A rural pageant
The Miss Showgirl competition is in many ways an anachronism from the past. It has survived for over 45 years under the onslaught of feminism, postmodernism, globalization and urbanisation. A worthy feat indeed.
The competition is still popular and the local press are always strong supporters. The 2010 Miss Camden Showgirl competition attracted seven young women.
So what has been the continuing appeal of the competition? Probably the most important criteria have been that it has been true to its aims of promoting rural interests. The competition has always been associated with the major rural festival, the country show, a celebration of rural life.
Showtime, the show ball and Miss Showgirl are representative of notions around Camden’s rurality. People use the competition as a lens through which they can view the past, including the young women who enter it. In 2008 Showgirl Lauren Elkins ‘was keen’, she said, ‘to get into the thick of promoting the town and its rural heritage’. Camden people yearn for a past when the primary role of the town was to service the surrounding farmers and their needs. Miss Showgirl is part of the invocation of rural nostalgia.
The winning showgirl projects the values and traditions of the local community according to Suzie Sherwood, a member of the organizing committee in 2004. She said that ‘the winner will have a strong connection with the community and be aware of rural issues’.
The organising committee seems to be successful at identifying entrants who have a sense of belonging to the local area. After winning the 2009 Camden showgirl competition, Adriana Mihajlovic said, ‘I will tell people that Camden is a beautiful rural country town with a wonderful community’. 2004 Miss Camden Showgirl Danielle Haack said, ‘Camden is a lovely country town and I am proud that I can be involved in promoting it to other districts’. The showgirl competition connects the country town to the city. The entrant acts as a publicity agent for the Camden Show, which is one of the largest regional shows in Australia.
The resilience of the showgirl competition can also be put down to its representation of the changes in rural life and rural women themselves. It is a mirror to the expectations and aspirations of young women. 2010 entrant Karina Ralstan said, ‘She sees it as an opportunity to raise issues concerning rural women’. 2004 Miss Camden Showgirl Danielle Haack felt the competition was an opportunity to raise rural issues and all 2010 entrants were concerned about promoting the importance of agriculture.
Part of the success of the competition in Camden has been its ability to attract young women who want to make a living in the agricultural sector. University of Sydney veterinary science student Danielle Haack said she wanted to ‘improve the quality of cattle’ and her studies will help her in animal genealogy and herd health. 2010 entrant Brooke Mulholland is an owner/manager of a Suffolk sheep stud.
The showgirl competition is a relic of a time when gender expectations stated that rural women were confined by home and family. Today’s young women want a career and travel. Something that the Miss Showgirl competitions have supplied. In 2004 the grand prize at the Royal Easter Show was a world trip for two, and Camden’s representative Danielle Haack certainly felt that ‘a world trip would be a lovely end-of-year treat for me once I finish my degree’.
The competition has given entrants the opportunity to fully experience showtime in Sydney. The annual city visit can be a big deal for those who experience it. 2002 Miss Showgirl Margie Roser stated that staying in Sydney ‘was one of the best times of her life’. She said that her time in Sydney was ‘full of social engagements, media coverage and cocktail parties’. At a local level, the party element is not ignored and the annual Camden show ball is an occasion to ‘frock up’. 2004 Camden Miss Showgirl Sally Watson said, ‘The ball in itself was great fun’.
Over the years showgirls have found that the competition has been good for making friends, personal development and new experiences. 2003 Camden Showgirl Sally Watson said, ‘the experience was rewarding. It is a wonderful chance to network and meet many other like-minded young women’.
Yet showgirl competitions have not been without their critics. The competition has survived in New South Wales and Queensland while not in Victoria. Some have seen it as daggy, while some have seen it as the commodification of women. The entrants defend the competition. Danielle Haack maintained that the contest ‘was anything but a beauty pageant. Some of my friends have asked me how the swimsuit category was going, but it’s nothing like that’.
The competition and the strong field of entrants is a testament to the ongoing popularity of the Camden Show and its representation of Camden’s rurality.
Originally published 28 February 2014. Updated 6 April 2021.