On Farm Day, Kongorong Primary School students show hand-reared lambs, march in pet parade

A headstrong black steer named Wild has broken ranks and spies an exit. He’s making a dash, closely followed by Bill, his handler.

With rope trailing behind him, Wild makes a run for it, but he’s no match for Bill, who knows these antics well.

Soon the duo are back in formation, parading with the group of Kongorong Primary School students in front of expert judges at this year’s Farm Day.

In its second year, Farm Day saw dozens of children bring farm animals and household pets to parade, compete and learn from local agricultural experts, in front of the community and onlookers from nearby towns.

With ribbons and local clout on the line, it’s the culmination of months worth of work preparing and hand-rearing calves and lambs.

The day included whip-cracking demonstrations, a shearing display, lamb and calf showing and a pet parade.

Cows, kids and a stingray
The saying “never work with animals or children” went out the window following the success of the school’s first Farm Day last year.

The committee of dedicated parents, school staff and community members knew it had to become an annual occurrence.

“It’s competitive and not without drama,” said Tania Webb, a local dairy farmer and mother of three.

“The occasional runaway … inevitably follows where baby animals and children combine.”

Eighteen lambs were shown by students this year, along with poddy calves and household animals during the “pet parade”.

“They reared them by hand, named them and then went head-to-head in front of the judges to try and win a ribbon or two,” Ms Webb said.

“The children who don’t live on farms, or have enough room to raise a lamb or calf, can bring along their pet and take part.

“We even had a stingray brought along for the children to learn about.”

A tradition from across the ditch
Growing up in New Zealand, Mrs Webb recalls the school Calf Club where students raised poddy calves to show in front of judges and peers.

“You compete, learn a lot from local farmers and have a lot of fun with friends – and they’re still doing Calf Club 20 years later in my hometown,” she said.

“I just look back and remember how great an experience it was.”

Developing Farm Day at Kongorong Primary School means students can learn more about rearing lambs or dairy calves from teachers, parents and members of the local agriculture industry.

“It’s great to be able to pass on that knowledge and see them so excited to learn,” Ms Webb said.

“It’s a great opportunity to invite others from around the region to our school so that they can see why we think it’s such a special place.

“We also want to bring the community in and encourage our kids to learn about farming in this area and the kinds of careers that are on offer in the industry.”

Despite the threat of storms, this year’s event went off without a hitch.

A ‘small but mighty’ school
According to Kongorong locals, Farm Day has also knitted the school and community together amid pressure from declining enrolments and the drift of some local families into the nearby regional centre of Mount Gambier.

“We might be small, but we see a lot of value in that,” Ms Webb said.

“We have a great community and the community loves this little school. And so do our children.”

Bringing in the community is exactly how the school plans to stay afloat, especially after the doors closed at nearby Tantanoola Primary School two years ago.

In 2019, the school had just three enrolments.

When the bell tolled for the final time at the 137-year-old school, despite the majority of its 26-strong school council voting to keep it open, neighbouring school communities watched on with trepidation.

But Kongorong Primary School is determined to buck the trend of student losses.

“If we can run events like Farm Day and get the whole community supporting the school and students, we can hopefully build up numbers and encourage more parents to see the value in smaller, country schools,” Ms Webb said.

“And the smiles on the kids’ faces as they proudly show off their animals is priceless, it doesn’t happen so much in the cities.

“Speaking to locals there’s a real sense of community from days like this.”