There are few people that can claim such a long affiliation with volunteering for the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria (RASV) than Jack Rae OAM.
During this past week, Jack announced his retirement from the RASV Heritage Committee, formally ending his roles on numerous RASV and Royal Melbourne Show Committees, in a volunteering capacity that extends beyond 70 years.
Starting his farming career at 13 when he left school to assist on the family farm near Dandenong, Jack took on roles milking the cows and working with the horses.
Jack’s affiliation with the Royal Melbourne Show commenced when he first attended as a young boy in the late 1930s and would later purchase livestock and machinery from the event that in those times saw animals arrive by train or simply, walked into Ascot Vale.
In his late 20s, Jack would come to be one of the founding members of the Victorian Agricultural Society Association (VASA) and later, their third President. It was during this tenure that in 1971, Jack was appointed as a councillor of the RASV.
From the outset, VASA had a strong affiliation with the Royal Melbourne Show and in 1956, Jack was heavily involved with the creation of the Show Girl Competition. He remembers fondly the positive impact it had on launching the professional careers of many young women and assisting them to progress in the agricultural sector.
Jack was involved in the Share Farmer of the Year Competition and the Commercial Dairy Herd Competition that provided a platform for young dairy farmers to find their feet and succeed financially.
Known by those at the RASV as a versatile worker with a willingness to assist and help wherever it was needed, he has been a member of the Feline Control Committee, Pig Committee, Dairy Cattle Committee, Horse Committee, Poultry Committee, Caged Birds Committee, Catering Committee, Show Girl Committee, Heritage Committee and Chief Steward of the Dairy Cattle Competition.
It was Jack’s willingness to take on and master these diverse roles that made him the perfect candidate for what was his most memorable role at the Royal Melbourne Show.
It is in the role of Royal Melbourne Show Ringmaster, trusted only to those with an incredible knowledge of and passion for agricultural competitions that Jack is known to many people, having spent 12 years overseeing the proceedings at the main arena of the Royal Melbourne Show.
The Ringmaster would work with a large team of people from all competitions and they controlled everything that happened on the then central Royal Melbourne Show main arena and were responsible for the final decision on any dispute.
The Grand Parade on the old Melbourne Show arena is remembered fondly by patrons and exhibitors. When Jack was Ringmaster, he upheld a tradition of leading the Mounted Marshall’s or ‘Pink Coats’ onto the main arena to commence each Grand Parade. Jack oversaw proceedings from horseback until all the parading animals had departed safely for their stalls.
Despite the Royal Melbourne Show Horses in Action Competition attracting around 5,000 entries per year, Jack saw an opportunity to introduce a breed show component. Whilst staring form a very small base, the breed show would become the ‘Summer Royal’ and at its peak, was also welcoming 5,000 entries per year.
Those that have been connected to the Royal Melbourne Show for many years will fondly recall the parades of animals down Swanston Street. It was Jack and his good friend the late Peter Ronald, a past RASV President, who first met with the Lord Mayor of Melbourne to discuss how a parade of animals could be conducted.
With the support of Melbourne City Council and a team of people, Jack and Peter would orchestrate the arrival of the animals to the Victoria Market site and the movement of horses, cattle sheep and wagons through the busy Melbourne CBD. Over the years, this display included mountain cattleman droving Herefords down Swanston Street and for Victoria’s 150-year celebrations, they drove 1,500 sheep all the way to Government House Drive.
The spectacle of animals and agriculture being in the centre stage of Melbourne received wonderful support from the media. Jack is most proud that these parades, like the Royal Melbourne Show, place agriculture and rural Victoria in the front of people’s minds.
Jack would continue to serve on the RASV Dairy Cattle Committee until 2018 and his retirement from the Heritage Committee in 2020 brings his formal roles with the RASV to a close.
The RASV and the Royal Melbourne Show have celebrated more than 150 years of success due to the volunteering efforts of people like Jack Rae OAM.
On behalf of all RASV members, exhibitors and supporters, we thank Jack for his tremendous service to Victorian agriculture, RASV and the Royal Melbourne Show.
If you would like to learn more about the great people that have shaped the RASV, visit the Virtual Museum and browse the oral history collection.