Did you know that this year we’re celebrating 20 years of the National Rural Ambassador Award? To celebrate, we’ve been catching up with the 19 individuals who have held the prestigious title since 2001.

Being handed keys to a buggy to drive in the grand parade at Adelaide Royal Show is an experience Justin Matthews won’t forget from the year he won the national rural ambassador award in 2017. Add co-announcing the South Australian Young Farmers challenge and his first time treading the turf in front of tens of thousands of people and Justin says the program proved to be an incredible experience. 

Justin was working as a laboratory technician and tutor at the University of Queensland Gatton campus in 2017. In his spare time he was never without a camera, finetuning his production work in lighting and sound and capturing fireworks in all their glory, 

These days he’s based in Armidale, NSW and works for CSIRO as a technical services officer in the Farm Operation Division of the Chiswick Research Station. He’s still a keen photographer and lover of all things fireworks. 

Before becoming a national rural ambassador, the only time Justin had been to Sydney was on a stopover to change flights. The experience opened his eyes to the inner workings of some of Australia’s largest agricultural shows and cemented lasting connections.

“Every show does something different and the opportunity to take a peek behind the scenes and pick up new things that I can take back to my own shows – you only need to find one thing and do it really well to continue to grow your shows,” Justin said.

“The opportunity to meet some of the finest representatives from around Australia and New Zealand was so valuable. The opportunity to meet, mingle, network and learn from each other forging lifelong friendships and networks; networks that I can still call upon to this day.”

Being a self-confessed ‘nerd for production’, the chance to experience night programs and fireworks around the country certainly didn’t hurt either, 

Justin says the many ring announcers he had the privilege of being seated with throughout his time as rural ambassador, such as Angus Lane OAM, Tim Tim Dreverman, Lyndsey Douglas and the late Rob Gaylard, all shaped his recent endeavours in the announcer’s ring.

 Since his first time as ring announcer at Esk Show, he’s had the opportunity to announce at shows across QLD and NSW and was the associate announcer at The Brisbane Ekka, Sydney Royal Easter Show and Adelaide Royal Shows.

“Every time I got to sit down with these incredible story tellers I wasn’t just sharing my story and journey with them but with hundreds, potentially thousands of people,” Justin said. 

“I was welcomed into the broadcast box and always put at ease and had such wonderful conversations with them both on the air and in private watching the events of the day.”

Justin’s involvement in his local show started early. He was a keen participant in the led and hack classes with his stock horse gelding, showed stud cattle and led steers, a dab hand in the cooking section who  recently threw his hat in the jams and preserves rings, and later showed in Brisbane Ekka during his boarding school days. 

More recently he’s worked behind the scenes as a technician covering sound, lighting and show management. He’s also been the steward and Chief Steward at the Brisbane Ekka responsible for the Experience Beef (Beef Education) program, and the Ring Steward at the Sydney Royal Easter Show in both the  Stud Beef and Dairy Sections.

Through it all, Justin says his family have been his number one supporters. 

“My family were certainly key drivers encouraging me to participate in the competition. My late Grandfather was an incredible supporter of me in my journey as a rural ambassador. Sadly he passed away just days before the National Finals in Melbourne but I know he’d have been exceptionally proud,” he said. 

“My parents have always encouraged and supported me to participate in shows from Led Classes with our Stock Horses, to the cooking section, right through to my progression from our local Show of Nanango through to the National Program.”

Justin credits the rural ambassador program with giving him the courage to push past his comfort zone and find new strengths. He says it’s opened countless doors, with many more to come. 

“I will be forever grateful for the opportunities that the program has provided me. The people I’ve had the opportunity to meet and the networks built, the doors opened and the contacts made,” he said. 

“Often the best conversations come from people reading your name badge and asking just what it’s all about. Try everything and don’t knock back a chance to try something different. Every opportunity has a story to be told and a passion to be discovered.

“I never thought for a second I’d be helping educate and entertain ten thousand people about agriculture but this program has helped open the door to these opportunities.”