The Dowerin Progress Association held a meeting on May 10th 1964, with the aim of trying to find ways of preventing Dowerin becoming a ghost town, (a not uncommon fate of Wheatbelt communities across Australia), and also raise funds to build a dam, in order to reticulate the town sports oval and tennis courts. One of those attending had just returned from visiting a field day in Orange (New South Wales) and suggested Dowerin hold a similar event. Communication and distance had always been problems for wheat belt farmers and the idea of having a working machinery event, where they could compare rival equipment under identical conditions was very appealing and the idea was accepted.
The inaugural field day was held on Friday 3rd September 1965, with some 20 exhibitors and 2,000 visitors, leading to calls for the field day to run for two days the following year. Accommodation was a concern, however the surrounding towns benefited, as people booked rooms in places such as Northam, Goomalling and Wongan Hills.The original objectives of raising funds for a dam and grassed sports grounds were achieved very quickly and the event then assumed responsibility for loan repayments on the town swimming pool. At the same time, catering for the large numbers of visitors had become a problem and a catering committee was established. A decision was taken to pay volunteer workers for their services, by way of a cheque to the local organisation of the volunteers choice, eg:the local fire service, sporting club, school, or other association. It was and continues to be, a masterstroke in distributing much needed funds to deserving organisations across WAs wheatbelt.
The Dowerin Field Day event continued to expand, with permanent power being supplied to many sites in 1975 and the eventual building of an indoor basketball arena, which could be used for the Lifestyle Display section during field days. By 1991, exhibitor numbers had risen to 503, with in excess of 34,000 visitors. In 1992, the regional television broadcaster, Golden West Network (GWN7) came onboard as the naming rights sponsor, a position they proudly retain to the present day. It had become an icon event, both for the farming community and the people of Perth. In 1996, the event won the prestigious Significant Local Festivals and Events category of the West Australian Tourism Awards and proceeded to take out the same category in the national awards. The event won again in 1997 and 1998 and was then rewarded with a permanent place in the West Australian Tourism Hall of Fame. From a humble suggestion for raising funds to water a tennis court, the Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days had become the biggest rural event in Western Australia, a must attend showcase for people from all walks of life.
The town of Dowerin, (settled 1897), lies approximately 180 kilometres north east of Perth, in the heart of the central wheatbelt. Farming methods have changed dramatically in the last 45 years and the combination of bigger machinery, plus the amalgamation of smaller farms into larger properties, has seen populations dwindle. It is now commonplace to sit in a tractor and watch it steer itself by GPS. John Deere have just released a tractor in the USA, with no cabin or provision for a human operator. One machine now does the work of three tractors and three operators – in half the time. The net effect to Dowerin, is that while the local volunteer base has dropped, volunteers now come from rural communities across Western Australia, all benefiting from the two day event.
People often think of farmers as being small business people, nothing could be further from the truth. Farms these days involve million dollar plus land values and often, machinery purchases exceed $500,000 AUS. Big, sophisticated business by any measure and time is a precious commodity, which is why the annual event continues to be a vital part of the farming calendar “ a unique opportunity to see and acquire information on machinery, production methods and associated farming lifestyle products in one arena. There is a strong social element to the field days, a chance for farmers and their families to catch up with neighbours from far and wide, while the event also serves as a way for exhibitors to give something back to their customers and the wider community.
As broadacre farming evolves and other influences make themselves felt, the Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days continue a natural evolution. Technology is an essential part of broadacre farming, with the use of computers and satellite beamed information and these days, computer displays share space with farm machinery. Lifestyle farms are moving closer to centres such as Dowerin, its possible to run many consultant typebusinesses from rural areas and already the sea change lifestyle has seen smaller tractors dominant farm machinery sales across Australia (2005).
Viticulture and olive tree farming have reached the wheatbelt, as has the production of trees, such as Blue Gums and Paulowina.
The Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days will continue to encourage exhibitors to meet the trends, expectations and needs of the many diverse groups who rely on the annual event for information on the very latest developments in machinery, computers, finance, cropping and even information on schools and fashion.