Autumn is agricultural show season on the coast
THE Sydney Royal Easter Show, which begins on April 6, gets everyone in the mood and the local coastal show season follows Sydney's lead, with Wauchope (April 21) Kempsey (April 25) and Macksville Nambucca River Show (April 28).
May sees the showmen travelling a little further north, with Maclean Show starting on May 2; Grafton Show on May 5, Coffs Harbour Show on May 12 and Bellingen Show on May 20.
Helpers are always at a premium for these major local events and no one is more skilled at rounding up volunteers than Bellingen River Agricultural Society Ltd President Ted Greenwood.
Colleagues on the Bellingen Show committee say admiringly that Ted, who has been involved with the committee for the last five years, will even stalk likely volunteers down Bellingen's main street.
Elfin-faced Ted happily admits that he targets retirees as soon as he hears that they have left paid work.
It is entirely for their own good, he insists.
"Often people feel organisations like ours are closed off, so it's making that offer," Ted said.
His technique must be working, because Bellingen Show has a committee of 29 people aged from 33 to 80+ and a roll call of about 250 volunteers who help organise and run the show, which this year will be held on Saturday and Sunday May 20 and 21.
Ted's vast team of helpers range from those who put in hundreds of hours all year round, year after year to those who put in two or three hours on the gate once a year, but all play their part.
"I've always been community minded and I like to be actively involved," said Ted, who also volunteers with the Rural Fire Service.
"I like to see community events run by people within the community and it's very healthy to have new members."
"The hardest part of having a large committee is that you have a lot of large personalities."
Among those personalities are helpers Ivan Preston, Kari Iggulden and Maxine Keys.
Ivan Preston's committee record deserves its own category. He has clocked up 44 years as the Show's wood chopping organiser.
He stalks the owners of stands of flooded gum who might donate suitable timber for the Show and rounds up competitors to entertain the crowd with their skill.
A career as a timber faller in North Coast forests has left him with a selection of scars, including a groove across his forehead where a falling limb split his scalp and left him unconscious for a week.
But it did not deter him from his favourite sport, where men compete in slicing their way through blocks of wood using razor-sharp axes flashing centimetres from their toes.
Ivan's favourite event was the spectacular tree felling, where competitors climb a 'tree' using boards slotted into notches cut with an axe, to reach the top and chop through the 'tree' and he says he 'won his share' of prizes.
Ivan might be in his seventies but he still spend hours sharpening his favourite KeeSteel axe, keeping it keen enough to shave the hairs off his forearm, although he doesn't use it to shave his whiskers, as some say they do.
"Some axemen treat their axes better than they treat their wives," Ivan says mischievously.
Wood chopping as a sport has been affected by the mechanisation which has transformed the timber industry in the last 50 years, as well as the cost of the $500 axes, other equipment and travel required.
But axemen from as far away as northern NSW and the Central Coast will turn up to compete at the 2017 Bellingen Show..
"You have to be really keen to travel three hours just to chop wood when you pay to chop and you mightn't win a dollar," Ivan said drily.
Kari Iggulden chases horses and riders.
Made a life member of the Bellingen Show by her father as a teenager, her first Show meeting at the age of 16 set a pattern of competing in, judging and helping at shows, that she is still following 40 years later.
Her love of horses, passed on to her five children, has seen her spend many years breeding pure-bred Arabian horses, teaching children riding skills as the Bellingen Pony Club's chief instructor, judging riding and breed classes and generally doing anything required to make the Show's equestrian events run smoothly.
Kari and her family have recently moved from their 200 ha Promised Land farm to a 2ha small holding at Dorrigo which provides a better climate for horses, but she still travels to Bellingen regularly to help with pony club and an adult riding club. She also runs Bellingen Valley Working Equitation Inc.
Working equitation offers competition up to the national level in four different activities, all based on classical dressage: dressage, cattle penning, obstacles with style and obstacles with speed.
Kari has just started educating a young brumby freshly captured out of the Guy Fawkes national park, which she has added to her four horse 'family'. The brumby has joined a Welsh pony, a riding pony and a stock horse in her paddocks.
Bellingen Show includes classes for brumbies in its ring program, which Kari said were always well supported.
Maxine Keys pursues crafts and the arts and her finely finished pieces have been a regular feature of Bellingen Show's pavilion since she and her husband Barry retired to the town.
Barry, now 81, left Bellingen to go cane cutting when he was 18 and Maxine was born at Dorrigo 77 years ago and grew up in Sawtell.
They have never regretted their decision to retire in Bellingen and are both life members of the show society.
Maxine turns her hand to whatever task is needed for the Show, from manning the gates to selling raffle tickets or setting up pavilion displays or hanging the Mantova art exhibition, held in conjunction with the Bellingen Show.
Maxine's busy sewing machine and nimble fingers work at all kinds of fabric crafts, including colourful quilts, patchwork and traditional rag rugs, as well as painting and drawing.
"I just like to try different things, " Maxine said.
"jack of all trades, master of none.
"I usually give them away."
In fact her mastery of several crafts has won her Show prizes and she also shares her skills with others.
Maxine works with a local group making rag rugs on a monthly basis.
The group meets at 10am on the first Friday of each month.
"We just enjoy doing it - everyone has their own way of working," she said.
Familiar to our grandparents, creating rag rugs, which make use of worn out or surplus textiles, is an ideal way to recycle clothes and blankets and divert them from landfill.
The craft creates useful, attractive and hard-wearing floor rugs and can be used to make other items like wall hangings, bags, hats and vests.
Requiring no investment apart from a rug hook and hessian for the backing, it is a craft open to absolutely anyone.
Maxine said fans of the Harry Potter films can spot a rag rug in front of the fire in Hagrid's cottage.