Showgrounds host a lot of different activities, and may have a variety of buildings and other structures – grandstands, arenas, racetracks, pavilions, parking areas, amenities blocks and sheds. Usage can range from small and large groups of regular, low-key users, to major events attracting thousands of visitors.

For Crown land managers (CLMs), the diversity of assets and nature of activities carried out at the showground adds to the complexity of managing showgrounds.

Some of the key considerations for managing a showground include:

  • Employing a caretaker – depending on the facility, the caretaker may be responsible for day-to-day ground management, including collecting fees.
  • Recruiting and managing volunteers.
  • The nature of activities and number of visitors using sports ground facilities means risk management and health and safety are core management issues.
  • Insurance. – with potentially many users and varied activities, make sure you have adequate public liability and personal accident cover for visitors, volunteers and other workers.
  • Obtaining funding and other fundraising ideas – at a minimum you’ll need funds to maintain the facilities, and more again for upgrades or developments.
  • Leases and licences – when appropriate, issuing a licence to regular users can pass responsibility from the CLM to the user.

Lessons from Wingham Showground

Wingham Showground is in the Manning Valley on the mid-north coast of NSW. It’s managed by the Wingham Showground CLM, with a seven-member community volunteer board responsible for the care, control and management of the grounds.

The showground hosts a number of events, some of which are major annual attractions in the Manning Valley. These include the annual show, summertime rodeo, Wingham Beef Week, and the Akoostik Music Festival.

It is also home to the Spinners and Craft group, farmer's markets, an indoor archery club, the Manning Valley Rock Hounds Lapidary Club, a men's shed, a pony club, a campdraft club and Manning Junior Rodeo Association.

In addition, there is an on-site caravan park and a hall/ tea rooms, available for hire for private functions.

CLM President Robert Walsh and Secretary Denis McKinnon shared their thoughts on key aspects of managing a showground.

Charging users commercial rates

“It’s important to charge commercial rates for the showground, venue hire and the caravan park”, says Denis.

Robert adds, “It can’t be too dear. But it can’t be too cheap, because when the power and water bill comes in you’ve got to be able to cover your costs”.

At Wingham, the caretaker collects fees for casual use. The regular one-day horse ground users are charged a daily hire fee plus a levy for each participating horse. One-off hall hire (for parties, etc.) is charged at a daily rate, with a refundable security deposit.

Managing user groups

All user groups are issued with a one year short-term licence covering their particular usage. They’re also required to hold public liability insurance, and produce a copy of the insurance certificate.

“We have quarterly meetings with user groups”, says Denis. “It keeps them informed and makes them feel part of the showground management.”

Employing workers

“For ground maintenance and building maintenance and repairs, we have contracted arrangements with an employment agency which provides workers under the Work for Dole  scheme”, says Denis.

“We also have arrangements with the NSW Corrective Services’ Community service work program, which provides workers and a supervisor.”

And when it comes to employing a caretaker, Robert suggests, “Try to find someone that really cares about the showground and has a link with it. Don’t just get any old person who wants a job.”

Roles and responsibilities of board members

“You must have an effective and operable management structure in place”, says Denis. “At Wingham, each board member has a specific role – for example, grounds coordinator, buildings coordinator and so on.

Infrastructure and services

Consider demands on services such as electricity and water. Do your services meet current standards, and are they sufficient to meet requirements for events?

Risk management and health and safety

The numerous and varied assets, as well as the nature of activities and events at showgrounds, make well-considered risk management and work health and safety procedures an imperative.

“Work health and safety is discussed at each meeting”, says Denis.

Denis’s top tips for managing a showground

  • Treat the Crown land manager as a business by charging commercial market rents and hire rates.
  • Having regular income and expenditure statements from the treasurer helps to ensure financial viability.
  • At monthly board meetings, keep accurate records of what was said in the meeting and follow up on what transpired.
  • Have each board member logged into the CLM email account, so they have access to all incoming and outgoing emails. Transparency is a must.
  • At all times, remember it’s the people’s ground, NOT the Crown land manager’s ground.

Useful links

Risk management

Health and safety


Employing workers

Managing and recruiting volunteers

CLM profile story - Show societies gets younger volunteers on board

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