Miss Australia was successfully conducted for 45 years as a major fundraising medium for The Spastic Centres of Australia. Over its duration entrants, their families, committees, sponsors and the general public of Australia raised in excess of $87 million.
The first Australian beauty contest in 1908 was sparked off by an American Newspaper claim that Miss Margaret Frey, winner of one of the first US beauty contests, must be “the most beautiful woman in the world”.
Australians refused to concede this and set about finding a girl to answer such a challenge on behalf of local womanhood. The result was Miss Alice Buckridge who wore boots, scorned make-up and weighed 70 kilos.
Australia’s second beauty contest was staged in 1911 at the Sydney Stadium, but the winner, Miss Millicent Mahy never got around to collecting her prize – a Venus statue valued at ₤100.
Beauty contests were few and far between in those days and the next national competition did not take place until 1928 when Miss Beryl Mills became Miss Australia.
It was the first to be officially named the Miss Australia Contest.
The contest lapsed until 1953, when it was revived by Bernard J. Dowd, Managing Director of Dowd Associates, marketers in Australia of the American Hickory garments, to promote their products.
Contestants were sourced through newspaper advertisements seeking photographs of young girls from which a panel of judges, appointed by Hickory in each state, would privately select a winner.
The Miss Australia Story
Excerpts from ‘Nothing is Impossible’
Written by Neil McLeod with additional material from various sources.
Miss Australia and The Spastic Centres of Australia
In 1954, during a lunchtime conversation, Mr Colin Clay, the Queensland Spastic Welfare League Executive Director, asked Mr G. Moore, the Queensland Director of Hickory, if the Quest could be used as a means of fundraising for spastic children (children with cerebral palsy). This was prompted by the tremendous public interest generated by the judging of Miss Queensland.
This conversation took place the day before the proposed selection of Miss Queensland. Everyone wholeheartedly gave their co-operation and the first ₤200 was raised through the Miss Australia Quest. Thus, instead of being used solely as a commercial promotion, the Miss Australia Quest was turned into a worthy benefit to the community.
Subsequently Mr Clay devised and submitted a plan to Mr Dowd which would allow fundraising by entrants within the Miss Australia Quest structure. In the following year, the plan was fully discussed by Mr Dowd and Mr Kenneth Mitchell, Chairman of the Queensland Spastic Children’s Appeal Committee.
Mr Dowd was particularly keen that whatever was organised should be on a national basis with all Spastic Centres in Australia participating. A telephone hook-up around Australia resulted in the co-operation of The Spastic Centres in each state and the Quest launched in a national format.
The Quest, while it was sponsored by Mr Dowd and Hickory, was conducted in each state by The Spastic Centres and the funds those centres raised provided care and welfare for children with cerebral palsy in that state. The co-operation of that fundraising effort was under the auspices of the Australian Cerebral Palsy Association – the Federation of Australian Spastic Centres. In 1963, Mr Dowd gave to the Australian Cerebral Palsy Association the full rights of ownership of the Miss Australia Quest.
One thousand women participated annually in the Quest throughout the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and the 1980s.
In 1992, the Miss Australia Quest was changed to the Miss Australia Awards to reflect more closely the attitudes, achievements and aspirations of young Australian womanhood and attracted renewed appreciation for their skills, talents and contribution to community life.
The trappings traditionally associated with beauty contests such as the sceptre, sashes and crowns were relegated to the archives in 1991 – Helena Wayth being the first Miss Australia to be awarded a title and not crowned.
Miss Australia ceases operation in February 2000
In October 1998, the Miss Australia Company announced that in February 2000 it would cease to operate this great Australian icon. There were magic moments, even episodes that created national controversy. This was the longest running quest in Australia and the Miss Australia Quest/Awards have forged a place in the history of Australia.
In 2000, the final Miss Australia, Miss Sheree Primmer, was selected and announced for the Australian Cerebral Palsy Association.
Many critics gave the Quest a lifetime of no more than two years, but their predictions were proven incorrect. Miss Australia was successfully conducted for 45 years as a major fundraising medium for The Spastic Centres of Australia.
From 2001, Australia has been represented in international contests by Miss Universe Australia. This title has sometimes been erroneously labeled Miss Australia by the media.