What’s in a ‘Showgirl’ name?

The 2016 The Land Sydney Royal Showgirl Grace Eppelstun.
The 2016 The Land Sydney Royal Showgirl Grace Eppelstun.

For 57 years the word Showgirl has been synonymous with future female leaders in country towns across the state.

Yet, in the context of The Land Sydney Royal Showgirl competition – a feature initiative of the Agricultural Societies Council of NSW (ASC) and the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW (RAS) – it is being asked, whether the Showgirl name appropriately represents what the competition is about.

On one side there are those who value the tradition of what the name Showgirl represents, while on the other, are those who feel the name is out dated.

The debate will be on the agenda when the ASC and RAS meet for the ASC first quarterly meeting of the year on Wednesday at 3.30pm.

At its December meeting, the ASC moved a unanimous motion to support the retention of the current name ‘Showgirl’, but to increase marketing to combat the negative perception.

The 2013 Land Sydney Royal Showgirl Kennedy Tourle.

The 2013 Land Sydney Royal Showgirl Kennedy Tourle.

“It’s been on the agenda for a while now, but we don’t want to change the name,” said ASC showgirl committee spokesperson Peter Gooch.

“Why change what’s not broken, it’s tradition and means so much to the show.”

While participation rate is down across the state, Mr Gooch said there had been consistently 100 zone finalists heading to Sydney for the past decade.

He added the quality of finalists were higher than ever.

The competition started in 1962 with 20 young women entered. Now there are around 300 participants across the state.

The aim of the competition is to find a young woman to act as an ambassador for rural NSW and country shows.

The winner is chosen based on a number of criteria including knowledge of general, rural and international issues as well as presentation, confidence, life goals, public speaking, community contribution as well as volunteering efforts.

While The Land has been involved since its inception, the name of the competition, The Land Sydney Royal Showgirl, has been in place since 1979.

The competition has evolved through time to better reflect the role of young women in our community, and as it moves with the times had in recent years also dropped the word ‘Miss’ from the title.

Community involvement and volunteering efforts are among additions to the judging criteria to come in recent years.

Tim Capp, who is on ASC education committee, said a name change had been discussed for years, but no new name had emerged.

Grace Eppelstun, formerly of Grenfell but now at Tamworth (2016 Showgirl winner), said she did not support a name change.

“I’m participated in Showgirl and was lucky enough to be named a Showgirl winner. Changing the name will change what the future competition will be,” she said.

“The other day my mum pulled out her Grenfell Showgirl entrant ribbon from the 1980s when she participated, I’m sure there are plenty of other families that can say the same about their mothers and grandmothers.”

“With the name comes tradition, it would have to be a well thought out alternative. It would be a shame to lose the tradition.”

Maisie Morrow, Merriwa, who was the 2017 winner, said there should be name change, but it was complex.

She said any name change would need to encourage young women to participate and represent “youthful enthusiasm”.

“I get where they are coming from, but they need to be careful with what it's replaced with,” she said.

Ms Morrow said there was talk of replacing ‘Showgirl’ with ‘ambassador’, but it was similar to Rural Achiever. Another idea was “Show Woman”.

The 2013 Land Sydney Royal Showgirl Kennedy Tourle said the name Showgirl still stood for what it did since its inception, but the competition had evolved over time.

“It has evolved and we don’t need to change a name to justify it,” she said.

“I love the fact it’s based on a conservative idea and what it is to be a woman.

“When you look at the criteria it’s so well rounded. They have to know local, rural and general knowledge and public speaking.

“What else will they call the competition?”

Lauren Elkins, who came third in Sydney 2009, said there needed to be improved marketing for the competition at a grass roots level.

“The caliber of young women going to Sydney far exceeds what it was 10 years ago,” she said.

“We need to look at how it is marketed and tell the stories of the girls of where they are and how they are developing.

“We are losing so many traditions, it would be a real shame to change the name, it’s tradition."

In a statement from the RAS it said: “The RAS and the ASC work together to run the Showgirl competition, and any discussions are in consultation”.