Hayley Butler, Lauren Vowles, Renae Ayris, Aleisha Hudson and Elizabeth Moulden. Picture: Michael Wilson/The West Australian

With the sun beaming down and a crowd of more than 200 cheering their support, the conditions could not have been better on Rottnest Island on Saturday when the first seven contestants were sent through to the WA finals of Miss Universe Australia.

Spectators packed out Hotel Rottnest during the Australia Day long weekend to watch 20 local beauties strut their stuff in the first preliminary heats for 2014 across four rounds, in which they donned Harpers Dresses frocks, Cebiche swimwear and dazzling Ruth Tarvydas gowns.

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A judging panel including homegrown Miss Universe Australia Renae Ayris, past State finalist Renee Wauhop and WA pageant director Troy Barbagallo scored the hopefuls on how they held themselves, their intelligence and physical fitness along with that special something Ayris called the "X factor".

The event marked Ayris' last local appearance during her two- month holiday home during the festive season, with the blonde beauty set to return to her new base of Melbourne on Wednesday.

She said she was impressed with the talent among the latest batch of WA contestants.

"It was really hard to judge actually," Ayris told Access All Areas.

"There are definitely a few in there I could see becoming Miss Universe Australia."

Though the final verdict drew tears from some of the unsuccessful entrants, stunners Lucy Ross, Anique Baldock, Brianna Sheppard, Melissa Barnard, Elizabeth Moulden, Lauren Vowles and Courtney Read breathed sighs of relief when they became the first group to go through to the WA State finals later this year.

Moulden, 20, said she was worried she might not make the cut because of being asked her opinion on the controversial issue of shark culling during the dreaded question and answer round.

"My heart just sank when I heard the question," the Willetton bombshell admitted.

"I was like 'How am I supposed to answer this?' It felt like I took a massive pause to think of how I would word it.

"It is something I have been asked about in my group of friends before so I already had an opinion on it."

Fellow finalist Read, of Carine, said the energetic crowd, which included reigning Miss Universe Australia Olivia Wells, who was over from Melbourne to show her support, made it easier to step out on to the runway.

"The temperature got hugely hot which was a struggle to work against," the 19-year-old said.

"But it was so much fun, we had so much support from the crowd and it was really nice to see."

The West Australian

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