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Exhibition explores a century of Miss Australia

6 MARCH 2007

An exhibition exploring the glamour and the golden years and the controversial end of the Miss Australia Quest opens at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra this Thursday, 8 March.

Miss Australia: A Nation's Quest traces the beginnings of the competition as a magazine promotion 100 years ago to its ascendancy as a national cultural event and its end in 2000.

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

"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, along with historic photographs and footage of key Miss Australia moments.

Ms Jensen said Miss Australia was one of the most powerful icons created in the history of Australian charitable endeavour, raising more than $90 million for cerebral palsy.

"At the same time, Miss Australia was reflecting changes in the way Australia presented itself to the world," Ms Jensen said.

"Winners were ambassadors for various Australian products and even migration to Australia. For some of the quest's history, Miss Australia also represented the nation at international beauty pageants, but as the attitudes of the winners and society changed, the quest changed with them, to focus more on advocacy for people with disabilities."

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 on show at the National Museum of Australia from 8 March to 12 June, 2007. Entry is free. The exhibition is also at the Melbourne Museum from 1 November 2007 to February 3, 2008.

For images, interviews or more information please contact Dennis Grant on 02 6208 5351, 0409 916 481; Leanda Kitchen on 02 6208 5338, 0438 620 710; or media@nma.gov.au