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More than $8 million in federal government funding will be spent on the beleaguered agricultural show industry to ensure the show goes on for its showmen and women.
With around 700 Australian ag shows cancelled since the pandemic began, many of the showmen and women who travel the circuit have been left struggling.
Now the government will step in to pay the industry’s membership fees as well as rental relief.
Elwin Bell Jr is a born and bred showman, who helps run the family business Bells Amusements.
He told AAP COVID-19 has been a real “kick in the guts” to travelling families like his own.
“We’re just working to pay our expenses.”
The seventh generation business travels to 50 agricultural shows a year, but in almost 100 years of operation the past two have been among the toughest.
“Every day someone’s cancelling,” he said.
“We’ve had a bad three years since the bushfires … after then we went into lockdown … and this year has been very quiet because everyone has been scared of COVID,” he said.
Mr Bell Jr said despite the financial strain, the show will go on for Bells, which has been around as long as Vegemite, and he said the government package will help.
“We need all the help we can get,” said Mr Bell, who is also the vice president of the Showmen’s Guild of Australia.
“Some ag shows have been running for 150 years, we’re worried that they mightn’t come back after this,” he said.
“We need the shows and the shows need us.”
He also called for an expansion of a Victorian scheme which cut vehicle registration costs for showmen and wants the government to help lower crippling insurance costs.
Justine Sinclair, executive officer of the Victorian Showmen’s Guild, also welcomed the measures.
She told AAP COVID saw the industry “grind to a halt” and she hopes the funding will be extended.
“I think it really recognises our industry and the importance not just culturally but the historical significance of the travelling showman and the importance of our partnership with ag shows across Australia,” Ms Sinclair said.
“This will basically get our members back on the road … and provide valuable services to ag shows.”
Agricultural shows are worth around a billion dollars to the Australian economy every year.
In announcing the measures Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud said the government will work with the Victorian Showmen’s Guild to administer the grants.
“Because of the restrictions from COVID-19, many showmen and women have been completely deprived of their main source of income,” Mr Littleproud said.
“These grants will help travelling showmen and women – often small, independent sole-trader or family-based operations – cover parts of their operational costs through support for guild membership fees and showground rental relief.”
The grants are part of an $83 million federal government funding package to assist agricultural shows and field days.
(Australian Associated Press)