This article originally appeared online at abc.net.au
Supporters of Miss Showgirl, a competition only open to young, unmarried women, say it still has a place in modern society.
Since its inception, the competition has allowed young ladies to act as an ambassador for their local agricultural show society.
Nowadays, some view it as outdated pageantry from a bygone era at best, or the objectification of women at worst.
However in some regional and rural communities, the Miss Showgirl competition provides opportunities for young women’s advancement that can be hard to come by.
Chairperson of the Queensland Miss Showgirl competition, Ellie O’Hara, said despite a misjudged wider perception, it is an empowering experience for young women.
“To me, the Miss Showgirl awards are the single most important opportunity for young women in local communities,” she said.
“[They can] step up, gain leadership skills and confidence, and ensure we have the viability of local communities through these young women.”
Not a beauty pageant
Ms O’Hara was quick to clarify that the Miss Showgirl competition is not based on the appearance of the girls who enter.
“The judgement of women according to their clothing is most certainly not relevant,” she said.
“The dress standards that we encourage at a state final level are really up to the individual girls, what they’re comfortable dressing in.”
The women are judged on their general and rural knowledge, understanding of the agricultural show movement as well as their involvement in their community.
“We’re really looking at the Showgirl awards being the platform where these young women learn leadership skills [and] personal development skills for themselves so we can have sustainable young leaders in the future,” Ms O’Hara said.
Cloncurry local Mikaela Tapp was named the 2018 Queensland Miss Showgirl at last year’s Ekka and said while it is not a beauty pageant, she sees the benefits in modern young ladies learning deportment.
“Confidence was a big part of my deportment [course], and I think that confidence really shows through with Showgirl,” Ms Tapp said.
“It’s about being respectful, it’s about dressing and acting respectfully … It’s not just about how to walk and talk, but you want to be able to talk to people.”
The popularity of Miss Showgirl has waned over the past few decades, with Queensland and New South Wales the only two states left nationwide running competitions, which may be indicative of the competition no longer meeting community expectations.
Part of the conditions of entry in Queensland remain that women must be unmarried and childless and be under the age of 28.
New South Wales has acknowledged the changing times by relaxing the strict entry guidelines around marriage status of entrants.
Queensland is in the process of reviewing their own conditions of entry.
“We are constantly reviewing our Showgirl awards and the conditions for entry, we are in the process of reviewing that currently,” Ms O’Hara said.
“We just have to wait and see what the members of Queensland Ag shows want, but in the future it’s definitely a possibility.”
The outback town bucking the trend
Agricultural shows remain an important date on the social calendar in outback Queensland.
Despite this, the number of showgirl competitors have been dwindling across outback towns over the past five years.
Mount Isa had no showgirl for the third year running, despite having the highest population.
Regardless of the low numbers, one isolated outback town has pushed to change that with Blackall, a town of less than 2,000 people, crowning their first showgirl in 12 years.
That title went to Blackall local Zoe Barron, who said the reinstatement of the competition has given her new opportunities.
“I’m originally from Roma, and my mum was pressuring me to enter out there for a few years — so when [Blackall] started it this year, I thought I’d give it a go and might meet some new people,” Ms Barron said.
Ms Barron said the Blackall submission was like an underdog.
“We’re smaller than Cloncurry or Longreach, so there is young girls out there but there’s not a lot of them,” she said.
“To be able to find the ones that want to participate and then who wants to run it is pretty hard.”
Debbie Hawkins from the Blackall Show Society was one of the major influencers for the town’s showgirl resurgence.
She said the competition, moving forward, will not need high numbers of girls applying, but higher quality.
“It took blackmail at the start,” Ms Hawkins said.
“It takes a lot of convincing and a lot of hard work, but maybe it will snowball.”
Cloncurry schoolteacher Savanah McDonald won North and Central West Showgirl a mere seven months after moving to the outback.
Cloncurry schoolteacher Savanah McDonald was the North and Central West Showgirl winner for 2019, after only moving to the rural town seven months earlier.
“I get the feeling a lot of the time that women come out to rural towns because of education and teaching,” Ms McDonald said.
“Moving forward, I think there’s a place in professional women to develop that area of themselves.
“I’ve been very lucky, it’s developed my confidence in a lot of ways that I never could if I hadn’t entered the competition.”