Jason Mowen travels to Gunnedah for the 50th-anniversary edition of Australia’s largest agribusiness field festival.
Words & Photography Jason Mowen
Going to AgQuip wasn’t really my bag. I love country life but driving 90 minutes to look at tractors and other farm equipment, the sole dude in white trainers in a field of RMs, sounded like a day out of my life I’d never get back. But when Michael suggested that we check out this apparently massive agricultural field day, I thought what the hell. I’d never been to Gunnedah so at least I would have seen another corner of the country. A somewhat famous corner, being the birthplace of Gambu Ganuurru, the Kamilaroi warrior immortalised in 1953 bestseller The Red Chief. And, more recently, as the birthplace of Aussie supermodel Miranda Kerr.
We met early on the Wednesday morning at the gallery – Camilla, James, Michael and me – and set off, up to Willow Tree and left on the Kamilaroi Highway, through Quirindi and on past endless fields of fluorescent-yellow canola flowers to Gunnedah. Hitting traffic in town, our designated driver James’s gaze was fixed on the bank of cued-up utes in front. The rest of us amused ourselves checking out the local architecture – colonial, federation, post-war and the odd 80’s brick venereal replete with the statue-filled front yard – a mix of disparate styles only ever found in such close proximity in Australian country towns.
From the vast paddock made over as AgQuip’s parking lot, through turnstile gates and into the exhibition grid, I discovered the following. James knows a lot of people, Camilla loves anything with wheels and a trailer and Michael’s father was, in the late 1970’s, the biggest dealer of Steiger tractors in Australia. And as children, all three were taken out of school by their parents to attend the Tuesday-to-Thursday event. That’s because for country folk, AgQuip is epic, with more than 3000 exhibitors in what is one of the largest field days of its kind in the world. For farmers it must be like the Fourth of July (for Americans) or Mardi Gras (for the gays). For added significance, launched in 1973 – the year Queen Elizabeth opened the Opera House, the voting age dropped to 18, Gala Supreme won the Melbourne Cup and Helen Reddy topped the charts with Delta Dawn – this was AgQuip’s 50th anniversary.
The 150-page guide states they have something for everyone and they’re not wrong. There is of course the farm stuff, from sheds and saddles to feeders, fencing, guns, drones and concrete water troughs, all manner of bovines (often next to steak sandwich joints) and the ubiquitous tractor, some so massive they could have made a cameo in Avatar. But there is also craft beer, Volkswagen and emu eggs – apparently amazing for lowering cholesterol – provedores of chorizo, really cool palm-leaf hats from Guatemala, beautiful forged-iron hardware from a blacksmith in Victoria and even the University of New England. Demonstrations were big draw cards – one was an axe and chainsaw competition, the winner being a giant of a man from the Netherlands, according to his shirt – as was Pig Chasing Australia, a hub of the hunting community that also does a mean trucker’s cap. A jewel in AgQuip’s crown, though, was John Deere with its lineup of million-dollar tractors, their wheel hubs taller than Camilla.
Stopping for a pub lunch in Gunnedah before the drive home, my three country buddies were curious to know what I thought. Would I go again? Yes, definitely. Not every year but every few years for sure. Even for city slickers there’s too much to discover, a cornucopia of artisan wares and cutting-edge technology – Australian farmers have long been at the forefront of innovation – not to go. AgQuip, sponsored by Aon, returns to Gunnedah Tuesday to Thursday, 20-22 August 2024.