It was the generosity of former Waimumu farmer Ken Bowmar that made the Southern Field Days, now a massive rural event, a reality.
Mr Bowmar hosted the field days on their original site of about 10ha.
“And it grew every field days,” Mr Bowmar said.
The idea to host the Southern Field Days came from the district’s Young Farmers club in 1980, Mr Bowmar said.
The foundation committee chairman and former site owner said a subcommittee was formed in 1981.
“The site was chosen after a good search of all possible locations and a discussion with [the late] Les Gardyne, who was a cropping farmer over the road [from the present site] and would grow barley to provide a working display site,” Mr Bowmar said.
Once confirmation of the site was obtained, rough dates were set and work began canvassing Southland agricultural businesses to gauge their response to the idea, he said.
“Indications were good, so the decision was made to go ahead and work in with Les.”
The next hurdle was funding.
“The late David Bryce and myself guaranteed an overdraft with the Southland Savings Bank of $1000 each to begin the field days.”
Publicity officer Helen McPhail supplied farming publications with monthly progress reports.
The site was without telephones or electricity at the time, Mr Bowmar said.
“The P&T [post and telegraph] boys were great tapping into a junction 400m away on the wrong side of the road. My staff and I helped run the lines along the fence and through the culvert, which Dawn Ross and I drew straws to crawl through.”
He, his uncle Sir Erskine Bowmar, Ronald Horne and Miss Ross built the first loading ramp.
“Les’ barley ripened on time [and] he headed half the block so we had stubble and straw for demos,” Mr Dickson said.
The committee measured the site into 5m by 10m and 10m by 10m blocks, using a hand mower to mow the lines dividing them.
The first field days were a success. On the Wednesday night of the first event, organisers were asked about the next event, he said.
Sir Erskine opened the first field days and then prime minister Rob Muldoon supplied the foreword for the programme.
Mr Bowmar said the committee learned a lot from the first field days.
Foundation committee member Ross Dickson, of Gore, said more land was bought as the event grew.
In the early years, demonstrations for the field days were held over the road on Mr Gardyne’s property.
Initially, the field days were put on by farmers for farmers, Mr Dickson said.
“We had a zero budget back then. We begged, stole or borrowed everything.”
At the first field days there were 2500 people through the gates over the two days the event ran, he said.
“And we thought we’d done marvellously.”
Now, more than 40,000 people attended over the three days.
He never dreamed the event would take off the way it had, Mr Dickson said.
“Not in a million years would I have thought it would get this big.”