When it was announced recently that the hugely popular Julia Creek Dirt n Dust Festival was being axed, it served as a reminder of just how vulnerable these country events are.
If a festival as established as this one could be removed from the calendar, how safe are other events held in small communities up and down the country?
Of course, the pandemic has been the final – albeit very heavy – straw that’s threatening to break the camel’s back.
Dirt n Dust Festival Treasurer, Margie Ryder, said the floods of a few years ago, followed by coronavirus restrictions had been a bridge too far. But she said it had been growing increasingly difficult anyway to get volunteers to make the time commitment to keep things going.
But what of other similar events which are so beloved by so many grey nomads?
Last year, of course, Covid swung a wrecking ball through the calendar, but hopes were high that things would be getting back to something close to normal this year.
However, outbreaks of the Delta variant in multiple states have put a huge question mark against them again,
In the events-rich state of Tassie, the Ulverstone Show in the north-west has just become the first to cancel its 2021 plans.
Mitch Spong, from the Royal Agricultural Society of Tasmania, told the ABC there had been two main challenges to getting shows running this year.
“One is the crowd numbers. At the moment, it’s a maximum of 5,000 people attending an outside event, unless you get approval otherwise,” he said. “But really, we need 10,000 to 15,000 as a minimum to make it viable to put on each day,”
He said the other issue for committees was preparing Covid-19 plans.
“Many of the show societies around Tasmania are run by volunteers and it’s just not possible for them to commit the time if there ends up being a last-minute outbreak,” he said.
Brian Bennett, from The Royal National Agricultural and Pastoral Society of Tasmania, agreed that crowd capacity limits had made some shows ‘a bit nervous.
He told the ABC that he believed that, for some small shows to remain viable, mergers may need to happen.
“Many of the shows in the north are quite close together, so unfortunately that just doesn’t make it sustainable,” he said. “It’s definitely an option they’ll have to look at.”
Meanwhile, back in Julia Creek, there is also some hope that, at least part of the Dirt N Dust festival could be revived at some stage.
Margie Ryder said that might eventually happen, perhaps in a scaled-down format.
“Someone might come along and say ‘let’s go back to basics … potentially just a race meeting and a bull ride,” she said. “There are a lot of people who have put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this, so I think they need to be part of the discussion.”