WHEN it first opened exactly 40 years ago today, AgQuip was truly a man's world.
It was conceived by men and organised and essentially run by men in those early days.
Although it was launched in the same year Australian feminist Helen Reddy was topping the charts, AgQuip in 2012 has a more feminine side.
Today's AgQuip has a marketing and management arm that has more women doing more, in a rural supermarket that is also now more relevant to women on the land.
And that, say organisers and the Gunnedah mayor, reflects the demographic change, which sees more women running rural property businesses, or at least be equal partners in them.
The female faces are more obvious these days in one of the country's biggest man-on-the-land events.
"Rural Australia has evolved in the same way that AgQuip has evolved," mayor Adam Marshall said yesterday as he surveyed the set-up and preparations for what has become one of the biggest rural supermarkets in the world.
AgQuip begins today and runs for three days.
It will have 650 exhibitors representing 3000 companies. Organisers say that if it attracts the hoped-for 100,000 visitors, it will actually reach the three-million mark for that 40-year milestone.
The Gunnedah event was conceived by original chief executive Max Ellis and his 2TM radio marketing team mostly men as a gigantic outdoor rural and agricultural department store.
So, it's fitting that today, on its ruby anniversary, women should have a much bigger role and profile in shopping for rural things.
The increasing ratio of women involved in agriculture and the rural industry generally is apparent in the specialist indoor shopping arcade built nine years ago.
The goodies gallery is basically the size of a footy field – 110 metres long – and boasts rural products more attuned to the feminine side, such as massages, jewellery, pearls and diamonds, therapy things, cookware, health foods, clothing and wine.
Although there is no statistical evidence, organisers say more women are attending these days.
Through exhibitor numbers, the figures definitely show that more females are doing things that support AgQuip on-site, particularly in food, health and environmental and ancillary rural machinery services.
Estimates also suggest it is a billion-dollar baby in the regional economic lists; that’s the figure put on the value of the field days to the local economy by the Gunnedah Shire Council.
Mayor Adam Marshall describes AgQuip as a sellout event that books out available accommodation in Gunnedah, Coonabarabran, Narrabri and Quirindi.
In Tamworth, venues report nearly full figures for most of the week.
While it might not have the huge economic impact of the Country Music Festival on Tamworth, Cr Marshall said the value of AgQuip was staggering.
“The economic impact for the wider region through those centres would be of greater value than the festival, I think,” Cr Marshall said.
“Traditionally, accommodation around Gunnedah, within about an hour’s drive, is booked out. We have about 500 hotel and motel beds in Gunnedah, but a home hosting service takes about 50 companies, and then there are countless private homes that take other visitors, too.
“About 2000 people would stay in Gunnedah alone for AgQuip. But the drive-in, drive-out numbers see many more people come from around the region; everyone knows of the traffic flows from Tamworth each day.”
Rural Press Events, which runs AgQuip, estimates that across its history the event has returned more than $50 million in sales directly from the site, and another $100 million in follow-up sales.
AgQuip chief Barry Harley has been involved for about 25 years and says his group contributes about $800,000, not including wages, to stage the event each year.
Tuesdays are traditionally the quieter lead-up days and attract a lot of tyre-kickers; Wednesdays are the biggest drawcard, and Thursdays, historically, are the shopping days, when the discounts come out and so do the chequebooks and credit cards.
Last year, however, the Tuesday went “gangbusters” when shoppers had a huge spend-up.
“This year the weather will be sensational, with no rain forecast until next week,” marketing man Peter Greenaway said.
That’s another thing about AgQuip – it is a weather vane in more ways than one.
It was deliberately timed to coincide with the driest part of the year – but it rained the first year. According to Mr Harley, it didn’t rain again for about 15 years during AgQuip.
There have been some pretty big falls that turned the 121-hectare site into a mudpit in places, but also nearly 10 years of drought, when things got really tough. It has been used as a barometer of rural health and farm fair-weather times, too.
“AgQuip forever changed the way rural and agricultural products and services are sold to people on the land,” Mr Harley said.
“AgQuip also spelt the end of the major city shows like the Royal Easter Show as venues for agricultural machinery. By taking the machinery to where it was being used, AgQuip catered for the specialised needs of rural producers and kept fairy floss to a minimum.
“For many companies it became a rare chance to talk with, and get a response from, the people the products and services were created for.
“Many a designer has gone back to the drawing board after long discussions with the savvy customers at AgQuip.”