One of the most exciting and challenging roles I have embraced as a Designer, is the South East Queensland District Exhibit. These exhibits are the largest of their kind in the Southern Hemisphere and are not for the faint hearted. 200 sqm’s of exhibit, constructed on a 20 degree slope, a complex list of strict rules and guidelines, a tiny team of volunteers and only 10 days to complete the build.
It all began back in October 2016 when I first sat down for an informal chat with the President and Vice President of the SEQDE Committee. They had been searching for a new Designer for 18 months to no avail. Loving a challenge as I do, I immediately raised my hand to take on the position, although I admit, the magnitude of the role still eluded me at the time. I sat down to work on some preliminary sketches and to digest just how large the exhibits are. There are five (5) in total, all nestled together under the Woolworths Fresh Food Dome and have been a significant draw card to The Sydney Royal Easter Show for the past 113 years.
It was late October when the Committee formally offered me the role. With on site construction to begin in March and an overwhelming amount of pre-fabrication required, I immediately began the search for a Graphic Designer and Printer to assist with the all important story telling that was to be the backdrop for our design. Additional meetings with the Committee were required to discuss and finalise the details before the Christmas shut down began. Samples of seeds, construction materials, paint and accessories all required immediate sourcing and hasty delivery. Our four (4) competitors were all from NSW and would benefit from a team of volunteers. I was to learn upon arriving in Sydney, that the exhibit build team for South-East Qld was to consist of a meagre four (4) members. My ever supportive husband, a father and son team from up north and myself.
With a Christmas holiday to New York already booked and much awaited, I arrived home in January to a flurry of activity. The printer we had engaged didn’t resume until late January and their price was completely out of our ballpark. Thankfully a new printer was found, engaged and had the graphics ready for pick up within a week. Now came the hard part. Each image had to be cut individually from the core flute panelling, layered onto an MDF background, seeded, sealed and wrapped ready for transportation to Sydney in the last week of March. I had 6 weeks to cut, glue and seed 17 pieces of fruit and more then 45 letters. Many of the seeds required tinting prior to use to ensure the fruit looked as real as possible and I had absolutely no past experience doing any of this!
Embracing the challenge and all that it encompassed, not least being that I reside in an apartment and the majority of the work was to be completed from home, I set up the cutting mat on my coffee table, recycled cardboard boxes on my balcony for the intricate tinting process and commissioned the dining table for final sealing. The rest was a learning curve and borne of years spent creating, a passion for colour and the perfectionistic, attention to detail that I have equally cursed and nurtured throughout the years.
With my beautiful rescue dog Winnie to keep me company I began the arduous, yet exhilarating process of watching the exhibit come to life beneath my finger tips. 10-12 hours a day, arched over each piece of fruit, each letter, ensuring that each new layer of seed, each tint was as close to real as possible. The sheer scale of many of the pieces made them a mission in themselves. The uncut pineapple measured 2.7 m high x 1.2 m wide alone!
March 22nd eventually arrived and all pieces were complete, carefully wrapped and loaded into the truck bound for Sydney. We packed our bags and flew out of Brisbane four (4) days later, meeting the rest of the crew at Mascot. A lively dinner that evening introduced us to the competition from Northern NSW and soon had everyone enjoying an easy camaraderie. With only 10 days to complete the build, stage and light the exhibit, the work load would be heavy, the days long and tensions sure to be high at times. This moment of light hearted banter was an all important one.
We arrived at Homebush before 6:30am on Monday, 27th March and after checking my beautiful fruit had made it safely to Sydney, I quickly strode out into the Dome to view the blank canvas that was to be our exhibit. I was dismayed to find the labourers still installing the safety rails and that access was not permitted until they were complete. This was to be the first of many curve balls to be thrown my way.
Errors on the all important CAD drawings ensured that measurements would be incorrect when I most needed them not to be. We lost more then half a day working on the actuators designed to lift the lid on the box with a final call made at 1:30pm on day 3, that the lid automation would have to be aborted if we were to complete the build on time. Thankfully I’ve always been a ‘plan B’ kind of girl, so I quickly tweaked the design … we would display an open fruit box instead. The next issue to present itself, was the backing boards behind the main slogan. The heavy overhead floodlights were switched on late in the evening and displayed wide spread damage that had not been apparent under a standard globe. After close inspection, I had to make the agonising call that 10 of the 14 were unsalvageable. Additional paint and seed were now urgently required, not to mention the time to re-create the boards at the eleventh hour. Ten (10) 2400 x 1200 sheets had to be churned out the following morning in the most suffocating heat that dried the glue as I brushed it on. The beautiful, polished sugar cane that I had been admiring out back as it was prepared for judging, was called to action to create a stunning screen bordering my fruit on each side and hiding the remaining four (4) panels from view. AND! In the middle of this all encompassing craziness, Cyclone Debbie hit, created havoc with produce delivery for the Northern NSW and South-East Qld teams and more importantly, caused a great deal of concern and worry for our families back home.
Through all this we overcame. The team stepped up, pulled together and worked like no other. We were first in every morning and last to leave every night. I barely took a break to keep on top of the seeding and preparation required so as not to inhibit the boys working on deck. Our team of four (4) worked alongside the NSW teams of 30-40 volunteers. Each piece of fruit, each vegetable had to be individually placed. Saw dust laid to prevent slipping, sugar cane wired to keep the prize winning grammas and melons in place. Macadamia and peanut husks were laid down to create a soft, decorative bed for the produce and hundreds of sorghum stems formed a small forest of scarlet colour, each stem threaded through individually drilled holes. Vibrant jars of honey, preserves, olive oil and jams needed individual steps to do their beauty justice and a field of wheat, soft woollen fleece, fragrant herbs and an assortment of nuts needed their own custom made crates. The list of minute details on this vast 200 sqm exhibit were endless and each task was meticulously ticked off as the days flew by.
When we finally downed tools at close to 7pm on the final day, I can honestly say that there is not a thing I would change. Not a corner that I cut and prouder of my team, my wonderful husband and even my little girl who helped out tirelessly behind the scenes, could I be. The Exhibit Design and Build was more then a role. It was an experience and one that I will cherish forever. I accomplished something that many said I couldn’t and as with most projects that I undertake, I learned a lot. Although we didn’t win the prize for best exhibit, it was a closely fought battle and I am delighted to report that we were an integral part of something so much bigger. South-East Qld District won the shield overall for the first time since this all began 113 years ago!
For those of you that enjoy these exhibits every year, and those of you who have now added them to your bucket list, I hope you have a better understanding of what goes on behind the scenes and the crazy determination, tireless effort and tenacity of the teams that do such a wonderful job year after year.
Blessings, Kim x