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June Dally-Watkins (right) with Elly Lee, the winner of the June Dally-Watkins Modelling Scholarship Award, in April 1967. Photo: Handout

Hong Kong modelling contest that was ‘chance in a million’, with the winner guaranteed a job, free clothes and flights

  • In 1966, Australian model-turned-businesswoman June Dally-Watkins announced she would turn one underprivileged Hong Kong woman into a top-flight model
  • Multiple big-name sponsors promised that the winner would not need to spend a penny for her potential modelling career

“A Hong Kong girl will be given a chance of climbing to success on the rungs of a ladder to a top-flight modelling career,” the South China Morning Post reported on September 4, 1966.

This exciting news came when the Australian model-turned-businesswoman June Dally-Watkins, who was on a brief visit in Hong Kong, said that “when she returned in October with Australia’s first comprehensive fashion collection to give a series of charity fashion shows, she would select a local girl to take back with her”.

Dally-Watkins – who had, in 1950, set up a finishing school in Australia bearing her name – said the girl would be personally groomed by her to be a model.

“I want a girl from an underprivileged area. Some girl who would never have the chance of such a career without help. She should be a girl of character – perhaps someone already serving with one of the voluntary auxiliaries or interested in youth work,” Dally-Watkins said.

June Dally-Watkins in her younger days as one of Australia’s top models. Photo: Handout

Multiple big-name sponsors promised that the young woman chosen would not need to spend a penny for her potential modelling career.

According to the Post article, Philippine Air Lines said it would pay for her flights to Australia, the Shui Hing Company in Hong Kong said it would provide her with clothes, the Australian Chamber of Commerce promised financial support and Dally-Watkins herself vowed to train and help the girl with her career. Even a job was guaranteed – by Revlon, the United States-based cosmetics company.

“It’s a chance in a million,” a Post article mused on September 23, in reference to the offer made by Dally-Watkins. “The offer is open to girls, both single and married, until October 4. Forms are available at Revlon counters.”

On October 4, Dally-Watkins returned to Hong Kong as promised, “to present fashions from Australia”, according to a Post report published the next day.

Dally-Watkins (middle) with models in Hong Kong in 1970. Photo: Handout

Finally, on October 12, the winner was announced. “Luck holds for shy H.K. girl,” a Post headline said the next day. Elly Lee Oi-lin, who lived near the YWCA children’s nursery in Yau Yat Tsuen in central Kowloon, had “won the June Dally-Watkins Modelling Scholarship Award given in conjunction with the show and will fly to Sydney early next year”.