FOUR B&S (Bachelor and Spinster Ball) virgins who also happen to be journalists headed to Harrow on the weekend to experience country courtship.
Justine McCullagh-Beasy, Rachael Houlihan, Kate Zwagerman and Kellie Scott share their adventure at Tussock Jumpers 2014.
Harrow - here we come
JUSTINE: I have some reservations about going to a B&S ball. I've seen the photos and I know rum, utes, food dye and blueys will be prevalent. But we're on our way now and I am just excited. It's something new - whether we like it or not it will be an experience.
RACHAEL: It starts with a poster in my dad's pub. I jokingly ask my work mates if they want to come and my jaw nearly hits the floor when they agree. The week before the ball we scour Warrnambool's op-shops for cheap dresses and mistakenly watch a terrifying video about last year's Elmore B&S. We question our sanity, but with the tickets purchased we figure at the very least it will be a good "cultural experience".
KATE: We all meet up at the Kirkstall pub to travel in convoy - apparently the only way to travel to a B&S. Pre-buying tickets meant there was no backing out, although the temptation was strong. We spend most of the three-hour trip rehearsing our stories of all the B&Ss we have attended before. As we cruise into Harrow I feel sick with nerves.
KELLIE: Brisbane born and bred, I figure my country living experience won't be complete without attending a B&S. I am told Harrow's Tussock Jumpers is one of the more "boutique" balls which is mildy comforting. Reactions from friends regarding my plans to attend include "I'm worried for you", "WTF" and "nice knowing you".
The arrival - first impressions
JUSTINE: Kate sums it up best: "We're already attracting enough attention without bringing out the white wine". It is evident we are not regulars. What were we thinking going to a B&S? Within 10 minutes we've been heckled for arriving in a family wagon. "Go the Captiva" they jeer. We see two naked men, hear utes rev and watch people do beer bongs. It could be a long night.
RACHAEL: The camping grounds are set amongst tall gum trees, creating an idyllic country setting. The scene is tarnished somewhat by a guy wearing a dress who climbs up onto the roof of his ute and lifts up his skirt, revealing his lack of underwear only seconds after we step out of the car. We quickly decide to change camp spots, seeking safety in numbers with our friends.
KATE: My phone has no signal. SOS calls only. At the moment it feels like the only number I will need to dial tonight is triple zero. Someone tells me there have been people camping and drinking here for a day or so. It shows. A few minutes in and Rachael is actually shouting for her mother. A little later a girl comes over asking for drugs, Kellie considers trying to sell off her Panadol, as journalists we're more concerned about the misspelt "your sexy" scrawled in texta on the back of her neck.
KELLIE: After seeing two nude men and receiving several requests to "show us your tits" in the first five minutes, my usual chatty self becomes mute. I find it hard to hide my reservations as friends continue to inquire "Are you OK? You haven't said much". My goal for the evening is simple: survive.
The night is young - the fun starts
JUSTINE: We've arrived at the ball and Kellie has come out of her state of fear. There is a huge tent down one end housing a decent rock band (no country music, a pleasant surprise) and a bar down the other. We are given a plastic cup to use and to keep as a memento - sadly I lost mine late in the night, although I am pretty sure Kate stole it from me. We have a choice of beer, rum, vodka and raspberry and cask wine with juice. Goon it is. There are already people covered in food dye and guys with all sorts of comments not fit for print written all over their white dress shirts. Let the fun begin.
RACHAEL: The first thing I notice is how happy and friendly people are. Everyone is here for a good time and after getting my cup filled directly from a silver cask I go to check out the band and cop a bit of food-dye across my forehead. I quickly wipe it off before I get too stained. So far, so good.
KATE: At the barbecue dinner there is not a veggie burger in sight. I'm way too scared to ask if there's any vegetarian options in case I get forcibly removed from the venue and settle on bread with coleslaw and tomato sauce. I've also broken my golden rule of no rum, but seeing as most of it gets spilt on the dance floor (sorry Justine) it hardly counts. I know it doesn't sound like I'm having fun, but I am. This is awesome.
KELLIE: A few drinks in and being paralysed with fear soon turns to excitement as we dress into our "gowns" (cheap dress I was prepared to part with). We head into the ball where I learn the only thing on tap is beer and the remainder of the selection is served from garbage bins.
It's getting rotten - closer to midnight
JUSTINE: I am covered head-to-toe in alcohol. I am spilling drinks, drinks are being spilt on me and being short means I am getting drinks spilt in my hair too. My feet are caked in dirt. Only a few specks of food dye though - that's a success. But I am having a blast. There is plenty of dancing and laughs - everything you want from a night out.
RACHAEL: Maybe I've imbibed one too many cups of cask wine and orange juice or maybe I just dance like a giraffe on roller skates, but sometime before midnight I accidentally jump on some guy's foot. His lady friend isn't impressed and promptly throws a full cup of rum in my face. My eyes sting and I'm saturated, but a quick wash in the bathroom and I'm ready to roll again. A few more cups of wine to settle my anger and I'm back on the dance floor resembling a drowned rat.
KATE: OK, rum was a bad idea, I meet a sheep farmer and tell him I'm a militant vegetarian and fully-qualified vet called Mikayla. I also realise I have no idea where the campsite is, tripping over swags in the dark while a John Williamson song booms from a nearby ute. Does it get more country than this? Eventually stumble upon my embarrassing SUV. Finding the keys and working out how to open the car in the dark is the next challenge. Every time I hit a button the headlights turn on, illuminating a nightmarish scene of empty Bundy cans and dancing swags. Bloody Holden.
KELLIE: I've drunk what seems like hundreds of raspberry and vodkas and still only feel tipsy as I start to believe there is probably one shot of alcohol to each bucket load. I have been on the run all night from anyone who approaches me with hands in their pockets - successfully avoiding being covered in food dye unlike 90 per cent of the patrons. I find myself gravitating towards anyone doesn't look like a smurf and meet some really cool people - even some multi-coloured ones. The band is awesome and we dance the night away.
The morning after
JUSTINE: The first thing I hear when I wake up is two guys outside our tent searching for beer and it's not yet 7am. I can't think of anything worse right now than drinking alcohol. But I am feeling surprisingly fresh considering I've had three hours' sleep and I am stoked we survived our B&S initiation.
RACHAEL: I wake up in my swag as the sun is starting to stream through the gum trees. All I can think about is Hamilton McDonald's and how I'll order one of everything on the menu. And also a shower.
KATE: Woke up at 7am after three hours of sleep to the sound of fellow campers scrounging for their first beer of the day. Surveying the damage I think our group came out pretty good, a few spatters of food dye maybe but nothing compared to the painted ladies gingerly walking back to their campsites.
KELLIE: Three hours sleep and glad to be alive.
JUSTINE: If you haven't been to a B&S and want to try something new, give it a go. I bet after the initial shock of feeling like you've arrived on a different planet, you'll have a memorable time. I know we've got a few stories we'll laugh about for years to come.
RACHAEL: What an experience. Social etiquette seems to go out the window when people enter the ball, but I still had a great night. People are there for a good time and while it may seem a bit rough, I didn't witness a single fight. The band was great and I met some very interesting people. It's definitely something I won't forget in a hurry.
KATE: It would be easy to say that we set our expectations so low that we were bound to be impressed, but I think it was more than that. There were some great people there and on the dance floor we were all friends. As a social experiment it was a success, as a night out it was, as Kellie put it, in our top 10.
KELLIE: An awesome experience with friends and fellow journalists. Organisers deserve a congratulations for how well the event was run. Although I'll always remember their statements about removing people with food dye as total lies. Harrow, see you next year.