In cities, courtship has become efficient in excess. Tinder and other apps can bring intimacy faster than food delivery but for people trying to meet and mate across Australia’s vast distances, it takes more planning and patience.
Bachelor and spinster balls – or B&S balls, a fixture in the country since the 1880s, with about 30 each year – aims to help. And they are increasingly the catalyst for a matchmaking hybrid that combines the digital with the raw, communal and real.
Bachelor and Spinsters Balls (B&S) events are hosted regularly in rural Australia, known locally as “B & S Ball
s” or simply “B&S’s”.
They are staged for young (18 years and over) spinsters and bachelors and traditionally the couples dress up in formal wear. Large volumes of cheap alcohol such as beer, spirits, Bundaberg Rum and Jim Beam can be consumed.
The activities usually start at night and run until morning, but from mid-afternoon people will start to
arrive and the partying/drinking will begin.
Country music is often featured at these events. The interaction starts online, with friends posting photos and descriptions of their friends in a singles’ Facebook group before each ball.
In 2017, two men were convicted of raping a woman at a ball in another state. Another man was sentenced to 18 months in prison last year for s$xually assaulting two women at the Eel Skinners and Duck Pluckers B&S.
The rules against bringing it in go generally ignored and, every few minutes, someone is hauled off after being caught with dye. Glitter, though, is allowed. It floats in the br
eeze, destined to stay in mullets forever. And as was the case all day, the ball itself captures the silly, lonely and romantic.
The first band to perform – Whiskey Business – set the tone, playing upbeat country songs about love and traditional living.
Historically the event was centered on country people trying to find a partner, but in modern times the focus has shifted to having a good time and meeting up with new and old friends, some of whom can live many hours away.
This has changed the atmosphere of the events to such a degree that the dress code is relaxed and many do not wear formal gear, preferring to dress in clothes from opportunity sho
Even when they are wearing formal attire, today most of the men (and some of the women) sport Akubras, boots, and R. M. Williams gear. Some people go in fancy dress, for example, schoolgirls, nurses, clowns, or lawn bowlers.
It is not unusual for the modern B&S’s to be run by ute enthusiasts following minor Ute Musters. Ute drivers at the B&S Balls sometimes perform stunts, such as driving their
utes at dusk and throw flames from the exhausts and do circle work. Circle work, usually banned, is where the utes are driven in tighter and tighter circles.
Food dye is a regular sight at a B&S and is normally thrown on people (even when it is banned). A B&S Virgin (a person who is attending for the first time) is often marked with the word “Virgin”.
After the event, people usually sleep in their swag on the back of their ute. Usually, the committee supplies something for dinner and breakfast the next day.
Some committees ru
n a ‘recovery’ where the ball goers move to a different location to continue drinking, having fun, and sometimes participating in competitions.
Tickets can cost anything from AU$80 to AU$110 and usually include all you can drink, dinner and sometimes breakfast as well as little gifts such as ear tags, hats, stickers, a
nd sometimes condoms and lubricant.
People will travel many kilometers to attend the balls, and the profits made from them go to charities and organizations such as the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia, Red Cross, and the Australian Cancer Council, as well as local charities of the specific area.
In Ariah Park, security staff members stalk the fairgrounds continuously. At the ball, held under the stars after dark, the main problem seems to be food dye. No one can ex
plain why but, for years, attendees have felt compelled to spit dye onto each other.
Today the future of B&S balls is in jeopardy as rising insurance costs take their toll and more young people from country areas move to cities.
However, thousands of people make the effort to drive for many hours to support something that they love and wish to continue for future generations. There are many websites dedicated to the future of balls.
In 2009 as part of the Q150 celebrations, the Bachelor and Spinster Balls were announced as one of the Q150 Icons of Queensland for its role as an “event and festival”.