This article originally appeared in QueenslandCountryLife.com.au
Married women or women with children may be able to enter the Queensland Country Life Miss Showgirl awards under changes proposed for the youth engagement and personal development competition.
Increased scrutiny comes after the Barcaldine Pastoral Agricultural and Horticultural Society announced it would allow married women into its Miss Showgirl competition, while the Longreach Show Society Inc has changed the name of its competition to remove ‘Miss’ from the title.
As the state competition rules stand, that would mean in Barcaldine’s case, if its winner was a married woman as of August 1, she would be ineligible for judging in the state final at this year’s Ekka.
Queensland Country Life Miss Showgirl Awards chairwoman Ellie O’Hara said both show societies were well within their rights to take the paths they have chosen with the competition, explaining that all agricultural shows across the state have their own constitution and can adapt all competitions to meet the needs of their individual communities.
“I am not surprised that show societies are choosing to adapt the rules of the Miss Showgirl Awards to better engage and create more opportunities within their communities,” she said.
“It is exciting that shows value the Showgirl competition enough that they want to develop it to make it sustainable in their communities.
“Any change that increases the opportunities for women to engage with their agricultural shows is a good thing.
“Youth involvement and engagement is key in sustaining the agricultural show movement in Queensland.”
It is 38 years since the Queensland Country Life Miss Showgirl Awards began in 1983.
Claire Jackson, who made history in 2017 as the first Queensland Country Life Miss Showgirl to come from the central and north west sub-chamber, is the coordinator of both Longreach and Barcaldine competitions and said the changes were born out of practicality, not out of wanting to make a statement.
She said the Barcaldine event was returning for the first time in a number of years and in considering who might be interested, it was found that many who fit the criteria were married.
“If we’re going to run it successfully, we had to make it open to all women between the ages of 18 and 28,” she said. “We just want people to be involved in our show.”
Supporting her comments, Barcaldine PA&H president Ben Chandler said that in 2020 it was in everyone’s best interests to alter the entry conditions.
“It allows a broader demographic to get involved,” he said. “I think we’re embracing tradition but being forward thinking at the same time.”
In Longreach, Ms Jackson said entrants were more likely to want to go on to the state finals and therefore the decision was made not to accept married women this year.
The Sunshine Coast Show Society now allows married women and women with children to participate in their competition and various other shows are understood to be contemplating similar rule changes.
The current rule around being single and not having children would affect entrants at sub-chamber or regional level if the sub-chamber didn’t have its own rules and used QAS rules by default.
As the sub-chamber final is where state final selection is completed, if a married woman won a local competition and the runner-up was unmarried, the show society could choose to send the runner-up to the sub-chamber finals.
Rule change up for review
At state level, Queensland Agricultural Shows general manager Trevor Beckingham said they had been reviewing the rules around the awards for at least the last 12 months.
The proposed rule change would remove the judgement on women’s marital or family status, effectively altering the Miss Showgirl Awards to allow entrants who are either married or have children to be a part of the program.
A consultation and review process between Queensland Ag Shows and its members has taken place and the proposed rule change is now up for review with the Queensland Ag Shows board.
Mr Beckingham said at the present time, everything was on the table, which was why it was taking time to go through.
“We can’t be discriminatory, we have to consider all options,” he said.
Even if the QAS board were to agree to the proposed change in the next couple of months, the earliest it could come into effect would be in the show year prior to the 2021 state finals.
Commenting on the possible situation this year where winners may be ineligible for state judging, Mr Beckingham said the competition was about more than crowning someone at the Ekka.
“It’s giving opportunities for personal development and exposure,” he said. “Some entrants don’t want to go on, they’ve gotten out of the competition what they want at a local level – confidence and a network to draw and the like.”
On the question of being inclusive for young men, Ms O’Hara said Queensland Ag Shows ran the Rural Ambassador Awards as well as the Miss Showgirl Awards, and the former was open to both men and women.
It seeks entrants who have a strong affiliation with agriculture and agricultural shows.
“The Miss Showgirl Awards is an entry level competition for women who do not require specific prior agricultural industry knowledge or firsthand experience,” Ms O’Hara said.
“We seek women engaged in their communities who either are already involved or looking to become involved with their local agricultural show.
“Our mission is to ‘recognise, develop and celebrate young female leaders in our communities’.”