THE lead-up to a community's annual country show has for years been a period filled with excitement and meticulous organisation, but show societies across SA say lingering COVID-19 concerns mean this year is being approached with caution and apprehension.
Only six country shows went ahead in 2020, with 42 cancelled, and for some organisers it's a case of once bitten, twice shy.
Both the Maitland and Mount Pleasant Show societies were forced to cancel their annual events only one week before their scheduled dates last year.
In the case of the Mount Pleasant Show, first held in 1863, it was the first time the event was cancelled since World War II.
"All the books were posted out, marquees were set up, entries had been received, toilets were ordered, everything was ready to go pretty well," said show secretary treasurer Vicki Fawcett.
With COVID-19 compliance requirements calling for social distancing, handwashing stations, registrations for contact tracing and monitoring of visitor numbers in indoor pavilions, Mrs Fawcett said the show society would be needing help from more volunteers this year to pull off the event on March 20.
While that presents as a challenge in itself, Mrs Fawcett said the society was more concerned with outlaying money for the show set up too soon, in case tighter restrictions were put in place, forcing another cancellation.
"We're using last year's books and trying to prepare what we can without making any huge commitments in case harsher restrictions do come in again," she said.
"We couldn't afford to lose that amount of money all over again.
"We've put in our COVID plan to the health department and hopefully we can go ahead without spending too much until we know that it will definitely go ahead."
Grants from the federal government's Supporting Agricultural Shows and Field Days Program - $34 million in total for 378 agricultural events across the country - proved a saviour for many show societies, including the Maitland Show Society, formed in 1878.
Treasurer Heather Drysdale said the $15,000 grant they received covered some of the organisation costs they outlaid last year before having to cancel one week out from the event.
"We'd done all our advertising, done our books, done everything really, apart from take entries," she said.
She said the Maitland committee was apprehensive about how this year's show, scheduled for March 20, was going to go ahead.
"It's a big task trying to pull off a show in a COVID environment," she said.
"We've got a QR reader and have to have people register at the gate, then we've got to monitor how many people are in different buildings, have COVID marshals wandering around to make sure everybody's social distancing. It's really quite daunting at this point in time."
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She said the deciding factor on whether the show would go ahead would be the level of community support shown.
"We're certainly wanting to go ahead but our committee's not big enough to have all the marshals and people monitors we need, so we're going to be looking for support from sporting and community groups to help," she said.
A Department of Agriculture spokesperson said they would urge agricultural show societies and field day organisers to work with their state's health officials to plan how events could proceed in a COVID-safe way.
"Agricultural shows and field days deliver significant economic and social benefits to regional communities," the spokesperson said.
"They contribute more than $1 billion to the economy each year, fund valuable community infrastructure and provide an opportunity for community interaction that would otherwise not exist in many parts of regional and remote Australia."
SA Country Shows president Francis Andrews said this year would represent an opportune time for people to support their local shows.
"I think everyone is looking for an excuse to get out and do something so I sincerely hope that communities support their shows," he said.
"Mundulla is one of the first shows off the ranks and we're heading towards it with great enthusiasm given that we can actually run a show and draw a big crowd."
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