Beef Australia (Rockhampton) – time to import some US event management expertise?

Beef Australia (Rockhampton’s triennial beef expo; 2021 next) now requires a professional & completely independent events management company to oversee it all; working closely with a team of truly diverse hands-on experienced beef industry people. What do I mean by truly diverse? State, cattle breed, age, sex. IE people from other states; not just tropical breeds; young, middle and retiree age; and far more than just one or two token women.  Genuine diversity of experience and connections.

Beef Week, Rockhampton – one of the largest cattle industry events in the world.

Largely thanks to the untiring efforts of a huge team of local volunteers, Beef Australia has gone from strength-to-strength since the small beginning in 1988 which lead to the 1991 expo. The first Beef Australia I attended was in 1994. The success and growth of this gathering every three years is now driven by the attendance of members of the public and businesses from across Australia & overseas. It’s no longer a Central Queensland or Queensland event – it’s national and international. Very few in the beef industry understand other small businesses, retailing, marketing, the travel industry, tradeshows and event management. Few in the professional event management business understand livestock industries or regional Australia. To lift Beef Australia up to another level of professionalism requires a mixture of the two, working closely together – the very best event-management expertise and the most outward-looking, well-travelled beef industry people.

Unfortunately as Beef Australia has grown it has been marred by some parochialism, nepotism & a lack of professionalism. I can’t detail the former two issues for obvious reasons but as to the lack of professionalism – one of the most obvious examples in 2018 was the abysmal security provided for tradestands. Security has always been fairly lax but for some reason 2018 security took a big backwards step and was almost completely absent – usually with nobody on the pavilion doors before & after hours checking lanyards – so members of the public were wandering in and out while only a few stallholders were present & the vast majority of stands – with thousands of dollar’s worth of stock – unattended. One very well-travelled and experienced stallholder was considering sleeping beside their stand due to the lack of overnight security. Others had items stolen. There was no security on the International Pavilion after sunset, outside doors were left unlocked and glass-fronted fridges full of drinks were sitting just waiting to be emptied. As far as I know they weren’t, but this was sheer good luck. I’d have told management about the risk straight away but there wasn’t anyone around to tell and when it was mentioned to someone later, it was brushed off as if either the value of the drinks didn’t matter, or theft was an impossibility, or it wasn’t their responsibility to worry about. Set-up was a particular nightmare, with sparse information on the incredibly inefficient and frustrating decision to funnel all stallholders through just one entry point, primarily manned by an elderly volunteer working very long hours distributing identification lanyards etc. For a multi-million dollar industry and multi-million dollar event, this was exceedingly bizarre management, to say the least. Organisers surely work off a template honed from previous events so these weren’t mere oversights; they indicated decisions had been made that showed a fundamental lack of respect for the 500 or so small businesses that are absolutely vital for making the event attractive to attendees travelling hundreds or thousands of kilometres to be there.

It’s also time for Beef Australia to enter the 21st century, show a bit of leadership and treat women as genuine equals and business partners. This means having a decent number of women as keynote speakers at events that are open to all (not just women addressing women-only audiences at ladies lunches).  And it means having new female faces up front, not wheeling out the same ones who appear at other ag events – Australia does have more than 6 rural women capable of presenting an engaging speech containing interesting information! It was a rare treat to hear Dalene Wray of OBE organic addressing a big crowd. However Dalene should have been speaking to a mixed audience, not just women. Women’s lunches are a great idea but why not have women speaking who grew up in the bush then had other careers; and have the female speakers talking about the beef industry, speaking to both men and women. While I didn’t sit down & compare exact figures, to me it looked like there were less female keynote speakers at Beef 2018 than in 2015.

I’ve heard many other people discussing all of the above privately, but haven’t seen any of it spelt out publicly. Nobody wants to risk being left out in the cold.  With the recent announcement of changes to Beef Australia management, it’s time for an open conversation about the best way to run future expos.

Beef Australia, Rockhampton – the week-long expo includes a myriad of events, beginning at sunrise each day and continuing long after sunset.

None of the above comments should take away from the efforts of the fabulously hardworking volunteers who have been involved in running the event over the last 30 years – many of whom have donated a vast amount of time and energy and done a great job.  Beef Australia is a fantastic gathering and clearly very challenging to manage – financially and logistically.

But Beef Australia has outgrown its current structure. It is time for a big broom and a rethink of how it can be run in 2021 and beyond.  Usually I’m the last one to advocate importing expertise. But in this case it would be fantastic if we could employ cattle industry event managers from the land of the biggest stockshows in the world – the US.  This would have multiple benefits:

  • Objectivity (no more nepotism or parochialism)
  • Higher standard of professionalism (many US livestock events are massive, and run like well-oiled machines)
  • Mentor local livestock event managers
  • Forge stronger international beef expo links – with reciprocal benefits
  • Hybrid vigour!

Looking forward to a much-improved Beef 2021.