Backward Glance – Satin and lace and all things Deb
  • Wednesday 20 February 2019

Following on from our reminiscences of old community halls last week, it seems fitting that we now turn our attention to the grand tradition of the Debutante Ball.

The tradition began as early as the 1600s, when women were presented to the King or Queen for the first time. 

It continued for many centuries, each year young women from well-to-do families were presented at court and there was an expectation that this experience would lead to suitable marriages within the year.

However, Debutante Balls in Australia have been enjoyed by a wide variety of the community and are often organised as fundraisers for local causes.

It is not an easy task being a deb. It takes practice and training.

Trainers were often engaged to guide the girls, teaching them to perfect their posture by walking with books balanced on their head, proper presentation etiquette and how to achieve a flawless curtsy. 

The proper attire for a debutante was a white gown with a full skirt, it must be pure white, with no other colours.

The young gentlemen also received instruction on their role.

For the St John’s Church Debutantes’ Ball in Nambour in 1938, Miss J Hilliam was engaged as the trainer for thirty-two girls who would be presented to Sir James and Lady Blair on the night of the ball.

Early balls were all alcohol free and if you were caught with it inside the hall, you’d find yourself fronting up to a magistrate in court. 

Of course, this led to car boot bars with gentlemen frequently going missing outside.

Palmwoods held their first Debutante Ball in 1934. It was a highly successful night both financially and socially. 

The function was held in the Memorial Hall and was organised by Mrs A S Lloyd and her assistants.

There were twenty-three junior debutantes ranging from three-ten years old.

They were dressed in shimmering lace and ivory satin carrying posies of sweet peas and maidenhair fern. 

They entered the hall through a guard of honour formed by their partners, who were attired in evening wear. 

The junior debs danced to music supplied by The Cherrio Jazz group until 9.30pm when the adults took the floor.

In 1937 the Maleny School of Arts was transformed into a carnival scene with myriads of coloured lights, streamers and palm fronds when more than three hundred people attended the first birthday ball of the Younger Set CWA. 

Twenty-five debutantes were presented to Mrs A E Moore and the Kenilworth Band supplied excellent music.

One of the highlights of a Debutante Ball was cutting the cake, which forms part of the supper table.

On this occasion the cake was made by Miss Ruth Evans and cut by Miss Elsie White. 

It was reported that Miss M McLean, President of the Younger Set, received the guest of honour.

She was frocked in a striking gown of navy blue and gold striped windswept satin.

At a Children’s Debutante Ball in Maleny in 1937, the hall was transformed into a fairyland. 

On the stroke of 9pm the Fairy Queen (Enid Rough) made her much anticipated arrival dressed in white with a long red glittering train and a jewelled crown.

Exclamations of admiration were heard as six tiny fairies entered dancing on their toes bearing the Queen’s train. 

Loud applause erupted and the fairies, basking in the attention, didn’t want to leave the dance floor. 

When they left, senior debutantes entered and were joined by young boys dressed in dinner suits. 

All debutantes were presented officially, announced by the page boy.

Miss E Webster was congratulated for her splendid training and her artistic ideas.

After World War II, Diggers and Victory Debutante Balls were held at a number of centres including Yandina, Nambour and Maleny. 

At the Debutante Ball held in the Maleny School of Arts Hall in 1945, twenty-five debutantes were presented and more than five-hundred people attended.   

Caloundra School of Arts Hall was the venue for a ball in November, 1945, many of the men wore their military uniform.  

Former Governor of Queensland, Sir Leslie Wilson and Lady Wilson were in attendance.

In 1947, Kenilworth held its first Debutante Ball. 

The hall was decorated with palms and stands containing orchids and beautiful flowers.

A carpet square covered the floor and cane lounge chairs completed the picture. 

Twenty young ladies were presented to Archdeacon Knight in the presence of more than five-hundred people. 

Names and description of their frocks included, Coral Adams in a model gown of angelskin and lace featuring a high neckline and double peplum, Dawn Liekefett wore a dainty gown of taffeta and net with ruching and Eileen Murtagh wore a white moss crepe fitted bodice and swing skirt, heart-shaped pockets and crossover sleeves.

The silver anniversary of the opening of the Memorial Hall in Palmwoods was celebrated by a brilliant Debutante Ball attended by the Rt Hon A W Fadden P C and Mr and Mrs GFR  Nicklin. 

Mrs Nicklin made and presented a three tiered debutante cake which was iced by Mrs M Krebs.

Takings from the Nambour RSL Debutante Ball in 1966 were an all-time record with more than five-hundred people attending.

There was a navy theme with a backdrop of a cruiser painted by Mr H Duncanson and alcoves named after ships of the Royal Australian Navy. 

Naval headquarters supplied a model of the destroyer Vendetta for display on the stage.

However, not all were happy as a letter to the editor in the Nambour Chronicle complained about the increased price of ball tickets following the introduction of decimal currency.

In 1958, Queen Elizabeth II terminated the practice of English debutantes being presented at court, but the debutante still lives on. 

The traditions and practices may have diminished in the larger centres but in smaller towns it has survived. 

All who have had the privilege to be a participant in a Debutante Ball over the years, may look back with fondness and regard it as a milestone in their life’s journey.

Thanks to Sunshine Coast Council’s Heritage Library Officers for the words and Picture Sunshine Coast for the images.


Image details 

Hero image: Debutantes Ball sponsored by the North Coast Caledonian & Burns Club and held at the Nambour Showgrounds pavilion, June 1951

Image 1: Beerwah-Peachester Sub-Branch R.S.S.A..L.A. annual ball at the School of Arts, Beerwah, 16 July 1962.  The seven debutantes were received by the then Premier of Queensland, Francis Nicklin, before they joined their partners for the Debutante waltz.

Image 2: Church of England Debutantes Ball in the School of Arts Hall, Canberra Terrace, Caloundra, October, 1939.

Image 3: Second Annual Debutantes Ball of the North Coast Caledonian & Burns Club, Nambour, 16 June 1950

Image 4: Highland Coronation Debutante Ball sponsored by the North Coast Caledonian & Burns Club, Diggers Hall Nambour, June 1953

Image 5: Roman Catholic Debutantes Ball, Nambour July 1952

Image 6: Supper table and provided by the Ladies Committee at the ninth annual Catholic Debutant Ball in St. Joseph’s Hall, Nambour, May 1958

Image 7: Debutantes and guests at the Roman Catholic Debutante Ball, Nambour 1952

Image 8: Debutantes and their partners gathered around the Debutantes’ cake which was a feature of the supper at the Debutantes Ball, Conondale, July 1982