It was the year that Australia’s biggest reservoir, Lake Eucumbene, was completed, the Menzies Government won a fifth term in office and Baystone won the Melbourne Cup, but 1958 was also the first time regional winners met in Melbourne for the Victorian Miss Showgirl Competition.
It was there that Miss Showgirl Maryborough (south-west of Bendigo) 1957, Fairlie McDonald (nee Burkinshaw), who now lives in Rochester, attended the Melbourne Show for the first time.
‘‘I was not used to the crowds. I’ve been back and I know my way around now but back then it was all a confusion of people, sounds and smells. I only have hazy recollections of the judging,’’ she said.
Despite making it as far as the heats of the state competition, it was not Mrs McDonald’s idea to enter in the Sun Country Showgirl Quest Miss Showgirl Maryborough competition in October 1957.
‘‘I came home for the weekend (from studying in Bendigo) to go to the show and Mum knew about this showgirl competition. I had sheep to exhibit and Mum said, ‘come on dear, I entered you in the showgirl’. She got me a hat, gloves and told me to bring a dress,’’ she said.
‘‘I didn’t know the rules (at the time) but it was mandatory to wear a hat. A few of the girls were ruled out straight away who were without hats. I might not have won either had Mum not jammed a hat on my head.’’
Mrs McDonald, who was 18 at the time, recalled how she felt like a cow being shown when she arrived for the event.
‘‘They walked us round in circles like Jersey cows,’’ she said.
‘‘I was watching Dad ride horses — the horse clipped the jump and I thought, ‘What happens if he falls off?’ — and then I heard my name. ‘What were they reading my name out for?’ I thought, and they said I won.
‘‘It was a bit of a surprise.’’
By the time September 1958 came around, Mrs McDonald had forgotten all about her win and if it was not for a phone call, she might never have gone on to the next stage of the competition.
‘‘I was studying at the Bendigo Teaching College and they sent the material (to my home address) but I didn’t get it as they didn’t have my Bendigo address. I heard through a phone call,’’ she said.
With little knowledge of what to expect, Mrs McDonald got a shock when she arrived at the Centenary Hall where competitors were asked to assemble ready for the state competition heats.
‘‘There was 78 girls from over the state who had won at their local agricultural shows. When I got down there (to Melbourne) the girls parading looked like they were going to Royal Ascot,’’ she said.
‘‘I suppose, had I known the rules, I might have gone more glamorous.’’
Mrs McDonald, who was the only Maryborough competitor to wear a straight skirt, has been involved in shows for as long as she can remember, from riding horses in 1949 to being president and secretary of the Rochester Show, as well as exhibiting and judging sheep.
But when she married, her passion for sheep took a different direction.
‘‘I lost track of everything when I went to college. When I moved to Rochester, I got back into it and started a sheep stud when I married,’’ she said.
■The RASV is looking for former Miss Showgirls to celebrate the competition’s 60th anniversary. Any former entrants can contact Annette Shiell by email at [email protected] or by phone on 9281 7427.
■If you or someone you know is a former Miss Showgirl who would like to share their story in Country News, phone Alana Christensen on 5820 3237 or email [email protected]sheppnews.com.au