COMMUNITY spirit like that required to organise and run the Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days is what sets regional towns apart from their suburban counterparts.
That was the view expressed by WA Rural Woman of the Year Tanya Dupagne as she opened the 54th annual Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days last week.
Ms Dupagne congratulated Dowerin on its community spirit and the field days’ organising committee and volunteers who help run them.
“Every country town that I’ve been to (she has visited 45 all over Australia so far for speaking engagements) is unique, it has its own thing that makes it special,” said Ms Dupagne, the founder of Camp Kulin which runs special programs for children who have experienced some form of trauma or torture.
“But the one thing I’ve noticed is that in every country town I’ve been to people come together and support each other and support events like this (field days),” she said.
“This is what makes the community happen, especially when times are tough like over east at the moment.
“The Dowerin Field Days are the largest in the State and one of the three biggest machinery field days in the country and that takes a lot of work from a lot of different people in the community to get it to that point.”
A city girl born and raised in Kwinana and returning there after living in Canada and South Africa on completing school, Ms Dupagne said she was “amazed” by regional communities’ ability to come together, particularly in hard times, and for events like field days.
“That’s when you see the amazing side of people who live in the country,” she said.
Community spirit was not as readily visible in cities, she noted.
Ms Dupagne used her own experiences with Camp Kulin to illustrate her point.
With help from a team of 200 volunteers she runs camps through the year for children who are often victims of domestic violence and who have attempted suicide – in the past 12 months children from 185 towns across WA have been to Camp Kulin.
“We work with kids who have been though some pretty rough stuff in their lives,” she said.
“We teach leadership, respect, trust, self-confidence, self-esteem, perseverance, anger management - all those things that kids need to learn so they can move forward in life, but we do it in a way that is fun.”
They also note “special” children who might not have a Christmas, she said, and each year with the help of the Kulin community – 300 people in town and 900 in the shire – they organise a week-long Christmas camp and invite those children.
“Many of those kids have never had a Christmas ever, they’ve never heard a Christmas carol, some have never sat around a dinner table to have a meal, 90 per cent of those kids have never seen roast meat before,” Ms Dupagne said.
“They’ve actually said to me ‘what is this stuff? and I’ve ‘had to explain that it’s roast lamb.
“Last year a 10-year-old boy was jumping up and down and shouting at me to come and see what he had, he was so excited.
“What he had was roast potatoes on his plate, he’d never had them before.
“This camp is about giving those kids a week they will always remember and the whole Kulin community comes together to do that.
“They sponsor kids, they volunteer, they do a roster in the kitchen to ensure the kids always have food.
“There’s always at least 10 kids who come up to me and say ‘why are these people doing this, they don’t even know us?’
“I explain that that is what living in the country is all about, everyone contributes, everyone wants to make a difference for them and for those kids that is life changing.
“For the first time ever they feel like someone cares, they feel that they belong and they feel that they matter.
“I don’t think we could do that in the city.”
Ms Dupagne said she had a “fairly stereotypical view” of farming and agriculture when she moved to Kulin five years ago – against the advice of friends and colleagues who advised her there was no future there.
“But now when someone mentions agriculture to me, my head goes straight to the women who I’ve met through the awards process who are leading the way in research and development, in innovation,” she said, acknowledging this year’s field days theme of women in agriculture.
“It goes to women in leadership roles and doing amazing things in their communities.
“They’re impacting on the next generation and inspiring young women as well.
“I have really good friends who are women out there on tractors and headers for hours on end and who are juggling their family commitments and community positions as well and I admire them for doing that.”
Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days chairwoman and local farmer Nadine McMorran also acknowledged the community spirit backing the field days and women in agriculture.
“A remarkable start to the season has the agriculture sector in high spirits,” Ms McMorran said.
“I’ve been involved in farming for the past 16 years, I’ve got three young daughters, but the emotional ties to the land is indescribable to others unless they have experienced the ups and downs (of living in the regions).
“When I look around the room I see a wealth of strong, influential women doing great things for the agriculture sector.
“They provide a platform for anyone interested in pursuing a career in agriculture to investigate and network with on your chosen field.
“I urge the younger generation to have the confidence to make a difference and consider agriculture because there are exciting times ahead,” she said.
Ms McMorran thanked other members of the management committee, an army of volunteer helpers, exhibitors and people who came from all over the state to visit.
She also acknowledged donations and fundraising during the field days to help drought-affected farmers in the Eastern States.
Rain and cool weather conditions marked the first day of the two-day event that also saw the town without power late in the day.
The weather improved on day two and traders reported plenty of enquiries, reflective of a bouyant mood and good market conditions for farmers this year.