By Greg Allen Pretty
Photos provided by Penny Gray, Far East Victoria Landcare Inc
Having come through drought, bushfires and isolating restrictions brought about by the Covid pandemic, the people of East Gippsland needed a positive distraction that would allow them to reconnect with each other.
8 March 2021 saw the combined events of the Orbost Agricultural Show, this time for the 113th year, and the Orbost Sustainability Expo. The two events had run side-by-side several times since 2012, adding to the attraction for patrons from across East Gippsland.
Coming after such a difficult time, “everybody just needed to get out” according to Show committee member Helen Ryan, and that they did thanks to free entry and some special attractions, made possible by funding via Gippsland mental health body Connect Well East Gippsland and Wellington.
Attendances at country shows across Australia have been declining in recent times but organisers of the 2021 Orbost Show were delighted to welcome their biggest crowd in 30 years.
“Quite a few thousand people came that day,” Helen said.
“It was free to get in, Costa was there, and people just wanted to see each other again at an event that means something to them as a community.”
Celebrity gardener Costa Georgiadis was a popular guest at the Sustainability Expo, the combined events held at the Newmerella oval and showgrounds.
“Without the Expo, we would have had far fewer people at the Show, but people just happily mingled as they wandered between the two events,” Helen said.
The Sustainability Expo is organised by Far East Victoria Landcare and facilitator Penny Gray agreed that, while no accurate gate numbers were recorded due to the free entry, this was the best attended event since the Expo joined the Show.
“It just felt like it was buzzing all day,” Penny said.
“People were simply happy to be out and about as families and running into people they hadn’t seen for ages. In the times when we have been so socially isolated, it gave the place a buzz.
“And Costa added to that because he has so much energy himself. He stopped and spoke to everyone. He sat down on the ground with kids, he did a formal presentation that a lot of people really appreciated, and he just wandered around. He was the last person to leave!
“The Landcare volunteers were really happy with the results at the end of the day,” Penny said.
Costa’s fee, along with entertainment, printing, a tent, and other Expo costs, were covered with the funding provided by Connect Well East Gippsland and Wellington.
Likewise for the Agricultural Show, catering, prize money, trophies and ribbons, property costs and more were all covered, so that no entry fee was charged. It would normally cost a family $20 to attend.
It is what the community really needed, according to Vanessa Daniel from the Orbost District Community Recovery and Transition Committee.
“It’s a low socioeconomic area, so the funding made it possible for people to attend free of charge and support each other by spending their money at the stalls.
“It was educational…. It was just what our area needed.
“I’m a beef farmer and I was able to chat with other farmers from the area about the impacts of the bushfire and how we’re getting back on our feet. It was all about ‘connection’.
“I heard a number of people say it was the best Show ever. People obviously enjoyed themselves,” Vanessa said.
Connect Well East Gippsland and Wellington works in partnership with several organisations including Gippsland Lakes Complete Health and Orbost Regional Health to improve mental health and wellbeing outcomes for people in the region.
Connect Well channelled funds to the Orbost Agricultural Society Inc and Far East Victoria Landcare Inc to encourage social interaction and provide a fun and educational experience.
There is common agreement that with this funding, the Agricultural Show and Sustainability Expo were successful in boosting the mental wellbeing and resilience of individuals and the community after a challenging few years in the Orbost area.
The organisers of both events also acknowledge the assistance provided by East Gippsland Shire Council.
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