She’s interned for the United Nations, spent her gap year volunteering for the State Emergency Service and she’s about to be admitted as a lawyer to the Supreme Court.
Now, 26-year-old Melbourne public servant Priya Serrao can add Miss Universe Australia to her impressive resume, joining luminaries like Jennifer Hawkins, Erin McNaught and Jesinta Franklin on the pageant’s prestigious honour roll.
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Ms Serrao beat 27 other finalists from around Australia to take the title in front of a packed crowd at the Sofitel Hotel in Melbourne on Thursday night.
She will go on to represent Australia in the Miss Universe competition in a yet to be determined host country later this year.
“I’ve been pretty exhausted because I only had an hour of sleep last night, but I’ve just had a nap and I feel great,” Ms Serrao told The Age amid a whirlwind of interviews, events and appearances on Friday.
Our newest style icon was born in Hyderabad, India then lived in Dubai until she moved to Australia aged 11.
If not for her mother’s Australian visa getting approved in a timely manner, Ms Serrao may well have been crowned Miss Universe Canada instead.
And Canada’s loss is Melbourne’s gain.
Rather than use her gap year to backpack through Europe like many other teens, Ms Serrao asked herself how she could instead “use the time doing some good”.
That question led her to volunteer for the SES, helping elderly residents clear their homes of flood damage and fallen trees after storms.
Before she landed a Victorian government job in the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, she spent two months in East Timor researching legal aid issues for the United Nations.
And if that’s not impressive enough, she will apply to be admitted as a lawyer to the Victorian Supreme Court later this year, about the same time she’ll be jetting abroad to represent Australia on the world stage.
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She’s thinking of putting her $20,000 winner’s cheque towards a masters degree in public policy, and hasn’t ruled out a future career in politics.
“Honestly, if I’m working to benefit a huge group in any way, it doesn’t matter whether it’s as a government employee, a lawyer or whatever – as long as I feel I’m giving back in some way, that’s what I want to do,” she said.
The gruelling journey to be crowned Miss Universe Australia began in February with an Instragram post from last year’s winner Francesca Hung urging women to give the pageant a try.
“When I got through the first stage I thought, ‘Do I really want to spend my resources, my very limited resources, doing this?'” she said.
“But in the end I decided the benefits outweigh the cons. The platform and the opportunities you get, I will never have an opportunity like this again so I just decided to have a go.”
Two weeks of strategically timed annual leave from the government has been filled with interviews, hair and beauty workshops, round after round of culls and a week-long photo shoot in Bali with other national finalists.
On Thursday night, Ms Serrao and the other finalists, some of who she now counts among her best friends, strutted the stage in swimwear and evening gowns. When only a handful of contestants remained, they faced the questions.
The clincher was her response to the question of who she believed was a positive role model for young girls.
“I answered Greta Thunberg,” Ms Serrao said. “She’s 16, she ‘s a woman, she has Asperger’s [syndrome] – and these things didn’t stop her from starting a global, student-led movement for climate change action.”
Ms Serrao said she will use her new-found platform to support small local organizations that promote diversity and inclusion in schools.
But she does admit to one flaw which she hopes to remedy soon.
“I feel like I’m a bad Melburnian – I don’t actually have a football team.”