The Bachelor and Spinsters Ball (an Australian Tradition)

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When you ask people (especially under 30s) to name the most important events in rural Australia, the annual Bachelor and Spinsters Balls (or B&S Ball) would be right up at the top of the list.

From their Irish matchmaking beginnings, to their present role as little more than a grog and sex party, B&S Balls have been part of the Australian rural calendar for many years. Although the spirit and role of the event may have changed over the years, the importance of B&S Balls to outback and rural communities remains as vital as ever.

A Brief History

There is no record of when the first B&S Ball was held in Australia, however it is believed that the tradition originated in the town of Lisdoonvarna, Ireland where, every year since 1871, in September or October, a matchmaking festival would take place. At this festival eligible bachelors and spinsters would meet, in the hope of finding their match.

Many early settlers and gold diggers who came to this country were from Ireland and some may have brought this tradition with them as Australia's early B&S Balls were also in this mould - a place for young country men and women to meet, and hopefully find love.

Australia is a large country, with a widely dispersed population - particularly outside of the major population centres which are situated along the coast. In the outback it can take literally hours of driving to visit your next door neighbour, or the nearest town - even then, it may be not much more than a service station, general store, and a pub. In a country as spread out as this, it is very difficult to meet people. Australia's B&S Balls helped to bridge this distance.

The Stone Rollers B&S Ball at Murray Bridge in South Australia.
The Stone Rollers B&S Ball at Murray Bridge in South Australia. | Source
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 Bachelor and Spinster Ball, Manfeild Feilding
Bachelor and Spinster Ball, Manfeild Feilding | Source
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The Dress Code

The dress code is somewhat unorthodox. Dinner suits, well at least black trousers and dress shirts, are required to be worn by the men (jackets are optional), however bow ties are often fashioned from whatever is readily available i.e. cardboard or lengths of twisted bailing twine. Suits are often accompanied by cowboy boots and an Akubra hat. Traditionally ball gowns or cocktail dresses are worn by the women. Boots are perfectly acceptable with a dress as well as festivities are bound to spill outdoors into the often dusty or muddy paddocks.

Although the dress code is fairly formal, it's not recommended that an attendee turn up in their best dinner suit or ball gown, as they would for a night of cultured entertainment, polite conversation, and dancing. Chances are, by the end of the night, your suit will be covered in beer, rum and food. Your dress may well be trailing in the dust, mud, and slops of hundreds of people who don't really care where they drop food, drink, or vomit. An op-shop or second hand clothing store is definitely a recommended place to purchase your clobber for wearing to a B&S Ball. Many young men who foolishly hire a suit for the event find out later they are unable obtain a refund of the deposit due to the condition of the suit on return.

Young country Australians have a night of partying in the outback. With the festivities beginning in the evening and running through till the sun rises, prepare yourself for a big night.
Young country Australians have a night of partying in the outback. With the festivities beginning in the evening and running through till the sun rises, prepare yourself for a big night. | Source
The Elmore B&S
The Elmore B&S | Source
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The Evolution of the Modern B&S Ball

B&S Balls have changed a lot over the years. In fact, they are probably unrecognisable from their traditional roots. It's now more in the vein of getting completely shit-faced, and waking with a roaring hangover, and with someone unfamiliar sharing your swag.

Regulars who attend "B and S" balls insist that the initials stand for "beer and sex". These usually annual events attract young stockmen, shearers, jackeroos and jillaroos from outback sheep and cattle farms. They provide one of the rare opportunities to meet and get to know members of the opposite sex.

It will probably be held in some form of marquee or shed, in the middle of a paddock somewhere just out of town. The first things you'll probably notice are the utes (utility vehicles). They'll be everywhere. Now, for those of you who are not familiar with the standard Australian Ute, they're probably a little different to what you may expect. Most Aussie utes aren't huge 4WD monsters - they are about the size of a normal station wagon with a cut-off or flat tray-back. Utes are similar to what Americans call "pick-up trucks" though we never call them trucks.

*When you're at a B&S Ball, with your ute and looking to impress, you've gotta get into some circle-work. So just what is circle work? Well, it's pretty simple really. A roaring ute spins its back wheels, moving in an ever tightening circle, kicking up huge clouds of dust and mud, and the smell of burning, while you're screaming out the open window, your akubra firmly planted on your head all the while - this is circle work. How could it not impress the ladies?

*Another popular but highly dangerous B&S stunt is "surfing" on old car bonnets (hoods) pulled by a truck or ute.

Now, if you're a teetotaller, a B&S Ball is definitely not the place for you. There will be booze. A lot of booze. The foundation of a modern B&S Ball, is alcohol. Now, if you're thinking that you can turn up to a B&S Ball with a few Bacardi Breezers, or a nice bottle of wine, you're sadly mistaken. You'd better like beer. And you'd better like Bundy (Bundaberg) Rum. The fact is, you'll probably be drinking a lot of both. You'll probably drink so much, that at some stage you'll lose the ability to remember much of anything. Chances are, you'll wake up in your swag some time the next morning, not really all that sure just how you got to be there.

Chances are, you won't be the only body in your swag (the uniquely Australian combination of mattress, ground sheet and sleeping bag).

Elmore B&S Ball. What was that all about?
Elmore B&S Ball. What was that all about? | Source
Meandarra B&S.“It's true, it was for Bachelors & Spinsters, now it stands for Beer & Sex.”
Meandarra B&S.“It's true, it was for Bachelors & Spinsters, now it stands for Beer & Sex.” | Source
Daly Waters B&S
Daly Waters B&S | Source
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Sex, No Drugs, and Country Music

Another major difference between the B&S Balls of our grandparent's generation, and the modern B&S is SEX. Young ladies and gentlemen no longer meet, never touching except to dance, and just trying to make conversation under the watchful eyes of their parents. These days, there are no parents allowed, and if you see someone that takes your fancy, and they're willing, you'll wake with them the next morning and maybe share breakfast. At today's B&S you're given condoms on arrival. Fueled by alcohol, and hormones many country men and women will end up sleeping together - casual is the norm. What happens at a B&S, stays at a B&S.

Although casual sex is accepted as part of the B&S culture, drugs (apart from alcohol and cigarettes) are not! No designer party drugs here. These party goers are good clean-living horse-riding, cattle-mustering, sheep-shearing, crop-planting young men and women for most of the year, and although drugs are not unheard of in rural areas they are the exception rather than the norm.

The other important factor for a successful B&S Ball is the music. You've got to get that right, or the atmosphere simply will not be there. And when you're throwing a party for country people, you really can't have anything apart from country music. If the event is large enough, there will be a live band playing. There will surely be some iconic Australian country music like Slim Dusty, Lee Kernaghan, Troy Cassar-Daley or Casey Chambers. None of your fancy city dance music, rap or hip-hop - this is the music of the land, pure and simple. Nothing else will do.

The Wolfe Bros. and Lee Kernaghan
The Wolfe Bros. and Lee Kernaghan | Source
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Famous Bundaberg Rum
Famous Bundaberg Rum | Source
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Ode to the B & S Ball

by John Hansen © 2014


The shearing shed becomes a hall

To house the local B & S Ball.

Stockmen don suits, and jillaroos gowns

Flocking into the nearest towns.


In tray-back trucks and farmer's utes,

Wearing Akubra hats and cowboy boots.

Entry fee is eighty bucks,

All you can drink, food, and f***s.


Young men and women from near and far

Gather at the makeshift bar,

Bachelors and spinsters all

Hear the outback mating call.


Bundy rum and ice cold beer,

Country music for the ear.

Trestle tables piled with food,

Pick-up lines both suave and crude.


Only plastic cups allowed,

No glasses with a drunken crowd.

Guys take turns on the 'bucking bull'

To see how many girls they pull.


Mating males will seek to fight

Like moths attracted to the light.

Suits are ruined and dresses rip,

Some boys throw up, and drunk girls strip.


Food dye is thrown around the crowd,

Singing, laughing, shouting loud.

People wrestle in the dirt,

Others fondle, kiss and flirt.


Some pass out, can't stay the course.

It's all for fun, there is no force.

Besides it isn't every day

That outback singles get to play.


This Aussie icon's under fire,

Insurance costs are getting higher.

Will many future balls be held?

Only demand and time will tell.

The famous Daly River B&S Ball is no more after the local pub’s owners decided they were “too bloody old” to keep organising it.
The famous Daly River B&S Ball is no more after the local pub’s owners decided they were “too bloody old” to keep organising it. | Source
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The Royal Flying Doctor Service

"The RFDS began as the dream of the Rev John Flynn, a minister with the Presbyterian Church. He witnessed the daily struggle of pioneers living in remote areas where just two doctors provided the only medical care for an area of almost 2 million square kilometres. Flynn’s vision was to provide a ‘mantle of safety’ for these people and on 15 May 1928, his dream had become a reality with the opening of the Australian Inland Mission Aerial Medical Service (later renamed the Royal Flying Doctor Service) in Cloncurry, Queensland.

Over the next few years, the RFDS began to expand across the country.

By the 1950s, the RFDS was acknowledged by former Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies as “perhaps the single greatest contribution to the effective settlement of the far distant country that we have witnessed in our time.”

Until the 1960s, the Service rarely owned our own aircraft. We used contractors to provide aircraft, pilots and servicing. We progressively began to purchase our own aircraft and employ our own pilots and engineers.

Today, we own a fleet of 61 fully instrumented aircraft with the very latest in navigation technology. We operate 21 bases across Australia. Our pilots annually fly the equivalent of 25 round trips to the moon and our doctors and flight nurses are responsible for the care of over 270,000 patients! We've come a long way from that first flight in 1928 which saw the Flying Doctor airborne at last."

(source:http://www.flyingdoctor.org.au/)

Benefits to the Community

The real beneficiaries of these B&S balls are the communities that run them. These events are a vital financial lifeline to rural townships, bringing in much needed cash. The average B&S Ball attendee will spend around $450 (Aus) for their ticket, suit, food and drinks and fuel.

The money that is raised benefits the community in a number of ways. For instance local stores experience an increase in business, and charity organisations such as the Rural Fire Service and The Royal Flying Doctor Service receive large and important donations.

The Future of the B&S Ball

The Australian B&S Ball is still as popular as ever. People willingly travel hundreds of kilometers to attend these events, and even young country people now forced to live in the city look forward to attending the B&S as a way of staying in touch with their roots .

Unfortunately however, the greatest threat to the continued success of B&S Balls may be something that is beyond the control of any event organiser.

Public Liability Insurance poses the greatest threat to the future of B&S Balls. It has become more and more difficult to secure insurance for this type of event, particularly as in recent years, insurance companies have either refused to cover risky events, or have increased their premiums by massive amounts.

*Both "Circle-work" and "Surfing" have now been banned by organising committees under increased pressure from the police.

Also, liquor licensing laws have become far more strict - for every 100 people, there need be 1 security guard. For every 50 people, 2 bar staff are required. These higher insurance premiums, as well as the requirements of licensing laws, have meant that a B&S Ball is becoming far more expensive event to run - possibly out of the reach for many smaller communities.

Despite this, I believe the B&S Ball will live a long life in Australia. The young people of ouback and regional Australia need events like this - a chance to cut loose, let their hair down, write themselves off for a night, and have a whole heap of fun.

I love this poem by David Campbell.

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Comments 44 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

As we would say in the States, I'll be that is a wild-ass affair. I might not survive it. LOL Thanks for an enjoyable read, John, and enjoy your weekend.


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Haha Bill, I'm fairly certain I wouldn't survive one either...it sure would be a wild time though. Thanks for being the first to read this.


RachaelOhalloran profile image

RachaelOhalloran 2 years ago from United States

I love hubs like this! It is a chance for readers to learn more about the cultures and celebrated events in different countries and this hub was just what I was looking for today. I loved this.

Your explanatory preamble set your poem up just right and your pictures brought your words to life.

And oh, that girl's face on Elsmore B &S Ball pix (What was that all about? Source: stopthesethings.com) ---- now, that was priceless!

I agree B & S types of events are much needed for socialization and to let loose, especially in places like the outback. Thank you so much for this delightful article. Voted up, funny, interesting and SHARED!!!!


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 2 years ago

A modern-day ceilidh -- isn’t it funny how traditions evolve to fit the times? Sounds like our Woodstock of the 1960s minus the drugs. But along with the evolution comes government intervention. Wouldn’t you just know it? These parties have a way of continuing under the radar, so they probably will evolve even further into “attend at your own risk” affairs in the outback.

I love hubs about people’s culture, and this was an honest assessment. I liked your poem, too. It expressed your article quiet well. Voted up++ and shared.


Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

Stories like this make me happy I am older and yet sad too!


Dana Tate profile image

Dana Tate 2 years ago from LOS ANGELES

Sounds like a lot of fun. It reminds me of the times me and my girlfriends would go to Vegas and we would always say before leaving " What goes on in Vegas stays in Vegas."


annart profile image

annart 2 years ago from SW England

The Ozzies certainly know how to enjoy themselves! I like the fact that there are hardly any drugs, though I found that surprising. Also the music sounds good; I love good old-fashioned country.

Had never heard of the B&S Balls. No one we know over there has ever mentioned them, maybe for obvious reasons!

Fascinating reading here, John. Thanks for sharing all that info.

Ann


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Hey Rachael, so glad this hub made your day. Hub Pages is a good way to learn things about other cultures and traditions. Thanks for the interesting comment, vote up and share.


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Thanks for reading MizBejabbers, yes it is funny how traditions evolve. You are right, B&S balls are a bit like a country Woodstock but on a smaller scale and minus drugs. For the sake of the outback youth I hope they continue in some form despite the problems with liability insurance etc. thanks for the vote up and share.


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Me too Eric, though I would have liked to have attended just one of these events.


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Yes Dana, exactly. You only live once. Bet you had fun in Vegas.


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Hi Ann, glad I was able to enlighten you on something new that you weren't aware of.


always exploring profile image

always exploring 2 years ago from Southern Illinois

This is all brand new to me. What a hoot! Like i always say, " Different strokes for different folks. " Learning that you drive for miles without seeing another person is amazing. Fun hub, fun poetry..Enjoyed reading...


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Hi Ruby, thanks for reading. It's good to provide some new information to people outside my country. Some of the cattle stations in Central and Northern Australia are hundreds of thousands of acres and so widely so widely spread out that it neighbours can be hours away. Even where I live which is only about 35 miles from the nearest town we don't get mobile/cell phone reception, and have a 4 hour drive to the nearest airport.


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 2 years ago from Central Florida

John, this sounds like a blast. Here in Florida we have Bike Week every year. When the campgrounds fill up, the partying starts and goes on all week. Of course, it's not restricted to singles, but it's a blast. At least it used to be. It's been many years since I've been but I would imagine not much has changed.

I love this hub. I'd never heard of the B & S Ball. Have you ever been to one?


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Shauna, thanks for reading. Glad you enjoyed this. I guess the B&S would be similar to the Biker Week. Unfortunately I never had the opportunity to attend. When I was single I was working in the city, and moved to the country later on. It is something I would have liked to experience at least once in my life.


Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 2 years ago from southern USA

Wow, that is certainly unlike any Ball I have ever heard of before! It reminds me of here in the deep south back when Hank Williams, Jr. was a bit younger and going to one of his outdoor, all-day concerts out in a field, where anything and everything goes hahaha ... and it is almost a requirement then to attend his concerts with whiskey drinking, hootin' and hollerin' and women who tend to get a wee bit too drunk and decide to take their tops off ...

I love reading about other cultures and what they do for fun. I was confused at first in wondering how do they get so muddy at a Ball, then I kept reading hee hee.

Thank you for sharing about this Australian tradition.

Up and more and away

Have a great weekend


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

This is a very interesting hub, Jodah. I loved it. I'd never heard of a B&S ball before I read your article. Thank you for increasing my knowledge!


DDE profile image

DDE 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

A different tradition and each culture has its own special moments.


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Hello Faith, good to see you at the ball...haha. Glad you enjoy reding about this wild Aussie tradition. Yes, it sounds like Hank Williams Jr's outdoors concert may have been a little similar. Thanks for the vote up too.


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Hello Alicia, glad you enjoyed reading about the B&s ball. I am a little surprised so few people from outside our country have heard of this popular and long running Aussie tradition. Thanks for reading.


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Thanks for reading Devika. Yes each culture does have it's own unique traditions. Maybe us Aussies have kept this to ourselves so we don't come across to others as uncurl turned and uncouth...lol.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean

I was disappointed at the thought of a "ball" turning into such a mess. I guess I would prefer it the way it would have been a few generations back. Having said that, I appreciate the information on this part of the Aussie culture. Thank you.


mylindaelliott profile image

mylindaelliott 2 years ago from Louisiana

How interesting... I'm not sure by your description they have changed for the better but it's an interesting activity with a lot of history.


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Thanks for reading MsDora, yes I agree that it may have been better a few generations back. It has become quite a ball of debauchery now, but still serves a purpose. Probably most people from other parts of the world have heard very little about the B&S balls is that Australia doesn't want to promote this image any more. We want to be seen as more cultured now then in the past when we were viewed as uncouth colonials. It is a part of life here however so can't be ignored.


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Glad you found this interesting mylindaelliott. B&S balls may not have changed for the better, but they are part of Australian history that may not be around much longer. I think it important to share our culture and traditions.


FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

I have never heard of this but definitely enjoyed reading about it. I guess a young person in remote areas cannot be good all the time. Thank goodness they don't have them here. I guess it's like a wild frat party on steroids.


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

I Flourish, glad you enjoyed reading about the B&S. "Wild" is probably a good term to describe it.


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton

Jodah, what an amazing share.. hmmm I just think I lost my virginity reading this hub :)


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Haha Frank, you and me too. Thanks for reading.


ChitrangadaSharan profile image

ChitrangadaSharan 2 years ago from New Delhi, India

Interesting hub and its good to learn about other country's culture and tradition. I had no idea about this kind of Ball!

Enjoyable read and thanks for sharing!


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

I am glad that I can share some aspects of our culture that other readers may not have heard about before. Thanks for reading Chitrangada.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

Jodah, this is a "kick butt hub", an awesome write and photos. You and Frank best head on home and sober up!

I really enjoyed reading this hub. Well done, Jodah.


rebeccamealey profile image

rebeccamealey 2 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

I hope to experience one in my next life...it's too late now, lol!


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Haha thanks Phyllis, yes a I don't know if I should be pleased or upset for Frank, but I think I still have a hangover. Glad you enjoyed this hub.


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Rebecca, so do I. Maybe I'll meet you there...haha. Should be a wild time.


Suzanne Day profile image

Suzanne Day 2 years ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

May the B&S Ball live on for many more decades! Looks like fun and your poem did sum it up quite nicely. I'll have to get myself along to one at some point, though let's hope people don't get too drunk to use the condoms properly. Voted interesting and up!


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Yes Suzanne, if I was single I would love to experience one. I wish I had years ago. It would be one wild time that you would never forget (that's if you weren't too drunk to remember anything..lol). If you ever get to attend one I hope you write a hub about the experience, and yes I hope the condoms are used correctly... :). Thanks for the vote up.


Paula Atwell profile image

Paula Atwell 2 years ago from Cleveland, OH

Looks a little bit like Woodstock with cowboy hats and boots. I don't think we have an equivalent here in the U.S.


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Yes a lit like a cowboy Woodstock....it's very iconic. Nothing really like it anywhere else.


Jeannieinabottle profile image

Jeannieinabottle 2 years ago from Baltimore, MD

Wow, I have never heard of this before. It does sound like fun even if it might get a little too wild for me. We have festivals here in the U.S., but nothing like this.


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Yes they are quite wild Jeannie. Apparently were started as the outback's answer to all the lavish balls held by the city folk for various occasions. The isolated young men and women from the 'bush' felt they needed some form of getting together and celebrating at least once a year and the "b & s" was born. Thanks for reading.


Randy Horizon profile image

Randy Horizon 21 months ago from Philadelphia

What a wild bash, never heard of the B&S before. Always wanted to visit your country, don't know if I make through a night like this. Love to read about other cultures. Another great hub. Wow!


Jodah profile image

Jodah 21 months ago from Queensland Australia Author

Thanks for reading another of my hubs Randy. The B&S Balls are certainly a wild night. I always wanted to attend one when I was younger and single, but never had the opportunity as I didn't live in the outback at the time.

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