SHOW STALWARTS: Lee and Noel May have been Clifton Show Society stalwarts for many years and are both honorary life members of the society.
SHOW STALWARTS: Lee and Noel May have been Clifton Show Society stalwarts for many years and are both honorary life members of the society.

Heart trouble at 16 hasn’t stopped Noel enjoying life

AFTER surviving groundbreaking heart surgery at the age of 16, Clifton's Noel May has lived his 76 years to the full.

The accomplished horseman and show society stalwart has faced many health challenges during his life and faces yet another complicated surgery this year, in the hope it will extend his life.

Noel was born in the Pilton Valley on his family's dairy farm, the youngest of eight children.

His father Bill died when Noel was just two. His mother Bridget reared Noel, his brother and six sisters, and put them all through secondary school.

"Mum did it pretty tough, rearing the eight of us. We had no motor vehicle until my brother Matthew (Roady), came back from the war and share-farmed for us," Noel said.

Noel and his siblings milked 17 cows before school, then walked about 5.6 kilometres to the Upper Pilton Primary School. Until Noel got his first pony, Surprise.

"She WAS a surprise. Roady gave her to me when he came home from the war," Noel said.

"I rode my pony to school and took part in what they called, back then, polo sports. We used to have polo ball races at the Pilton racecourse. We'd hit the ball around the track, while on horseback," he said.

"I remember Logan Hoey from Spring Creek beating me in one race and I received a girth for second place."

Noel was raised when children had to work hard on the farm. He recalls cutting burr and fixing fences for six months. One of his fences still stands, out Pilton way.

He did his scholarship at Downlands College and boarded in town before his mother moved to Toowoomba.

After leaving school, Noel worked for Toomaroo Pastoral Company as a trainee sub accountant in Toowoomba. He was sent to one of the company's properties, Dynevor Downs at Thargomindah, to sort out the books. He stayed four months.

"The company had 17 properties and I went back out the following year as a jackaroo," Noel said.

"We had a very good manager and he taught me a lot. The horse breaker was Don Lyons, now at Killarney. I was his off-sider. I ended up head stockman and worked out there for five years. The property was 104,000 hectares and had 358 working horses - some (were) brumbies and some very well bred."

In 1958, Noel married Lee, a first class horsewoman. He went on to manage two of Toomaroo's properties (Melray and Blairmore) before managing properties in the Goondiwindi, Hannaford, Bonshaw, and Texas districts.

In 1965, Noel moved back to his roots, when his brother-in-law at Spring Creek died.

"I came home to support my sister Eileen and looked after her 200ha dairy farm. It was there that Ken Telford talked me into playing polo," he said.

Noel's polo heritage goes back a long way, with his father first playing polo in 1926. Both his grandfather, William, and father were on the committee that started polo on the Downs in 1895.

"There were 17 teams, in those days, playing in the competition - a far cry from today."

Noel started playing polo in 1967 at the age of 32. He played for 15 years.

"The first tournament I played was a lead-up to the 1967 Australasian Gold Cup, which Queensland hosted at Clifton. The event has gone into recess in recent years, which is a shame," he said.

"They haven't held it for seven years now. You have to have at least two states to play."

While Noel never represented his state on the field in polo, he certainly has, as an administrator.

He was Downs Polo Association president for seven years and secretary for five.

Noel went on to become Queensland Polo Association president - a position he held for 14 years. He was also secretary for three years and treasurer for two.

He served as a board member of the Australian Polo Council for 14 years, was an Australian handicapper and selector for four and is a life member of both the Downs and Queensland Polo Associations.

Noel umpired in London at Windsor Great Park in a game between Oxford and Edinburgh Colleges in 1997. He is an honorary life member of the Guards Polo Club in London.

Noel managed an Australia Test team, which toured Zimbabwe in 1997. Australia won the series 2 - 1.

In October 1968, Noel and Lee bought their family home on the outskirts of Clifton, where they raised their six children - Robert, Russell, Kerry, Duncan, Grant and Jenny.

Noel then worked as a sales representative for multinational companies, such as Monsanto and Coopers. He was responsible for a lot of the trial work in developing products, such as Roundup and Avadex BW.

"I got sick of the travelling, so I gave it up and went working for FE Logan and Sons in Clifton for 18 months," Noel said.

"I was also manager for Queensland, Northern Territory and Northern Rivers for Syntex Animal Health, until I was retrenched in 1990."

After that, Noel kept himself busy doing saleyard reports for the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation on the ABC and 4WK radio stations, as well as for Queensland Country Life newspaper.

Also during that time, Noel served eight terms (24 years) as a councillor on the "old" Clifton Shire Council - five years of which he was the chairman of finance. He served three years as deputy mayor.

"I suffered a stroke in 1994 and that fixed that," he said.

"I was paralysed down the left side and had voice therapy and physio for about three months."

Noel is no stranger to health problems. He underwent major heart surgery at age 16 at the Prince Henry Hospital in Melbourne, as his aorta wasn't working.

"It was the first operation of its kind in Australia and only the second in the world," Noel said. "I have since found out it is hereditary. My grandfather died of aortic problems and Lee and I lost a son at 22 months, due to similar problems."

In 2009, Noel underwent major surgery at St Andrew's in Brisbane and died twice on the table. "I had an infection in my pacemaker, went in to the doctor's on November 28 and got home from hospital on March 18, the following year," he said.

"The doctors had to rewire me, fit a new pacemaker and I had complications.

"My kidneys and lungs collapsed. I died on the table and they hit me with the jumper leads.

"My son said: 'one side don't want ya and the other is not ready for a takeover'."

Noel will most certainly go under the knife again this year for an aneurism on his aorta.

Noel retired as an international swimming official just last year, after 45 years.

He was a qualified referee, chief referee, chief time keeper, inspector of turns, judge of strokes and announcer throughout that time.

And he officiated at local, regional, state, national and international swimming events.

Noel is a foundation member of both the Allora and Clifton Swimming Clubs and the only life member of both clubs.

Yet another of Noel's passions is the show. Despite his health, Noel will still be announcing at Clifton's annual show this week, as he has done for the past 46 years.

He was been a show society member since 1966 and is an honorary life member, along with Lee.

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