LAUREN Mathers never won Miss Show Girl, despite a few attempts at the Barham Koondrook Show as a young child. Perhaps it was the overalls.
"I never ever, ever won it. Mum just did it to keep us happy, so we didn't feel left out," she says with a laugh. "All the other kids would be in tizzy dresses, and we'd be there in our overalls or something, with our jeans on," she says of the attempts made by her and her sisters.
Her earliest memories of her local show include checking out the chooks, the various show sounds and smells, the children's rides and, of course, the attempts at Miss Show Girl. "There were always these girls that looked like meringues, and they always won," she says. "But I'd just go in it because they were my friends."
But Ms Mathers, 28, has scooped the major prize for young people at all of the state's shows. She was 2009 Victorian Agricultural Show rural ambassador at a dinner at the Showgrounds on Saturday night.
The energetic young businesswoman is a partner in a cafe/local produce store in Koondrook, a member of the Barham and Koondrook Agricultural and Horticultural Show Society and secretary of Border Bridge Builders, the organising committee behind the local triathlon. She has completed a bachelor of agricultural science degree and, in her spare time, is a keen triathlete.
In this year's ambassador award she started as representative of her local show society, became northern Victoria's representative, and then won the overall award from a field of about 65 young people representing 112 Victorian local shows.
"Mum was saying last night that we never really won anything when we were kids," she says. "(We won) lots of sporty things but never awards or any accolades or anything. Mum always said that we were always the trees in the school plays, we were trees with no lines, up the back."
But with a trophy and $8000 prizemoney from the Department of Primary Industries in her pocket from the award, she is right when she says she has finally become "a big tree".
After spending a few years in Melbourne and Geelong studying, Ms Mathers returned to Barham in 2002 armed with natural energy and ideas. She joined the local show committee and suggested that it introduce a food and wine section for local produce. It has been a hit with exhibitors and showgoers.
With the food and wine offerings transformed, she has her sights elsewhere. "I really want to get that agricultural side back into it, because that's what it's all about," she says. "I would like to get an expo on a different animal every year, and maybe get the kids to run it instead. Because it's not so serious then, it doesn't matter if your cow isn't the best cow in the herd.
"It's an opportunity for the kids to get involved and show one of their animals. At that level you can get more people involved and the parents would be more supportive."
She also wants to introduce more demonstrations about how things are done on farms, such as shearing demonstrations and ploughing.
And she wants her thriving store to offer the best of regional Victoria and Melbourne. "It's a real meeting spot. We have created a real little culture that you'd see down at Brunswick Street," she says.
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