The Sheepvention name captures the remarkable story of a sheep show that has survived where many other regional events have long ago shut up shop.
The P & A Society members who 40 years ago decided to re-invent (and re-name) a dying sheep show by thinking outside the traditional and accepted model are to be applauded.
To be still operating, and in fact some would say recognised internationally as the most important sheep industry event in the world, is remarkable.
With 160 years of history the Hamilton P & A Society has outlasted almost all of its compatriots in regional Victoria, to now have in excess of 20,000 attending over two days and hosting the largest multi-vendor ram sale in Australia.
The only show to have a longer history is the Royal Melbourne Show, at one time also the host of the Australian Sheep Show. Over time this event lost momentum, and the sheep show moved to Bendigo where it has found a grateful host as well as a renewed purpose. The Royal Melbourne Show now caters to a mainly city audience.
The Hamilton sheep show in the 1980’s was as good as finished; a small group of regional Merino studs would gather to show and sell rams to local farmers. My earliest recollection is of driving into the showgrounds and parking next to the ram shed where a somber and low-key event played out.
Compare to today, the city provides buses from downtown carparks to ferry visitors from all over Australia and beyond into a packed arena over two days. Parking close to the showgrounds is at a premium.
The most important aspect is that the event is seen as relevant to the sheep industry. No longer is a shroud of mystery hovering, where serious older gentlemen would discuss the merits of a Merino sheep, commenting on its “strong” horn set, or the soft superfine wool, or any number of secretive knowledge and information possessed and closely guarded lest some young upstart might think they could enter this secret society.
The introduction of “inventions” and the “pen of 5” rams for sale changed the dynamic. While the idea of showcasing inventions for the sheep industry was originally viewed as a bit of a gimmick, it resonated with many who were already imposing new ideas on the farming business in their attempts to move forward with the times.
The pen of five ram idea was to focus on the ram buying of ordinary wool producers, contrasting with the Melbourne Sheep Show where stud breeders were targeted by sellers. This move was successful in the extreme, with commercial breeders from all over Australia taking the opportunity to inspect the largest collection of multi-vender rams in one sale ever.
Of course, when the merino buyers arrived, the stud sheep industry responded with increased numbers and higher quality rams as the studs used Sheepvention to build profile and clients.
In recent times Sheepvention has diversified further with all manner of trade displays not only targeting sheep farmers but the varied and diverse audience that has Sheepvention on its “must attend” calendar.
Business analysts advise that if you are not re-inventing the business every 10 years then you are running the risk of either someone else disrupting and ending your success, or in fact the business you are in moving on. It is reasonable that the same principles apply to events like Sheepvention.
The local land use in the Hamilton region has changed dramatically over the past 20 years, with cropping and prime lamb production firmly entrenched. What used to be “the Wool Capital of the World” is now no-longer. A similar situation exists in Western Australia, where the Wagin Woolarama is now predominately a machinery expo.
The genius of “innovating” a tired 120-year-old regional show of predominately merino sheep into the most significant income generator for the Hamilton region worked beyond expectation.
My hope is that after the past 40 years of success, the planning is well advanced for the next “big idea”. It will be too risky to leave the next innovation for 120 years.
So, if you haven’t been to Sheepvention, get along, you will certainly find it interesting and relevant. If you have been before, chances are you will be there again as the information and displays will again beckon and Sheepvention provides the ideal opportunity to catch up with friends and acquaintances.
Mecardo will be at our usual site with our friends from Kurra Wirra Stud and would love the chance to chat. As a 160-year bonus to Mecardo subscribers, come up to our Sheepvention site on Monday and give me the secret code of “Oggy, Oggy, Oggy” and I will buy you lunch!