Mary Hollingworth has been volunteering at the Sydney Royal Easter Show now for 13 years and said she loves every second of it.
When her name was announced at the Royal Agricultural Society Council Table of 20 dinner last week as this year's Champion of the Show -- selected from around 500 others who volunteer their time at the huge event -- she was shocked but very honoured.
"I was thrilled beyond words," Mary said.
It all began when Mary was invited to apply for a steward's position in the Easter Show's Fine Arts section, based on a five-year stint she had just completed as president of the Glen Innes Show Society's Ladies Auxiliary.
Then five years ago she became a member of the Fine Arts Auxiliary Committee, which involves three meetings in Sydney a year even before preparation for the show gets serious 10 days out. That's when she and other stewards start 'bumping in' entries into the various sections including art, leathercraft, sewing, knitting, decoupage, paper toille, beadwork and other craft media, along with non-perishable bakery.
This year there were 4500 entries to be allocated correctly according to the schedule, and it's a two-day process. This is followed by three days providing administrative support to around 40 judges who are artisans performing at the highest level, Mary said. They come from all over Australia to judge the best of the best.
"They're well-known and respected in their field.
"Bill Webb travels from Toowoomba to judge the leathercraft, for instance, and that shows their dedication and commitment.
"There are other Royal shows but Sydney is considered to be the top of its field. As soon as one show finishes some people immediately start working on their entries for next year's show."
A recording error could change the course of history, but Mary is proud of the fact that not a single mistake was made this year. This is becoming a little easier as technology advances. When she began all entries were manually recorded. Now they're scanned.
"We have to work with the judges in a professional capacity and record accurately, and there's a code of conduct," Mary said.
Although it's a huge responsibility and it's all done on a volunteer basis, Mary considers the Easter Show "my little treat for the year", thanks to the great camaraderie and electric atmosphere.
"And you get to know the regular entrants and I get to show photos of my four grandchildren. We're like one big family."
She joined Royal Agricultural Society NSW general manager Murray Wilton in shedding a tear (or two) last year when the decision was made to cancel the Easter Show due to the pandemic, and in rejoicing when news came 12 months later to the day that this year, the show would go on.
As exhausting as the commitment is, Mary wouldn't have it any other way. On Thursday she returns to Sydney to 'bump out' the entries, another huge logistical exercise dispatching the 4500 returning and purchased items to their owners, often by post.
This will be the latest of five stints she's had in Sydney over the past three weeks alone. It's a seven hour drive if she does it all in one hit but she takes her time, often breaking up the trip visiting friends and family.
"If a couple of years ago you told me I'd be driving in Sydney traffic I would have said you were crazy."
To be named 2021 Champion of the Show is the ultimate accolade and also takes into account volunteering outside the Sydney show. In Mary's case she feels the work she does as a cookery and handicraft judge for NSW CWA throughout the state contributed to her selection.
"Sometimes things happen in life that take you by surprise," she said of her shock announcement at the dinner.
To her the role of steward feels like working alongside her friends, and she's already looking forward to doing to all again next year.