BACK IN THE LIMELIGHT
Blossom queens reminisce
It was a feast of reminiscences in Hastings at the weekend as 11 of 17 former blossom queens got together to celebrate the last Blossom Festival of the millennium.
At the reunion was the first Blossom Queen, Shona McDonald [MacDonald] (now Holdgate) from 1957 and the last Blossom Queen, Margaret Ross from 1973 – and many from the intervening years.
Two are known to have died (1961 queen Colleen Tait and 1958’s Deidre French), and some have moved away to locations unknown – but half still live in Hawke’s Bay.
There may have been 17 years between the first and the last Blossom Queen but all those interviewed agreed on one thing – how much they enjoyed their year in the limelight. They did interesting things, met interesting people and went to interesting places.
In the 1950s and 1960s being Blossom Queen was big! The winner became in [an] instant celebrity and was required to represent Hastings far and wide, to open local businesses and generally become Hastings’ mascot for the year.
Shona McDonald had just come home from two years away living and teaching in London. She and a girlfriend had, unusually for the times, decided to go on an overseas adventure before such a thing as an OE was considered the norm. She was encouraged to enter the first Blossom Queen competition by a fellow actor at Group Theatre.
She says she remembers the excitement of seeing such a huge crowd but she had no expectations of winning. When her name was called out, she thought she was one of the people to go off stage.
One of the highlights of her year as queen was presenting a ribbon to Murray Halberg at the Highland Games in Hawke’s Bay. When her year finished, she went to Christchurch and a job as a speech therapist. She married and still lives there.
Helena Hannah was 17 when she was crowned Blossom Queen in 1960. Like many of the queens, she was a guest with Selwyn Toogood on the radio and she won a trip to Surfers Paradise. She went hang-gliding and go-carted down the main street with the mayor.
It was a year of strange, wonderful and interesting things. But it wasn’t all fun. It was a big responsibility being a representative of Hastings and a “funny feeling” having people watching what you did and what you wore.
“I felt very proud on the one hand but wanted to curl up and go back to life before on the other,” she says now.
She moved to Wellington after her Blossom Queen year and began her career as a beauty therapist. She’s not sure she would have gone down that career path if she hadn’t been Blossom Queen.
In those days “girls were only encouraged to be secretaries, nurses or housewives”, she says. Being Blossom Queen opened up a new world and gave her more confidence.
In the 1960s, Hawke’s Bay was like Peyton Place, she says. Everyone knew everyone else’s business and the morals of young women were closely guarded.
But Hastings was a great place and she had “the best teenage years” and an important part of that was the annual spring festival with the Blossom Parade and Hawke’s Bay A and P Show.
“Coming up to show time we would be planning for weeks ahead what we were going to wear because it was the first day to wear summer clothes.”
For the Blossom Parade, all the shops would be decorated and everyone worked for months hand-making paper blossoms.
Blossom season was an important part of Hawke’s Bay life and when she returned to Hawke’s Bay to live two years ago, she says she was amazed at how many people remembered her for being Blossom Queen.
Nicola Hearn from Waipukurau was already on the path to a public image when in 1964, at 18, she was surprised to be crowned Blossom Queen. She had done some modelling for the Wool Board and other companies so her year as queen wasn’t too big a shock. What it was however, was a fabulous, fun-filled year.
When Margaret Ross received the crown in 1973, the writing was on the wall for the annual competition. It had been extended to include Dannevirke, Central Hawke’s Bay, Havelock North, Napier and Wairoa, and was now known at the Hawke’s Bay Blossom Queen.
She entered because someone said there was no one from Waipawa. She was amazed to win and became the last Blossom Queen.
Even though the concept was not so well supported in the post-rebellion 70s, she had a great year. She went to the 1974 Commonwealth Games, won a trip to Singapore and went – as did many of the queens – to the Toowoomba, Australia festival (where 1967 queen Margaret Humphrey now lives).
She launched the Fantasyland ship, opened the Farmers store in Hastings and represented Hawke’s Bay rugby in Christchurch.
Photo caption –
HASTINGS Mayor Jeremy Dwyer is the thorn between many rose blossoms.
From left: first Blossom Queen Shona McDonald (now Holdgate), 1957; Helena Hannah (now Lahood), 1960; Janice Troup (now Tapper), 1962 [attendant, not queen who was Hiraina Hills]; Ann Hughes (now Dotchin), 1963; Nicola Hearn (now Radonich), 1964; Colleen Bishop (now Twine), 1966; Jeanette Tinney (now O’Dell), 1969; Alison Hope (now Tait) [Alison Hall from 2011], 1970; Jackie Hurst (now Bridge), 1971; Glynis Moleta, 1972 and the last Blossom Queen, Margaret Ross, 1973.
HBTODAY PICTURE: JOHN COWPLAND