|Caledonian Hill, Gympie|
|Gympie's now heritage-listed Post Office at the base of Caledonian Hill|
|A Couple of Balls in Ruby Red - Beehive Hairdos were in fashion!!|
|Programme from Miss Australia Quest...I'm top left...then known as "Lee Hill"|
|Ball Gowns Circa 1943 - the years when I was a little girl|
And when I was much younger the debutante balls, in particular, were eagerly anticipated events of the year. They were grand “events”. As a little girl, one who believed in Cinderella, fairy princesses and the handsome princes who swept them off their feet to live in a fantasy world of happily-ever-after endings, excitement filled my being when my Nana took me with her to become part of the admiring throngs; the gathering crowd of on-lookers watching the arrival of the ball- goers. We’d find ourselves amongst other half of Gympie’s population; those not actually attending the Friday night balls, but members the rubberneckers congregated around the entrance to Gympie’s Soldiers’ Hall where the balls (dances, and then later, record hops) were held.
The madding crowd was there to marvel at the pretty young ladies glamorously dressed in lace, tulle, chiffon, silk or satin (sometimes of various varied combinations). Their partners, Gympie’s dashing young blades attired in their finery, stood proudly at their sides nervously fiddling with their bow ties or ties; a little embarrassed from all the attention they were receiving.
For a little girl watching the young women in their beautiful ball gowns it was like being transported into a fairy tale.
Debutante balls were very popular back in those days, too. To be presented into “society” was the dream of many a young girl. It was never a dream of mine. Even as a kid I could see no point in it; I’ve never been able to discover the point of “making one’s debut”. For one thing, I thought it was a waste of money. Like big, frothy, over-the-top wedding gowns, the debutante’s ball gown could only be worn once in most cases. I was never a fan of those types of wedding gowns, either. Each to their own, I guess…it was how I felt about it, and still is. We’re not all the same…thank goodness in many case…so it’s just my own opinion. But, that's not to say I didn't enjoy being an on-looker when I was a young child.
However, I did borrow a friend’s debutante gown one year. I was 18 years old at the time. I’d joined the Gympie Drama group. Daphne du Maurier wrote three plays. Her first was an adaption of her successful novel, “Rebecca”. The play was also very successful. It first opened in London in March, 1940.
In 1963, our Drama Group’s latest production ready to be inflicted upon Gympie’s audiences was the dramatised play version of Daphne Du Maurier’s “Rebecca”.
Gympie annual birthday celebrations were due. Decorated floats of all kinds and colours were put together for the parade through Mary Street, Gympie’s main hub of activity.
The Drama Club committee decided to enter a float to advertise the up and coming play. I was picked to represent “Rebecca”. I wasn’t sure if it was an honour or not because Rebecca is actually dead, having died a suspicious death. She never physically appears in the story, although the novel/play is built around the never seen title character. Even though dead, she lingers long and is the crux of the tale. Rebeca, the first Mrs. de Winter is, of course, crucial to the story.
I had to sit graciously and gracefully upon an elaborate arm chair on the tray of a truck, dressed is a flowing, white gown, looking very ethereal.
I’d also been an entrant in the Miss Australia Quest that year; a nation-wide Quest sponsored by the lingerie manufacturer, Hickory. The Quest raised important, much-needed money for the Australian Cerebral Palsy Association (originally referred to as The Spastic Centres of Australia), an association which began in 1954 The Miss Australia Quest/Awards first started way back in 1926. However the title of “Miss Australia” had existed since 1908.
The Quest is no longer alive (although I still am). People like Germaine Greer started burning their bras and drinking Scotch straight from a 40oz bottle, and then political-correctness became the “in thing”. Those flag-wavers are more interested in their own agendas than raising money for worthy causes!
Anyway, I guess because I’d been an entrant in the Quest I was the likely volunteer to sit on the back of the truck!
Gympie, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the town, is very hilly.
As the truck, with me sitting precariously on its rear tray, slowly crawled down Gympie's Caledonian Hill towards the entry into Mary Street we had to pass the now heritage-listed Post Office (as pictured) at the base of the hill. Just before the truck came to the Post Office, suddenly its driver appeared beside me.
Standing on the road to my left, he’d jumped out of the cabin and nonchalantly strolled back to have a few words with me! I asked him if anything was wrong.
His reply was: “Not really. I’m just checking the brakes to see if they’re okay.”
That sure gave me a lot of confidence!
I told him in no uncertain terms I thought it probably would be a good idea for him to get back in the truck! I imagined me flying through Mary Street, white ball gown flowing in the wind while I hung on for dear life as we tore along the street wiping out a few of the unsuspecting spectators!
Back to making one’s debut into society…
As far as I was concerned, the moment I started working in my first job after leaving school I’d already made my debut into the big, bad, but, in those years, mostly absolutely wonderful world.
Within a week of commencing my job as a legal secretary in a local law firm I attended my first “grown-up” dance. It was a Wednesday night. I tagged along with a co-worker and her friends, all of whom were a couple of years older than me. I was only 15 at the time; three or so months short of turning 16.
Selflessly they took me under their wings. My introduction to Gympie’s “society” was done and dusted, then and there. I didn’t have to be “presented” to the mayor, a priest, a church minister or whomever else to prove I’d be able to pass muster! I didn’t need anyone’s permission or acceptance. Already I had a fairly good grip on what the world was about; of how to behave and how not to behave. My grandmother and mother were fairly astute tutors in that department; including deportment! The proof is in the pudding…I’ve never been deported.
A local dressmaker made my first ball gown to my own design. Back then, short ball gowns were as acceptable as long, so I my first gown was short; just below my knees. It was a beautiful gown of ruby red satin. The sleeveless bodice, with its boat neckline at the front, had quite a low v-back, almost to waist level.
I wore it to many balls. All my friends did similar. None of us had the money to spend on a new gown for each ball! We didn't care if our one gown served many balls! After wearing my red dress to a few balls, I then made a sheer red "coat" to add to the ensemble. Once I arrived at the balls, I removed the coat. I made most of my own clothes back in those days.
I can’t say I felt like a fairy princess in the dress because it wasn’t frilly or flouncy. Froth or meringue was never my “thing”…not in clothing, anyway; they still aren't. I felt more like Audrey Hepburn from “Roman Holiday” or “Sabrina”.
I loved my ruby red ball gown.
I was pretty cranky (read – “very cranky”) when a work-mate’s older sister decided to have a dress made along very similar lines for her to wear to the balls!
It is said “imitation is the highest form of flattery”; oft times it can be the highest form of annoyance!
My next ball gown, which fell almost to the ground, was made by the same dressmaker who made my first gown. Again I felt like a million dollars in my second ball gown. It was the colour of pale apricot; the colour of (dry) custard powder.
I had a ball attending balls; the pre-ball and post-ball parties were lots of fun, too!
Orange Frothy: Blend until smooth 1-1/2c fresh orange juice, ice, 2tbs vanilla yoghurt, 1tbs honey and 1tsp vanilla.
Mint Meringues: Preheat oven 93C. Grease 2 baking trays. Beat 2 egg whites, 1/4tsp cream of tartar and 1/8th tsp salt until foamy. Add 1/2c sugar; beat on high speed until sugar dissolves and stiff peaks form. Mix in 1/4tsp mint extract; gradually add 3 to 5 drops green food colouring to desired colour. Spoon meringue into piping bag; pipe into 1-1/2-inch puffs onto greased baking trays; sprinkle with green-coloured sugar, if you like. Bake 2 hours. Remove immediately from oven; and then trays; cool on wire racks.
Meringues with Lemon Cream: Line 2 baking trays. Whisk on low speed 4 large egg whites and pinch salt, 1min; increase speed to medium; whisk 2-3mins or until stiff peaks form. Continue whisking while gradually adding 200g caster sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. Beat until the mixture is stiff and glossy. Using metal spoon, spoon free-form shapes onto trays; add a drop of pink colouring to each meringue; use skewer to gently swirl through meringue. Bake in 140C oven, 40-50mins; alternate trays after 20mins. Cool in oven with door slightly ajar. Stir150g lemon curd through whipped cream; serve with meringues.
Yo-Yo Cookies: Whip16tbs butter and 1/2c icing sugar until light and creamy. Sift 1/2c custard powder, pinch of salt and 1-1/2c plain flour over the mixture; mix well. Form small balls; gently press with fork to form cookie shape. Arrange an inch apart on lined baking tray. Bake in 190C oven, 10-12mins. Cool on tray, 5mins; then on wire rack.