PHO2014_0122.jpg "Queen of the Air Race Contest...1953. Taranaki Contestants Misses S. Hardy, M. O'Neil, R. Dempsey [and] S. Flanigan." (1953). Collection of Puke Ariki (PHO2014-0122).

A good personality and common sense: these were the qualities favoured by judges of the “Queen of the Air Race” contest. Held by Tasman Empire Airways Limited (TEAL), the forerunner to Air New Zealand in operation from 1940-1965, the contest sought skilled young women suitable for the role of Air Hostess. Each town was encouraged to host a local competition to find their representative and to put their mark on the map.

These four ladies – Misses S. Hardy, M. O’Neil, R. Dempsey and S. Flanigan – were the Taranaki contestants vying for the crown in 1953. These women would have been asked to remove their coats and gloves to give the judges a better sense of how they would look in uniform. But this was no glamour show. Judges were not seeking “raving beauties,” and winners were chosen in a dignified manner by private interview, rather than being paraded around in swimsuits.

Contestants were expected to have a good character, and nursing and catering experience helped their chances of selection. Having an interest in sports was important to demonstrate fitness and good health and parental approval was also necessary. Along with an offer of employment the woman crowned Queen received £100 worth of clothing and prizes – a substantial amount in the 1950s!

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