20 January 2024

Riverina Rewind: The first Miss Wagga Wagga and the 'Ugly Man'

| Chris Roe
Start the conversation
two women behind cafe counter in 1940s

The first Miss Wagga Wagga, Thena Karofilis (left), was crowned on New Year’s Eve, 1948. Photo: WWCC.

The first Miss Wagga Wagga was Thena Karofilis, whose family owned and operated the Bridge Cafe next to the 2WG building in Fitzmaurice Street.

It was later renamed Scribbles Cafe and it was above this building that Thena’s nephew, actor Lex Marinos, grew up.

Back when the Miss Wagga event began in 1948, the contest was divided into five categories for young women and one dubious category for men.

Thena represented Miss Cafe and Fruiterers and competed against the finalists from Miss Sports, Miss Commerce South, Miss Commerce North, and Miss Public Service.

READ ALSO Riverina Rewind: When Wagga Wagga woman Wendy won her wings

The men’s event was titled Wagga’s ”Ugly Man” contest, with the winner to be “married” to Miss Wagga in a mock wedding ceremony during New Year’s Eve festivities.

The Ugly Man competition predates Miss Wagga Wagga and was begun in 1937 to raise money for an unemployed housing scheme and the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children in Sydney.

Local retailer F Copland won the inaugural event and as he stepped forward to have the honour bestowed, he was greeted with a rousing rendition of Why Was He Born So Beautiful.

Mr Copland declared that he was proud to have won but “had never thought he was as ugly as the public, by their votes, had made him out to be”.

READ ALSO Riverina Rewind: The many hats of a Murrumbidgee Whaler

In 1948, two weeks out from the crowning of the first Miss Wagga, the chairman of the Wagga Chamber of Commerce Community Advancement, Mr C M Robertson, declared that the fundraising event was on track to be a huge success.

“The committee was enthusiastic and energetic, and in July launched the Miss Wagga and Ugly Man competitions to be finalised with a street procession, carnival revels and grand coronation on New Year’s Eve,” he declared in his annual report, estimating that the event would raise more than £5000.

headshot of man circa 1940s

Wagga’s 1948 ”Ugly Man” winner, J A Johnson. Photo: WWCC.

Thena was crowned Miss Wagga at 11:15 pm on New Year’s Eve, 1948, having raised a total of £1638/8/1.

Thousands were on hand for a New Year’s Eve Mardi Gras celebration and The Daily Advertiser reported that: “As Miss Wagga candidates mounted the official platform with her retinue, the approach of each group was heralded by a page and a trumpet flourish.”

Thena wore a white gown with a blue train, and was attended by waiting maids in blue and flower girls in white. The group carried blue and mauve hydrangeas.

Mr J A Johnson, the Manufacturers’ candidate, was declared the Ugly Man and, in contrast to the royal garments of his counterpart, he wore a huge and grotesque Mardi Gras mask.

The pair were declared King and Queen for the celebrations.

Overall, the event raised £5306/18/4 for the Chamber of Commerce Community Advancement Fund.

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Want the best Riverina news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riverina stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.