Show legend Jack never forgotten

John Follett and Jack Rae at the cattle saleyards preserved in Jack Rae Pavilion at Greaves Reserve, Dandenong. 197282_01 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells and Eleanor Wilson

For more than 70 years, Jack Rae OAM was a legend that spanned not just Dandenong Show but the show scene across Australia.

Mr Rae, 94, who died overnight on 8 December, was a good mate sadly missed by many, says Dandenong Show president John Follett.

“He’d be someone you’d never forget for the rest of your life,” Mr Follett said.

“He’s one who’d be able to bring different people together to work for an ultimate aim – for holding shows across Victoria and Australia.

“He was a person you could work with all day. We’d discuss things and resolve any differences. There’d never be any animosity.

“That’s real friendship.”

As the show celebrated 150 years in November, Mr Rae’s involvement spanned more than half of its life span as a president, committee member and steward.

At national show conferences, so many would approach Mr Rae “just to say hello”, Mr Follett said.

He had “exceptional” judgement of animals, and got involved in every section of the show “whether it was horses, sheep, cattle, arts and crafts”.

“He encouraged a lot of young people to be part of the show scene and in the community in general.

“He was known throughout the community. If he didn’t know of the family, they would know of him.”

As a teen, Mr Rae walked droves of cattle to Dandenong Showgrounds from his family’s farm in Narre Warren North, where he lived and looked out across the Dandenong Ranges for most of his life.

He joined the agricultural show society’s committee as an 18-year-old following in the footsteps of his father, George.

And remained there for 70-plus years helping to organise each annual show.

The fourth-generation cattle farmer was a former show president in 1957 and 1985. He is a life member of the Dandenong and Berwick show societies.

At last November’s Dandy Show, he was listed as the deputy chief steward. He sat in at the cattle section and was guest at the show president’s afternoon tea, along with sister Thelma, brother Bert, daughters and nieces.

“In my mind, that was my highlight of the show,” Mr Follett said.

In 2018, the Dandenong Show Society named its heritage cattle sale ring, the Jack Rae OAM Pavilion.

Mr Rae had been instrumental in saving the sale ring, signage and other relics after Dandenong’s stock markets were closed in 1998.

Similarly, a new building at the Akoonah Park showgrounds in Berwick was also bestowed Mr Rae’s name in 2021.

“Jack wasn’t a man to seek glory but the committee convinced him we wanted to name a new building after him that he was heavily involved in establishing,” said Akoonah Park manager Gayle Joyce.

“His commitment to the park was part of his agricultural commitment to seeing the land improve.

“He was always striving to provide better facilities for the [Berwick] Show and that drove the development of the park.”

When Berwick Show moved from Buchanan Park to its present site, Mr Rae was involved in transporting the show’s rotunda. He was also part of setting up the flourishing Akoonah Park Men’s Shed.

“Without the wisdom of Jack and his leadership within the various committees he has chaired, we’d never have seen the development, nor the financial stability to allow the ongoing maintenance of this beautiful reserve,” Mrs Joyce said.

He was the Royal Melbourne Agricultural Show ringmaster from 1984 to 1995 and received a Medal of the Order of Australia for his services to primary industry.

“He’s a man that played an indelible part in my life, and the mateship that happened along the way,” Mr Follett says.

“His memory will be cherished forever.”