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Miss Australia reflects search for identity

18 SEPTEMBER 2006

Museum of Brisbane (MoB) is set to premiere a new National Museum of Australia exhibition exploring the glamour, golden years and changing notion of ideal Australian womanhood associated with the Miss Australia Quest.

Miss Australia: A Nation's Quest, showing at MoB from 6 October 2006 until 4 February 2007, traces the history of the competition, from its beginnings as a magazine promotion in 1908, to its ascendancy as a national cultural event and its end in 2000.

Lord Mayor Campbell Newman said the Miss Australia Quest was the longest running, most popular and most successful charitable event in Australia's history.

"While beauty and glamour have been intrinsically associated with the Miss Australia Quest, the competition had far broader implications and played a vital role in shaping the social and cultural history of postwar Australia," Cr Newman said.

"The competition has raised more than $90 million for cerebral palsy and paved the way for increased advocacy for people with disabilities.

"Museum of Brisbane is delighted to be the first venue in Australia to host this exciting new exhibition."

National Museum senior curator Sophie Jensen said Miss Australia was at different times a beauty queen, an advocate for the disabled, a trade ambassador and a fundraiser.

"Across the years, Miss Australia was always representative of an 'ideal' Australian woman and this changing notion of ideal womanhood reflects much broader changes in history and society."

Miss Australia evolved from early, intermittent competitions which sought beautiful and cultured women. It became a staple in the 1950s when businessman Bernard Dowd joined forces with the Australian Cerebral Palsy Association to bring new resources, glamour and a good cause to the competition.

The Miss Australia exhibition traces the quest's popularity, which peaked in the 1950s and 1960s, when the national winners were front page news.

The exhibition includes crowns, gowns and other iconic regalia which were part of the competition's history, along with historic photographs and footage of key Miss Australia moments.

The Miss Australia exhibition also follows the competition's changing fortunes, as it faced challenges from feminist and lobby groups for the disabled, declining public interest and participation levels and the debate over whether men should take part.

Miss Australia: A Nation's Quest is a touring National Museum of Australia exhibition.

Open 10am-5pm, seven days a week, Museum of Brisbane is located on the ground floor of City Hall. Admission is free.

For further information about Museum of Brisbane visit www.museumofbrisbane.com.au/ or phone Council on 07 3403 8888.

Media contacts: Museum of Brisbane, Annabel Handley, 07 3403 6618, Annabel.Handley@brisbane.qld.gov.au, or Andra Bite, 07 3311 5399, 0405 225 699, andra@andrabite.com.au; National Museum of Australia, Leanda Kitchen, 02 6208 5338 or 0438 620 710, media@nma.gov.au