In 1969, the first New Zealand Agricultural Fieldays was held at Hamilton's Te Rapa Racecourse. The Town and Country Fair, as it was known then, aimed to bring rural and urban audiences together to celebrate New Zealand's farming industry and lifestyle and the contribution it makes to the economy.

Fast forward nearly 50 years, and Fieldays is a staple on many agricultural people's calendars, with hundreds of thousands descending on Mystery Creek each June.

This year, it celebrates its 50th year of showcasing agriculture and innovation to rural and urban audiences alike.

Celebrations kicked off last week with an event at its first home for local politicians and district mayors, agricultural leaders, past and present presidents and members of the New Zealand National Fieldays Society, Waikato Racing Club members and other VIP guests relived the early days with speeches and anecdotes, and the unveiling of a specially-commissioned anniversary sculpture.


The Racecourse housed Fieldays in its first two years before the event was moved to Mystery Creek in 1971.

Many who attended last week's event were responsible for organising the inaugural Fieldays in 1969, including John Kneebone, who first sparked the idea for a town and country fair in New Zealand on a trip to the UK as a Nuffield scholar.

Speaking at the event to a backdrop of photos and film of Fieldays throughout the decades, New Zealand National Fieldays Society CEO Peter Nation thanked the Waikato Racing Club for its collaboration in the early days and the sacrifices they made to help pull it off.

"The organisers at that first event in 1969 thought they'd have a couple thousand people turn up. But on the day, it turned out to be more than 10,000 with cars parked all the way up Te Rapa Straight, which was farmland back then," said Peter.

He gave thanks to the original six farmers of the Fieldays Society, whose tenacity and perseverance he said paved the way for Fieldays to become the premiere agricultural showcase it is today, contributing half a billion dollars to the global economy each year.

"Those first six farmers approached ANZ in North Hamilton for a 100 per cent loan of $62,500, $430,000 in today's money, so they could move Fieldays to Mystery Creek. At the time, Mystery Creek was a run-down dairy farm but had been identified as the site to house the event for future growth.

"The story goes that when the Society went into the bank they were asked what security they had for the loan, and one of the farmers threw a roll of copper wire on the bank manager's desk and said, 'this is the only asset we own'."

That wire had been used for communication at Fieldays over the loudspeakers at Te Rapa Racecourse, where it was removed each year and put into storage for safekeeping.


An anniversary sculpture unveiled at the event — entitled Origin '68 — incorporates the same copper wire that was thrown on that bank manager's desk decades ago, mounted on the reclaimed native timber that once lined the Fieldays Society's original boardroom.
"The copper in the sculpture is very important," said Peter.

"It's not only a valued commodity, but it signifies communication and the transfer of information, and relationships and collaboration," he says.

"It also speaks to that No.8 wire mentality, that Kiwi way of just getting it done.
"It's important the sculpture be for everyone to enjoy, because Fieldays isn't just an event for farmers and the agricultural industry — it's a chance for everyone to get together and celebrate agriculture as a fantastic, integral part of New Zealand's lifestyle and economy."

Auckland-based sculptor and jewellery designer Cherise Thomson was delighted to work on a sculpture of such significance.

"It was such an honour to be chosen," she said.

Cherise placed second in Fieldays' No.8 Wire National Art Awards in 2016 with her wire sculpture Korowai, and was a finalist again last year.

Origin '68 will be at Waikato Museum as part of the 50th anniversary Fieldays exhibition in May.