Yvonne Parsons, Jenny Donaldson and Joan Oakes. Photo; Andrew Perryman.

Once upon a time the floats in the Bendigo Easter Parade were fabulous, highly decorative affairs.

Covered in paper flowers, looming over the crowd, they thrilled onlookers with their sheer, highly imaginative size.

The Popular Girl float was always a highlight.

In 1977 when Yvonne Parsons, Jenny Donaldson and Joan Oakes were in the Popular Girl competition, their float was shaped to resemble a crown. It also had a rotating platform.

“We waved to the crowd, just like the Queen, all the time rotating on the platform,” Jenny Donaldson said, laughing.

The Popular Girl competition ran from 1930 until 1991.

“It was all about fundraising,” Ms Donaldson said.

“Most of the money would have gone to what was the Bendigo Base Hospital.”

Last week, three of the four popular girls got together for a reunion and a catch up.

Having raised $10,500, Joan Oakes (Grant) was the winner in 1977.

Second was Yvonne Parsons (Barowski), third Jenny Donaldson (Mill) and fourth was Margaret Evey.

Businesses in the four main streets of Bendigo supported the girls by holding raffles, street stalls and a variety of other fundraising enterprises.

The streets were Pall Mall, Mitchell Street, Hargreaves Street and originally View Street which was later changed to Williamson Street.

Ms Oakes remembers going into pubs with her father selling tickets for a chook raffle.

“I was only 17 and fairly shy. But the blokes would always buy tickets, especially if you had your dad with you.”

In 1977 the girls raised a total sum of $24,000.

The culmination of their fundraising were the three days of the Easter Fair when the young girls would attend festival events.

But the main night was the Cabaret Ball when the mayor (then Cr Bob Cooper) announced the winner.

“That year was really special,” Ms Donaldson said.

Joan won first prize, which was a 21-day Sitmar Cruise.

“But then they announced that the rest of us, Yvonne, Margaret and myself, were also going on the cruise.”

“We were thrilled to pieces.”

So the cruise ship set off and the Popular Girls danced and laughed the moonlit nights away.