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Monica champions agriculture

May 18, 2019 | Features

Agricultural shows, with their ballyhoo and eclectic mix of rustic exhibits, have long been the highlight of the social calendar in many Australian country towns, and nobody knows more about them than Maleny’s own Monica Skerman.  

by Judy Fredriksen

She’s been the familiar face in the Maleny Newsagency since 1987, always quick with a friendly jibe as you pick up your newspaper or magazine. But many locals may not be aware that Monica has not only been a mainstay of the Maleny Show for 40 years, she has also been an elected delegate of Queensland Ag Shows, the peak body for the Agricultural Show Societies in Queensland (all 127 of them!) for ten years. 

Born and raised on a farm near Esk, Monica was introduced to the world of agricultural shows by her father at a very young age.

“Dad was very involved when I was growing up. He entered prime cattle, he was a steward and then he became president of the Esk show. So I was around shows all my younger years,” says Monica.

After moving to Maleny in 1975 with her husband, Fraser, who was also involved with shows, Monica didn’t know anyone and thought volunteering at the show would be a good way to meet people.

“I started out buttering bread,” she laughs. “Then I went up to help steward the dairy cattle.”

Monica spent many years as a dairy steward at Maleny before becoming a member of the executive.

On a trip to the Brisbane Exhibition (Ekka) one year, she was asked to help out “for the day” in the Illawarra cattle section. “Fraser had been helping people for 33 years at the Ekka and through all the different shows, I was known…”

Monica ended up ‘filling in for a day’ for 12 years.

Eventually, Monica found herself on the board of Queensland Ag Shows, organising competitions for young judges and paraders – something she delights in.

The aim of these competitions is to develop the judging and parading skills of young people to ensure a selection of experienced judges for future agricultural shows. The young judges have to justify the reasons for their choice, thus improving their communication and presentation skills.

“This is where we get our next judges from. Once a competitor wins a national title or even state, they are entitled to become an associate judge or a judge.”

Young judges and paraders is just one of the competitions run by Queensland Ag Shows. They also seek out future leaders with the Marsh Rural Ambassador Award. This is for young people who symbolise the rural spirit – people with vitality who are forward thinking and with a passion for the land and local agricultural shows.

Another is the challenge for the Queensland Country Life Miss Showgirl. This is not a beauty pageant; the winner must demonstrate a genuine interest and knowledge of rural Queensland and have a keen awareness of the contribution that women make to our rural societies.

Several young people from the Sunshine Coast region have been successful in these competitions, a fact that Monica finds very gratifying. “When they win I don’t know who gets more excited… them or me!

“Some of the young people end up getting a paying job, especially the paraders in stud beef and dairy. People employ them and let them go out and train and lead their cattle at shows.”

The judging competition is not just for cattle though, it extends to the cooking section as well, and winning the best ‘dark rich fruit cake’ is the most coveted prize of all, apparently. And in an era of equal rights, the blokes can be fiercely competitive. “It’s all about bragging rights!” she chortles.

In multi-cultural Australia, the original purpose of agricultural shows is still relevant in today’s society.

“The shows are now going back in time to bring their culture in. It’s all going back to education, where your food comes from,” Monica shares.

Many children and adults do not know things like how cotton seed is processed to become the clothes we wear, so last year, Queensland Ag Shows displayed boxes of grain, wool and cotton at the Ekka so city folk could see the raw product.  

In the same vein, “the Maleny Show invited local producers to show their product, for example beef and honey, in our local ‘Paddock to Plate’ section. A lot of shows are adopting that”.

The Maleny Show’s Gumboot Ironman competition is a test of skills for young farmers

Despite droughts and floods, the agricultural shows are still going strong; the numbers have not dropped in the last year and schools are becoming more involved.

“Maleny Show would be the biggest community-backed show. During our setting up week, we provide lunch for 40 or more people nearly every day. The high school students bake a lot of the cakes for the volunteers for the week before the show.

“A lot of schools have cattle and they travel to show them. There are four or five schools in Brisbane. Some even have meat sheep and alpacas.

“Newcomers (to Maleny) come down to help just to meet people. They say there’s a pride in saying ‘we helped to do that’.”

Monica’s message to those readers who may never have experienced an agricultural show is: “Maleny has the nicest grounds and one of the best pavilions – just come along, put your name down and get to meet the people in your town. You will be welcome with wide open arms!”

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