 million to the national economy
- Community groups who run the catering sheds, resting place and bar gross $300,000 a year
- The 2017 HMFD’s exhibitor area had 14km of shopfront
- The 2016 Census recorded a Henty population of 1,237 people – which swells during the HMFD as more than 60,000 pass through the gates
- HMFD turned 50 in 2013 and is considered ‘southern Australia’s single biggest agricultural event’ – but was founded as a one-day header school at the Henty showground in 1963.
- The 2018 HMFD runs from September 18-20 with more than 1200 sites and over 800 exhibitors
Receive our daily newsletter straight to your inbox each morning from The Border Mail. Sign up here