Beauties of Brooklands

Miss Brooklands attracted thousands to the Bowl

HELEN HARVEY
Last updated 10:45 03/11/2012
tdn maree
ANDY JACKSON
Maree Noble-Campbell

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A book about the Bowl's history, which includes a chapter on the contest, comes out this month. Helen Harvey looks at what made Miss Brooklands so special.

Anahera Coleman (nee Watson) is the only Maori Miss Brooklands. She is the only Miss Brooklands to have four little "princesses" attending her. And she is the only Miss Brooklands not to be crowned. Concerned about her beautiful hair, the compere decided to just proclaim her Miss Brooklands rather than risk wrecking her hairdo with a tiara.

In 1960 Mrs Coleman was back in Taranaki after training to be a teacher, when a member of the Waitara Jaycees rang her and asked if she would represent Waitara at the Miss Brooklands pageant. Having been away, she didn't really know what Miss Brooklands was about and thought it was a beauty contest. She said no. When she got off the phone, her father said, "Don't you want to represent your town?" She rang back and accepted the offer.

Miss Brooklands had begun two years earlier in 1958. It was part of the Festival of the Pines, which ran for two weeks at the newly formed Bowl of Brooklands.

The idea for the festival came from a water carnival which was held in Pukekura Park over the summer of 1956-57.

Led by the Highland Pipe Band, carnival queen, Miss VJ Woodhead, was carried into the park on a throne. Following her were several marching teams, girls in their ballet costumes and the New Plymouth Brass Band.

Fireworks completed the occasion which was watched by a crowd of 10,000.

It was the first time New

Plymouth had had anything like this, Friends of the Bowl of Brooklands member Chris Rickards says.

"That was the impetus to the siting of the Bowl and the same float was used for the first two Miss Brooklands. It was covered in flowers and looked like a push- you-pull-me-swan."

Miss Brooklands wasn't a beauty contest, he says.

"The women were selected on their intelligence, wit, knowledge of the Taranaki region, decorum, personality. People such as Lois Finderup were involved in showing them decorum."

Del Hine and Irene Cole tutored the girls and acted as chaperones. They also judged the contest in the early days.

A book, called Bowl of Brooklands, about the history of the Bowl comes out this month. One chapter is on the Miss Brooklands contest and Mr Rickards and fellow Trust member Warren Smith have spent "thousands of hours" tracking down all the Miss Brooklands, their maids of honour and the Hastings Blossom Queens who attended the festival.

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That the women had married and changed their names added to the challenge. Most were on email, Mr Smith says.

"I have made hundreds and hundreds of phone calls to find and identify these people. We had to ring a lot of people and sometimes we got the wrong phone number and they would say 'Oh that's a relation of so and so,' so we would follow down that track."

Their research also meant some of the women who had lost touch, could reconnect.

Mr Smith contacted Sue Orchard who was a maid in 1967 when Nan Taylor was Miss Brooklands.

"They hadn't heard of each other or seen each other for years. I gave Sue Nan's number and they were in touch with each other five minutes later."

All the maids have been found, but the two men haven't been able to locate Mrs Coleman's four little "princesses" Jennifer Still, Lynne Eley, Sally Williams and Michelle Wagstaff.

For the 1960 contest the winner and her maids were announced at the Bowl.

There were 29 contestants and Mrs Coleman remembers thinking, when they named the fourth maid, "I can relax now. That's me done."

But after a couple of false starts "Ana . . . Ana . . ." her name was announced as the winner.

"That's all I heard, everyone just went berserk." Some of her friends jumped into the lake and swam across. I was proud to represent Waitara and my people," Mrs Coleman, whose iwi is Te Atiawa, says.

On the night of her proclamation she was taken across the lake in a yacht.

She wore a gold dress and a red velvet cloak, both with long trains. As they sailed across, Mrs Coleman was standing up, in stilettos, when the wind caught the boom, which swung across and hit her. "I wobbled a bit, but kept my balance."

Maori came from all over to support her on her big night, including bus loads from Te Kuiti, Whanganui and along the coast, she says.

"That was wonderful. When I started off on the yacht, a karanga went all around the Bowl. There was a massive crowd."

When she came off the stage to sit in a box at the front, kuia called her through with a karanga and waved their greenery.

She sat in a box at the front of the Bowl each night of the festival to watch the entertainment.

During her reign, Mrs Coleman was teaching at Urenui and the Education Board gave her a lot of leave to carry out her duties, she says.

Miss Brooklands acted as hostess for people who came to Taranaki, which meant she was sometimes chauffer driven.

One of her prizes was to attend the Hastings Highland Games, which was at Easter.

The Hastings Blossom Queen had first attended Miss Brooklands the year before and continued to be a part of the event.

The 1964 Hastings Blossom Queen, Anne Hughes, made an unusual entrance to the Bowl. She came onto the stage sitting in a basket that was suspended on a high wire, similar to a flying fox.

The wire came down the slope and over the water, Mr Rickards says. "It wouldn't be permitted today."

Peter Pan also made an entrance one year in another flying contraption, that, on the first attempt, got tangled up in the trees.

The first Miss Brooklands, Maree Noble-Campbell (nee Leadbetter) arrived on stage in a much more sedate fashion - in the large flower- covered swan. It had men at either end paddling it along the lake, she says.

"We drew up at the edge of the stage and there was a chair at the top like a throne. I was seated down there with four maids of honour, two on either side."

Like Mrs Coleman, Mrs Noble- Campbell was talked into entering by her father.

"Being the very first one, people were a bit slow at wanting to do it. I was talked into it by my late father. He gave me a little push. It seemed to be something very nice to be involved with."

The contest was run by "a lovely lady" called Stella Hodgekiss.

"We had to do quite a few different things like having suppers out and going and visiting the old folks' home and the hospital."

The 19 contestants had to make a speech to the judges and were asked about Taranaki and its good points, she says.

"They asked 'What would you do if you were taking people around Taranaki?' "

It was a very glamorous affair. "We wore hats and gloves in those days. The dresses we wore for the big production at the Bowl were the most beautiful big huge floating dresses with stiffened petticoats under them." She won a number of prizes, including crystal, pictures, jewellery and the main prize - a trip to the Hastings festival.

"The one thing that stood out was the night of the final judging in the opera house. There was a concert. I had no idea when my name was called out, it was unbelievable.

"It was a very exciting time and I met lots of lovely people. Being the first festival, it was something really special for New Plymouth. I really enjoyed it."

But all good things have to come to an end and for the Miss Brooklands it came in 1983, with the last contest, which was won by Tracey Chilcott (nee Rudling). Her prize was a trip to Hastings and Port Macquarie in Australia to take part in their pageants.

In the book Mrs Chilcott says she appeared on a telethon and presented the trophy to the winners of the tug-of-war competition. "The glue they used on their hands to grip the ropes was embedded in my hand with every handshake until I was unable to let go and had to be prised apart from the last contestant."

Next week: The history of the Bowl of Brooklands.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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