When bathing beauties brought crowds to the Cotter | Canberra CityNews

Seventeen-year-old Patricia Munns, from Queanbeyan, won Legacy’s bathing beauty contest in 1952.Contestants, from left, Beth Armour, Valerie Adams, Pat Adams, Patricia Munns and Helen Wiggins.

THE idea of holding swimsuit contests today would raise eyebrows, but there was a time when they formed an important part of the Australian summer.

“Bathing beauty” and “bikini parades”, where bathing belles would pose on stage in bathing suits, were popular events staged in Canberra and the region in the aftermath of World War II.

Patricia Munns receives the winner’s sash.

Although the contests went out of fashion some time ago, amateur Queanbeyan historian Phill Hawke says the events provided an opportunity for community groups to raise money for various projects.

Delving into the history of swimsuit contests in the capital, Mr Hawke says the bathing-beauty contest was the highlight of the Canberra Legacy carnival held each year on Australia Day at Cotter Dam from 1948.

In 1949 some 4000 people attended the carnival with Miss Pauline McGarth, of Reid, winning first place in a field of four competitors.

“Eighteen buses and hundreds of cars descended on the reserve for the carnival, which featured a fishing competition, chocolate wheels, hoopla, guessing competitions and entertainment by the Canberra City Band,” Mr Hawke says. “Legacy raised £200 [$400] that year.”

The carnival grew bigger in 1950, Mr Hawke says, with crowds of up to 6000 people. 

Queanbeyan Legacy Club joined in to help with the running of the event in 1950 and three entrants from Queanbeyan, each sponsored by local businesses, joined the pageant line up.

“The three Queanbeyan entrants were Barbara Daley, sponsored by Quodling Brothers; Lorna Spencer, by JB Youngs and Merle Munns by the Queanbeyan RSL sub-branch,” says Mr Hawke.

“But it was Canberra Chamber of Commerce nominee Moya Johnson who took the crown and won £20 [$40] and a trip to Sydney with Queanbeyan’s Merle Munns placing second and winning £5 and five shillings [$10.50].”

The popular event was not without mishaps. When a tree branch loaded with onlookers broke, wide-eyed spectators were thrown to the ground.

“Three children were rescued and there were a number of minor injuries,” Mr Hawke says.

“The carnival raised £1375 [$2750] for the two Legacy clubs that year.”

Twenty-three bathing beauty entrants were on show in 1951 with five police officers stationed at the event to “control the crowds”.

Eight-thousand people attended and 23 buses were hired to shift people from the city to the Cotter and back.

A 17-year old Patricia Munns, from Queanbeyan, won Legacy’s bathing beauty contest in 1952.

Patricia Walker (née Munns)… fond memories

Now in her 80s Ms Munns, whose married name is Patricia Walker, looks back on the event with fond memories.

The Brisbane grandmother can recall the event, 69-years later, as if it was yesterday.

“I was working at 2CA as a secretary at the time when I got a phone call from one of the sponsors, Don R Campbell, who ran a hardware store in Queanbeyan,” Ms Walker says.

“He bought me a bathing suit and sponsored me for the event. 

“One of the judges on the day had been a former Miss Australia and the swimsuit I got was a Cole of California sold only by JB Youngs in their Canberra store.

“It was a wonderful event. A few weeks later I got a cheque in the mail for £21 [$42] for winning.”

The bathing beauty pageant was a family affair for the Munns family with Ms Walker’s older sister, Merle Munns, entering the competition in 1950 and placing second.

In 1953, the Legacy carnival moved to the Queanbeyan Showground to reduce the costs of bus transport. 

A tiny tots parade for girls between the ages of three and five was added to the program.

“Twenty-one entrants took part in the contest, with all but four participants from Queanbeyan,” Mr Hawke says.

“Patricia Adams was crowned the winner after entering the competition for three years and coming second in 1952 and third in 1950.

“She received £30 [$60] and £20 in cosmetics.”

To satisfy a hungry crowd in 1953, Legacy had arranged for three and a half tons of watermelon, 2400 ice cream buckets and 5000 bottles of soft drink.

In 1954, due to the time and effort required to stage the event, and a fall in profits, Legacy abandoned the bathing-beauty contests.

But in the mid 1960s the Queanbeyan Floral Festival added a Miss Queanbeyan bikini parade to its swimming-carnival program.

“The festival featured a Queen contest and a Charity Queen for the highest fundraiser with Joan Hudson crowned the winner in 1965,” says Mr Hawke.

“Then in 1966, 27 females entered the Floral Festival bikini competition with schoolteacher Barbara Reid taking the trophy.

“There’s no way a bathing beauty contest or bikini parade would be held today, it’s just not politically correct, but back then they were a big part of the Australian landscape.”

Who can be trusted?

In a world of spin and confusion, there’s never been a more important time to support independent journalism in Canberra.

If you trust our work online and want to enforce the power of independent voices, I invite you to make a small contribution.

Every dollar of support is invested back into our journalism to help keep citynews.com.au strong and free.

Become a supporter

Thank you,

Ian Meikle, editor

Source: citynews.com.au

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *