Kumeu A & H Show

June 2016

The changing face of a long-standing agricultural and horticultural show near Auckland city

The Kumeu Show has been held every year since 1921 as a showplace for local agriculture, horticulture and rural crafts. It is community owned, has its own land and buildings and is a permanent community asset. The original 1920s format is still recognisable although some of the content has changed to suit modern interests of an audience that is largely urban rather than rural. Typically it attracts 15,000 to 20,000 people over two days.

The Kumeu Agricultural and Horticultural Society hosts the show – one of the largest annual shows in the Southern Hemisphere. The Society was formed in 1921 with the intention of holding an annual event to showcase local crops, animals and rural crafts and provide competitions and incentives for improvement. The concept was similar to the more common A & P shows around the country but horticulture was, and still is, the Kumeu district’s strength.

For the first 30 years or so, the Show was held on land loaned to the Society on the main highway in Kumeu.   About 1953 the Society purchased 17 hectares near the Kumeu railway station, followed some years later by a neighbouring 17 hectares to form a working farm. The Society runs sheep and horses on the property and has five large buildings that house livestock and exhibits during the Show and provide venues for other activities during the year – the Auckland Folk Festival, filming activities, fireworks displays, performing dogs and Hot Rod type shows.

The farm has two employees but most of the work is done by volunteers with any surplus funds being reinvested in grounds and building improvements. The 34ha property is a permanent community asset protected by legislation and so can’t be paved over for motorways or built on by developers.

Derry Faulder has been involved with the Show committee for about 45 years.

“My earliest memory was seeing the sideshows as a 10-year-old. The Show was always a big occasion for a little town like Kumeu. My father used to exhibit his Jersey bulls, and in later years I helped him with that,” says Derry.

“Since joining the committee I have been one of the volunteers helping to run and promote the Show.   It is a community project and it is owned by everybody, and basically it has always promoted what people can do well here. We invite judges to come and choose the award winners for animal breeding, fruit and vegetables, and homecrafts. Traditionally it was always related to farm activities and rural living and the aim was to improve standards and quality.”

“The Kumeu Show has always had very good standing amongst A & P Associations, and if you won an award at Kumeu then that really meant something, and it still does.”

Derry says that during the war years manpower was short but the women carried it on. After the war the Show really took off and that’s when the Society was able to buy land and start on the exhibition buildings.

“Any profits we make, and some years we don’t make any, all goes back to improving the amenities. We recently tarsealed the road into the Showgrounds so it’s now in better condition than before, and we’ve put up bigger sheds so it all goes back into the organisation to improve facilities,” says Derry.

“The buildings house the livestock – cattle, sheep, alpacas, poultry, pigeons and so on – and we are able to use the Community Centre next door for the indoor section that involves flowers, vegetables, handcrafts and so on.”

“Outside we have displays and demonstrations of old tractors and machinery such as hay balers that have been used in days gone by just to create a bit of interest. Then there is a shearing competition on Saturday with shearers from Taranaki and Gisborne and the East Coast, and on Sunday there are demonstrations of hand shears driven by a man on a stationary bicycle, which is how it used to be.”

“Wood chopping competitions involve local people who are world champions, and then there’s chainsaw sculpture which is noisy but popular.”

There is also a dog agility competition that is popular with children as are the pony rides, poultry exhibits, being able to touch and feed some of the larger animals, and of course the sideshows.

Even after all these years Derry enjoys participating in the Show.

“I have always been a district person and involved in organisations, and the Kumeu show is still important locally and still has standing nationally.   We are facing a battle every year with fewer cattle and other animals being available. We have to truck sheep in from many miles away because the Showgrounds’ sheep aren’t available to shear for the competition, and the produce has to come in from increasingly large distances away,” he says.

“But it’s an important opportunity for town to meet country to see what the district does well and remember how it used to be. Gradually the Auckland subdivisions have grown out to meet us and surround us and our walk-up crowd are from suburbia so we have adapted to that.”

Bev Cole has been involved with the Show for about 50 years. Her first contact occurred in about 1964 when she was wandering through the showgrounds and was persuaded by an elderly man to help paint the sheep shed. From then on she helped at times and in the early 90s she took over managing the indoor section that involves fruit, vegetables, handcrafts and cooking – competitions that have not changed too much over the decades.

“Apart from the venue there are a lot of things that are still quite similar to the 1921 schedule, so many traditions have been carried on. Fashions have changed though and we no longer make things out of sugar bags,” says Bev.

“We still have baking and food competitions although the events have changed. They used to judge the ‘best working man’s lunch’ whereas now we look for the best children’s lunchbox. The cakes were typically gingerbread and sponges whereas we would have more decorative ones like cupcakes. Scones and pikelets are still there but bread is now made in breadmakers.”

“There is much more art and craft now than in the old days. I noticed in 1921 there was a section for ‘the best ironed shirt’.”

“Originally the indoor section was in one of the old buildings that had to be cleaned up before we could use it. Then the Community Centre was built and with a new venue we set out to interest more people. We sent letters to schools and canvassed people that were involved in various groups like floral art and cake icing and encouraged them to join the Show.”

Judges for the indoor section are qualified people that have been involved for years in the activities. Baked goods are assessed for texture, taste and appearance while produce is judged on size, appearance and other qualities by experienced people who are often growers. Eggs are cracked, and the contents examined.

Until Bev stopped looking after the indoor section some years ago her main focus was to bring in young people with a young horticulture feature and institute more children’s activities. Photography has now become an important competition and many youngsters get involved.

“We needed growth and the idea was to keep the numbers up and really look to see what people were interested in,” she says. “It’s great when you get people to enter and have people committed to keep running the Show. It shows that the rural community is alive and well.”

Peter Birch is an enthusiast for classic tractors from the 1950s onwards. As a child in England he became familiar with Massey Ferguson tractors and that is what he collects now, although he didn’t start until fairly recently.

“I bought a Massey Ferguson 35 and that rekindled my interest. I have a 1953 Ferguson TE 20 which is known in New Zealand as a ‘28’, a 1963 Ferguson 35, and a 1972 MF135. Having my own tractors has enabled me to do my own hay and top paddocks etc,” he says. “I have restored them to a degree but they are working tractors and I use them rather than just polish them up and store them in the shed.”

Some years ago Peter offered to get a collection of local tractors together to try to show agricultural heritage in the Kumeu region. Most of the 30 or so that are usually on display are from nearby small holdings and most are working tractors although there are a few lovingly restored ones, he says.

“We usually parade the tractors around the grounds and I do a commentary on each one and its heritage. One of the rarest tractors is the Ford Ferguson. Initially when Ferguson started producing tractors he partnered with what eventually became David Brown in England but then he wanted to develop further and so he had a handshake agreement with Henry Ford in America to produce a Ford Ferguson using the Ferguson three-point linkage system.”

“We also do some haymaking demonstrations using my tractor and a 1980s conventional baler.”