By VINNIE RODI

THE growth and success of events like the Mildura Field Days and the Mildura Show, and ongoing attempts to attract more showcase events to the region, has prompted a push for a dedicated exhibition facility to be built in Mildura.

Leading the charge is Mildura Field Days co-ordinator, Jo Rodda, who said it was now time for Mildura to have its own exhibition space.

The Mildura Field Days, staged last Friday and Saturday, were hailed as the biggest and best in the event’s 67-year history, however exhibitors and organisers fear that the limited number of venues capable of hosting the event could hinder further growth.

“From a Field Days perspective, we’re fast outgrowing the Sunraysia Institute of TAFE field on Benetook Avenue, and to be blunt the state of the site was appalling and dusty this year,” Ms Rodda said.

“I’ve had the chance to travel around to visit a number of different field days events, and one of the things a lot of the more successful ones have is access to a permanent exhibition site.”

Ms Rodda said she had been in “preliminary talks” with Member for Mildura Peter Crisp about the idea.

“Countless events would benefit from having access to a dedicated exhibition space,” she said. “Not to mention what it could attract from outside the district.”

Mr Crisp this week confirmed that discussions were “extremely preliminary and early.”

“The idea was raised by Jo and some exhibitors,” he said. “Some issues were brought to my attention regarding this year’s Field Days, namely the dusty state of the SuniTAFE field, with the conversation turning to the idea of perhaps establishing an exhibition centre.

“As I said discussions are in their early stages, and the next step needs to look at what the options are, what we can and can’t do, and probably get a view from Mildura Council as to what they have available in this space.”

Ms Rodda says it costs the Mildura Field Days $5000 to hire out the SuniTAFE Field for the two-day event, with the overall cost to run the event put at $105,000.

“Have we got bang for our buck in terms of the site? Probably not,” she said. “However the state of the field is not entirely SuniTAFE’s fault.

“It’s a 30-acre parcel of land that isn’t used for educational purposes, and has no real water infrastructure in place to improve its state.

“The Field Days is fast outgrowing the SuniTAFE field, and if we want to continue to build on that growth and success, we need to look at relocating – hopefully to a more permanent location like an exhibition centre.”

Site concerns

Concern about the state of the SuniTAFE field was shared by several exhibitors at this year’s Field Days, with Interlink Sprayers design engineer Matthew McWilliams describing the site as being like “a 1910s sheep paddock” and “a dust bowl.”

“With events like this, where we are bringing in tourists and really trying to put our best foot forward, this isn’t a good look,” he said. “I had $1million worth of machines at the Field Days this year, and there might have been $40million to $50million worth of machines sitting on dirt. No exhibitor wants that.”

Mr McWilliams said he fully supported moves to develop a dedicated exhibition space in the region – one that would enable the Field Days and other similar events the opportunity to grow and prosper.

“Personally I would love to see a facility like that head out of town – maybe put it in Red Cliffs or Merbein where it can have a real impact,” he said. “If the Fields Days is allowed to grow, then we have the potential to develop an event that rivals the Riverland Field Days, which is a great example of what happens when resources are pooled, and Council and the community care about an event.

“An event like the Mildura Field Days brings dollars into our town.”

Mr Crisp said that while other Field Days across the State and wider country did have their own dedicated space, locally the SuniTAFE Field remained an optimal site to host the two-day event.

“The SuniTAFE field is central and a great location, unfortunately it’s just been very dry this year in the lead up, and there just wasn’t enough grass cover,” he said. “The Mildura Field Days certainly grew this year, and there may come a time where it outgrows the SuniTAFE site – but there’s a bit of an unknown around that.”

Everything on table

Mr Crisp said that while he was personally “undecided” whether an exhibition centre was the way forward to ensure the Mildura Field Days and similar type events can flourish, “everything was on the table to talk about.”

“As I said the next step is to work out what can and can’t be done,” he said.

The Mildura Weekly also reached out to the Mildura Show Society to get its thoughts on the idea, however we received no official comment prior to going to print.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Should the community be pursuing construction of a dedicated exhibition facility in the region? What are the benefits/drawbacks of such a move? Email your thoughts to lettersdesk@milduraweekly.com.au, or leave a comment on our Facebook page.