Sunday, August 31, 2014


Debutante Ball
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!!
A still from the movie "Rebecca"...starring Aussie Judith Anderson as the sinister "Mrs Danvers" who was devoted to the late "Rebecca de Winter" and Joan Fontaine as the second "Mrs. de Winter" who lived in the shadow of the first Mrs. de Winter..."Rebecca".
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

Ball seasons in Gympie were the highlight on my and my friends’ already hectic social calendars when we were teenagers. 

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 the 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, wispy, frothy 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. 


  1. Debutante balls were not a part of my youth. I assume there were some held, but no-one I knew participated.
    Later, while at university I did go to balls. Some formal, most not, to match our straightened means.
    And a Cinderella Ball I went to (which started at midnight) is a fond memory. I danced all night, and hitched a lift home on the back of the garbage truck (in full ball regalia) the next day.

  2. Hey there, EC. I loved to dance. I loved going to the balls, to the dance and to the record hops. They were all wonderful fun. I never missed going to them...we used to have so much fun.

    I never caught a garbage truck home, but I did walk home from a post-ball party one morning well after the sun had risen. And a good friend of my boss's wife couldn't wait to tell her of my "wicked ways"!

    It was all innocent fun, and definitely not the woman's business...and I made certain my feelings towards the gossip and the woman who "gossiped" to my boss's wife were understood.

    People should get their facts right first before they let their imagination run wild...but, in their minds, it's much more fun to make the story up as they go along.

    I pointed that out to my boss's wife, who also worked in the office. She was the firm's book-keeper. I got on very well with her. :)

    Thanks for popping, EC. :)

  3. As a child, my world was school, library and beach. Gowns and debutante balls were things I never knew existed in real life. I'd seen big weddings with very fancy gowns, Port Pirie had many Italians and Greeks, walk past any church on a Saturday and there'd be a wedding going on, but ball gowns had only been seen on television and rarely. I loved them, they were reminders of Cinderella and other fairy tales, but didn't think "normal" people ever wore such things.

  4. Hey childhood was filled with school, the beach, the countryside, books, stories told by our grandmother, Saturday afternoon movies, my friends, my imagination...and lots of other stuff...and marvelling at the sight of the girls off to their balls.

    And then I became old enough to go to the balls, too...but never was I debutante, nor did I ever wear the frilly, flouncy dresses. Even when I married...twice...I didn't dress that way...I never wanted to do so.

    And I was as normal as anything...even though some might dispute my claim! lol

    Thanks for coming by. :)

  5. Yep, I just knew you used to be plumb high-falutin'!

  6. Not me, Jerry. I wasn't "high- falutin'" as you say. Not in any way was I high-falutin' - and nothing's changed...I'm still not.

    And,'s a long time since I've heard that term! lol

    Thanks for coming by. :)

  7. I was never into the Deb scene either Lee and only know of one classmate from school who actually participated. My first long dress was for my school formal - a very big deal in those days and attended by all the senior teachers too. I don't think anything compares to getting all dressed up in those lovely long dresses and dancing the night away. Did you go to any balls at Cloudland? Wonderful !

  8. No, I never made it to Cloudland, unfortunately, Helsie. I would've loved to have done so, though. It was a dream...but one that never came to fruition.

    The Soldiers' Hall (which no longer IGA supermarket now stands in its stead on the site) in Gympie was where we all pretended to be Fred and Ginger and those who followed in their steps.

    School formals weren't the "thing" when I went to high school...and anyway, I left school halfway through Junior I hit the big time with my elders...those in the mid-to late teens! lol

    Nice to see you, Helsie...thanks for swinging by. :)

  9. At least they didn't try to make you appear as a dead Rebecca like putting you in a casket or something. But then again, had the brakes gone, you could have ended up like Rebecca!

  10. I have a couple of friends who did the "coming out" thing at debutante balls. My family didn't run in those same circles, but I did like to dress up in party dresses. I think those ball gowns you show are beautiful and from a more wonderful time than now.

  11. That was my fear, Dexter, when the truck driver appeared at the back of the truck...out of the cabin! lol

    Thanks for coming by. :)

  12. Hey wasn't my scene either...I had no desire to make my "debut"...I loved balls and ball gowns, long as they, the gowns weren't white and flouncy!

    It was a wonderful time back then...I'm glad I grew up in the decades that I did.

    This present time we're living in can't compare with it...there is too much hatred in our world today...and we seem useless in being able to stop it...unfortunately.

    Thanks for popping in, Lynn. :)

  13. Imitation being the biggest form of annoyance - so true! What happened to society? It was so elegant. Now we're all slobs, more or less.

  14. Hey! I just saw your comment on EC's blog. Email me, Toots, and we'll wipe out the blue moods! michelle at riotkitty dot net

  15. Are you ok? Talk to me. Please.

  16. G'day RK and EC...Thanks for your concern. I do appreciate it, very much.

    I'm just so fed up with the way this world of ours is going at the moment. Today's news about the murder of another US journalists at the hands of those barbaric evil monsters is just so distressing; so sickening. Their actions are indecent...

    I think I should just stop watching/listening to/reading about any's all too much.

    I think I'll go and bury my head in "Midnight in Paris" and let myself be engulfed, over and over in the fantasy of a fantasy.

    Thanks again..both of you. I'm okay...just a mixture of sadness and anger, combined with disgust and horror.

  17. I am an odd duck when it comes to fancy fancy fancy. I did not envy the debutantes that were in the newspaper every year. I did not lust for a huge wedding with a beautiful gown and attendants. I never have liked fashion shows or magazines with dressed up starlets. One, I cannot bear the waste of money. Two I cannot bear the waste of time. And many have asked, "What is wrong with you!"

  18. Hi Granny Annie...I loved fashion and lovely clothes...I still do. I worked within the fashion industry for 14 years; and I organised and choreographed a lot of fashion parades, and loved doing so.

    But I, too, never yearned for the big wedding with the gowns and attendants, either. I could see no point in it, and I still don't. When I was cooking professionally I catered for many, many weddings...but all the expense for those few hours seemed crazy to me. I married twice and both times my weddings were very low key...we just had a party with a few people who meant something to us.

    I do like looking at the beautiful gowns on the various red carpets...but I didn't see any point in making my debut into "society".

    Thanks for coming by and commenting, Granny Annie. :)

  19. Um, who is David Palmer? By the way, Lee, there is an Aussie ad in my hall of fame this week.

  20. Jerry - I have noidea who that clown is. I just discovered the idiotic comment and I immediately deleted it.

    These brainless clowns pay a visit every now and then...they've got little else to do with their time. I suppose they've got to find their amusement somewhere, as I doubt they have any friends, any social skills.

    Somehow, for whatever reasons known only to them, they get pleasure from posting such useless, pointless nonsense. It takes all kinds, I guess.

    I'll pop in and have a look at your blog right now. Thanks for coming by. :)

  21. I can see you posing on the back of a truck!