THIS Saturday will mark 80 consecutive years of the Mil Lel Spring Show and stalwart volunteer Derry Clayfield has been involved in some capacity at almost every one of them.
Mr Clayfield has missed only four of the 79 previous Mil Lel shows and served as committee secretary and later treasurer for three decades.
“I competed in the horse riding events at the second show in 1939 when I was eight years old,” he told The Border Watch yesterday.
“My first recorded win was the juvenile hurdles in 1943 – I was the youngest rider.
“Back then we had a lot of novelty events, it wasn’t so much about how good you were at riding.
“We had a pony called Swanny and he virtually knew what to do whether you told him to or not – he was that well practiced at those events.
“I competed until I was 16 and after I stopped riding I started volunteering and I have been involved ever since.”
Despite “shocking weather” on several occasions, Mr Clayfield said the Mil Lel show had never been cancelled.
“We have had some awful wet and horrible days, but it has never been cancelled and postponed rarely,” he said.
“I remember riding down to Mount Schank for the show one year in the pouring rain only to find out they had cancelled the show.
“The next week it was raining again, but we went back anyway and it ended up being a fine afternoon.”
Mr Clayfield recalled the only time the date of the Mil Lel show was changed from October to December due to an unprecedented Western Border Football League Grand Final replay.
“In 1956, East Gambier Football Club made it into the grand final and they had a dead heat and had to play another game the following week,” he said.
“All the committee members were staunch East Gambier supporters so they put the show off and it was held in December – it was one of the lowest attendances.
“Incidentally that was the first show I missed – I would have made it in October, but in December I was in hospital after my appendix burst.”
While traditional country shows have steadily declined over the years, the Mil Lel show has endured.
Committee member Yvonne Johns – whose father was show society president for decades – said the event had experienced continued success because the next generation of Mil Lel residents had picked up the mantle.
“The secret to the success is the young ones have stepped up to take it on,” Ms Johns said.
“We were at the stage where it was just a handful of worn out people and then the school and a number of young parents stepped in and it has just taken off wonderfully.
“Now it is a great family day out and gets bigger every year – we had a crowd of 2500 last year.”
For long-time committee members Ms Johns and Margaret Douglas, a family connection prompted their involvement.
“Our parents were involved so we have had something to do with the show since we were kids,” Ms Douglas said.
Mr Clayfield said he was simply passionate about the community.
“I’m a Mil Lel-ite I suppose, I’ve lived here all my life and I still do,” he said.
“I just love Mil Lel.”
See our special Mil Lel Spring Show feature on pages 14 and 15 of today’s edition.