Coolah Central School student Kirina White eyes a sweet treat at the Royal Easter Show. (ABC News: Paige Cockburn)
It’s been a gruelling few years for the children of Coolah, a small town in central west New South Wales.
Bushfires in 2017 burnt through 55,000 hectares of land in the region — immediately followed by 18 months of crippling drought — and there were fears the local school would have to close.
But students at Coolah Central School were finally given something to smile about, winning an all-expenses trip to Sydney’s Royal Easter Show.
- The school won a state-wide competition to attend the show
- It’s been a welcome relief for students who have endured difficult times
- They were given behind-the-scenes access to exhibits and networking opportunities
For the town with a population of 1,300, it was a huge victory after difficult times.
“It just really bust us up … the bushfires, with all the dry feed, and then the drought came into effect straight after … it’s been tough,” student Hugh Wesley said.
Teacher Kate Thompson said people moved away from Coolah due to drought and fire and student numbers dwindled, so the trip has been a real boon for morale.
“Everyone needs a lift.”
Due to the cost of travel and accommodation, a trip like this would normally be out of reach.
The whole town was abuzz as 31 students set off on the 400-kilometre trip to the Olympic Park event.
“They were all jumping up and down, they were loving it,” Hugh said.
“Mum was a bit excited to get us out of the house but that’s alright.”
Only one student had previously been to the show and emotions were mixed.
“I’m a little bit excited, but a little bit nervous,” student Kirina White said.
“It’s really busy, lots of people,” student Charlotte Bennetts said.
The group was given backstage access to everything from to top-class stock and farming technology to wood-chopping, with the ringside entertainment proving a firm favourite.
And even among these country kids, the animal nursery was a hit.
While the trip provided much-needed relief in the form of animal cuddles and fairy floss, the Royal Agricultural Society (RAS) hoped the students would also be motivated to follow in the footsteps of the state’s best primary producers.
“The students get to network with industry leaders, learn how the show works behind the scenes … and if that can inspire at least one of them to pursue a career in agriculture then the program has done its job,” RAS youth group member Joseph Murphy said.
The students live and breathe agriculture and certainly look set to follow that path, with no-one wanting their town to be left behind.
“I’m looking forward to taking this knowledge back home … not a lot of people in Coolah have an opportunity to go to such a major event,” Ms White said.
With severe drought making many local shows across the state untenable due to the quality of produce, Coolah could not have caught a break at a better time.