The 2019 Narooma Huntfest, which has been held on the June weekend for the last seven years, has been canceled permanently.
The cancellation of the festival comes amid community debate about what to do about feral animals and, in a separate but related issue, gun control.
Dan Field, president of the South Coast Hunting Club, which created Huntfest, says that the reason the festival has met its natural end is that so many similar events are now being held around the state, making it hard for stallholders to commit to attending.
“When we first started Huntfest seven years ago, there was us and two other shows in NSW,” Dan says “now there are eleven. Even Wollongong is having one this year.”
While Dan maintains that the decision to end Huntfest was purely business, the local group Stop Arms Fairs in Eurobodalla (SAFE) is taking some credit for the decision.
“SAFE began in 2012 in response to Huntfest and we’d like to think that we have played a role in the demise of HuntFest which we see as a celebration of hunting and killing animals,” says president Alan Baxter.
It seems the two groups are in agreeance about one thing – that local businesses need a boost over the cooler months.
“We created Huntfest for one reason – to bring people to Narooma,” Dan says passionately “the town is dying. And I think we achieved that – we had over 3000 people come to the festival every year and 75% of them were from out of Narooma.”
Alan and the SAFE group also want to see their local community given an economic boost coming into winter and so launched the Animals in the Wild photography competition at Bodalla in recent years, also on the June long weekend, as an antidote to Huntfest.
“We wanted to do something that celebrates our native animals and the competition has the theme of shooting with a camera, not a gun,” explains Alan.
Despite his obvious care for living things, Alan eats meat and admits that there is a national problem with feral animals like rabbits, foxes, pigs and deer.
“There is a legitimate need for farmers to own firearms to control feral animals, it’s killing for fun which we object to.”
Alan and the SAFE group believe that control of feral animals would be better done by experts in a professional and systematic cull rather than by encouraging amateurs.
Dan does not consider himself an amateur and says Huntfest never promoted hunting purely to kill.
“I’ve been around firearms my whole life and one of the primary purposes of Huntfest was to promote the safe handling of firearms,” he says “we also had demonstrations of skinning and butchering and promoted the use of every part of the animal.”
For Dan and other passionate hunters, controlling feral animals combines all the things they love – the sport of shooting, being outside, feeling like they are making a useful contribution by controlling feral animals and harvesting meat in the wild.
It’s any slide towards an American gun culture that alarms Alan.
“Seeing regular people buying automatic weapons and taking pride in them is a worry. I don’t want to see gun laws become less restrictive because Australia has shown that when you reduce the number of guns people can own, you reduce massacres.”
Dan says he hopes that Alan and his team are successful in bringing people to the region with their photography competition and that he doesn’t mind how it happens, so long as tourism is given a push in the right direction.
“This is my hometown,” Dan says passionately of Narooma “I want to see it succeed.”