WARNING: Not for the faint-hearted. Contains a mix of adult and immature content.
Once upon a time, in rural areas across Australia, these civilised matchmaking events called bachelor and spinster balls began.
Fast-forward 50 or 60 years and the B&S balls of Australia are a far cry from the frocked-up, sit-down dinner dos of yesteryear, but thousands hit the road for the modern event.
As Aussie as Bundaberg rum, VB, utes, Hugh Jackman, kangaroos, Crocodile Dundee, bunyips, Russell Coight, the Deni Ute Muster and dodgy cork-lined hats, the B&S ball is one of Australia's more unique icons.
They're quite hard to explain to the uninitiated, but if you've never been to one, here's what you need to know.
1. B&S balls are Australian, they are part of the bush culture.
Originally started as a way for country people to meet potential husbands and wives, the bachelor and spinster balls of old have gone by the wayside. These days, it's a chance for like-minded people, often having travelled hundreds of kilometres, to get together, set up camp and party for a weekend in a relaxed atmosphere. And B&S can stand for blokes and sheilas, or beers and sex, whichever takes your fancy.
So Urban Dictionary is sort of on the money.
It's a much more diverse crowd these days, and B&Ss are rarely held on private property. You'll find the shenanigans are happening at showgrounds, racecourses, reserves or footy grounds.
It's all about mates, music, a few beers and letting your hair down.
2. You don't need to drive a ute, but it sure helps if you do.
It's a boot, seat and bed all in one! The B&S ute is as iconic as the events themselves - all five-posters, sideskirts, flags and lights. And you just can't beat the feeling of heading off in a convoy.
3. If you're a B&S "virgin", don't tell anyone.
Or it'll end up written across your back/front/forehead and you'll be targeted for the rest of the night. Sledging, food dye, drinks, ripped pockets, horror stories - it'll all be coming your way. It's all friendly fire, of course, but it's certainly an initiation. Even if you're tricky enough to not verbalise your status, there are plenty of ways seasoned ballgoers can tell. Wearing high heels, being in your formal gear when you arrive in the car park, asking if there are drinks other than rum (of course!), that bewildered look on your face... Yes, there are more telling signs, but we can't let you in on every secret. Some things you just have to learn for yourself.
4. It's something everyone has to try once.
You can't say you're Australian if you've never even thought about going to a B&S ball. Besides, it's a quick way to get a real taste of regional Australia, and if it doesn't float your boat, you never have to do it again. But you really should give it a good, hard crack at least one time. Go in with an open mind - if you don't judge anyone, they won't judge you. It'll be nothing like anything you've been to before (unless you've been to a B&S, of course). If nothing else, you'll have an interesting story to tell your grandkids. We don't say it's an experience just to waste our words.
5. Swag, boots, white shirt and full esky top the list of must-haves.
Other handy things to remember are at least one change of clothes, sunscreen (even if it's winter), water, some snacks (because you WILL get hungry), a pair of thongs (no one likes scrabbling for boots in the middle of the night), baby wipes, a roll of toilet paper (volunteers try to keep up but sometimes you'll get stuck), a few campfire logs for winter and an inflatable pool if it's summer. And fellas, don't forget your bow tie.
6. Buying a ticket gets you pretty much everything you need.
"Where does my money go?" you might find yourself asking as you hand over at least $110 for a ticket. Your ticket gets you at least three pieces of merchandise (usually a sticker, a sheep or cattle tag and a stubby holder or commemorative cup), entertainment, drinks, dinner all night, bacon and eggs the next morning and just an all-round good time. If you pre-pay your ticket, usually it's cheaper and gets you another freebie, like a hat. And yes, the standard B&S pack comes with at least one condom and a lubricant sachet. No need to giggle, we're all adults here. Safety first!
7. Every time you go to a B&S, you're helping charities and community groups.
Once the band, security, drinks, catering, toilets, venue, merchandise, and incidentals bills are paid, what's left over is portioned up. Balls around Australia have varied recipients, but invariably you'll find the money goes to charity - be it a local branch of a national organisation, a sporting club, a grants program that invests in local infrastructure, community groups or scholarships - once a set amount is put aside for the next year's B&S.
8. Food dye is usually banned. But it's always there.
Food dye can be frowned upon, even banned, by organisers/police/other authorities, but there's usually no escaping it. Some committees are loose with the no food dye rule, but others will kick you out so you can clean yourself up the first time, and take your wristband the second time. If you're at a ball where the dye is flowing freely, if you manage to avoid getting hit by a stream of colouring early on, and the rest of your mates are clean, you're might be lucky enough to avoid being targeted. That is, of course, unless you've got "virgin" scrawled across you. FYI, no one likes spitting.
9. Which means this is every ballgoer's favourite thing to see.
I'll just take another moment of your time to reiterate the no spitting thing.
10. Pretty much everyone will be on the cans, but it's not a pre-requisite.
There's no denying a lot of people show up at a B&S with their drinking boots on and that more than a few go looking for love, but there's a hell of a lot that go with no intention of getting messy or hooking up. How you spend the night is up to you. Just be prepared to have a few drinks and cut loose on the dancefloor.
11. The car park is the pre-party, and it's just as entertaining as the ball itself.
Going to a B&S but skipping the car park would be like dodging an entree or dessert at a Michelin-starred restaurant - you've still been there, but you've missed out on the full experience.
12. It's going to get loud.
There's no avoiding it. Whips cracking, utes revving, keybanging, music, yelling, yarning, car park games - the decibels will be a fair bit higher than you anticipate. Plenty of money has been spent on kitting out those B&S rockets, and lots of time perfecting the whipcrack, so there'll be plenty of showing off going on. If you want to get a solid, eight-hour sleep, you're going to need earplugs.
13. No, it's not full of farmers. But if that's what you're into, you'll find a few there.
Walk into any camp at a ball and ask what everyone does for a crust, and you're likely to be very surprised.
14. They're as wild as you hear they are.
There are utes, whips, flames, food dye, dust, drinks, dirt, noise, people running amok everywhere. The Sunny Cowgirls were on the mark with Cutting Up B&S Style. But it's all good, clean (well, not literally), fun.
15. Black tie doesn't mean strappy heels and a pretty dress.
Wear boots. If you don't want to wear boots, wear covered-in shoes. You'll get trod on, danced on, be walking on dirt or, if the weather gods are with the farmers, mud. No one wants a broken toe or ankle. If a ball advertises it's a black tie do, make sure you've got the right equipment - if you turn up in a onesie or a fairy costume, you'll run into trouble. Unless, of course, it's a fancy dress ball, then by all means get as creative as you want.
So, just to clarify what you'll need for the black tie balls. Fellas: black pants, white button-up shirt, black bow tie. Ladies: You've got options - a dress, a skirt and shirt, or shirt and black pants. Most opt for a dress with a white shirt over the top.
16. Nobody cares.
Everyone's all just there for a good time and if you're keen for it, you'll have a blast. You'll find no judgment here.
17. B&S balls are not all about vomit, food dye and circle work.
They're about the people - and by that, I mean everyone involved in the process. From the volunteers on the gate to the patrons lining up for the breathalyser the morning after, there's no B&S without the people. There's a real rapport between the ballgoers partying in the car park and the mums and dads and community group/Apex/footy club members putting together roast beef and gravy rolls once the ball starts. After all, they are run by hard-working committees who put important funds back into the local communities.
It costs tens of thousands of dollars to put a B&S on and committees spend as much in their respective towns as they can in order to put it on. And then they need help from other community groups. And the entire town and surrounding area benefits from having 1000 people or more turn up for a rocking good weekend. And then the proceeds go back into the community. It's the circle of life.
18. The circuit is a lifestyle. And it can rule your life.
Friends of mine joke that they had to make sure their wedding didn't clash with a B&S, so they had it between Finley and Hay. We're still working out if they just wanted to make us laugh, or if that's the real reason and they chose the date to make sure we'd turn up.
19. It's not quite the same up north and on the west side.
If you've only been to B&Ss in NSW or Victoria, and you head to one up north or over in the west, or vice-versa, you'll notice a few differences. The tickets in WA and Queensland are cheaper, but you have to buy more drinks and food once you're in, and everyone's all food-dyed up in the car park. Even though it can feel like a complete reversal, you'll still have fun once you get adjusted. They only have a few a year in WA, so it's a full-on, action-packed weekend.
20. Night noises will get interesting.
If you listen closely (or just stick your head out the back of the ute), you'll hear the swags scratching. Of course, that's only if the keybanging, the revving and the utes shooting flames have stopped and the all-night, back-of-the-ute DJ set-up has packed up.
21. Organisers love it when you keep a clean camp.
Nothing earns a crew brownie points like a pile of rubbish, or even better, rubbish bagged and all bottles intact. Most B&Ss call for no glass in the car park but won't take it away from patrons, so skip throwing it in the fire or smashing the stubbies, bag it up and help the clean-up run a little smoother. You might not think committees and volunteers would remember, but you'd be surprised at the amount of detail people picking up rubbish take in.
They'll know who you are next year, and it could mean the difference between a cold night or some logs for a small campfire mysteriously showing up at your camp.
22. The volunteers (and paid workers) have as much fun as you do.
One of the awesome things I hear from the people who volunteer at B&Ss is how much they enjoy it, which is a huge surprise given they're basically helping out put on a party for 1000 people or more. As someone who goes to B&Ss and then convinced the local footy club to put one on, I've managed to see both sides of the gig. The most common reaction from people putting their hands up for a job? "They're so polite, I can't believe it! Perfect manners, all 'please' and 'thank-you', and just so happy to be there..." And that's from people who give up their spare time to check IDs, slap on wristbands, cook barbecues, work the bar, top up toilet paper supplies, hand out water, and then be back up at sunrise to start cooking breakfasts, work the breathalyser line and start the clean-up - and don't get paid a cent for it.
23. The drive home is the absolute worst.
There's nothing quite like a trip home as a sticky, stinking, food-dye covered mess, quite often while you're suffering the post-B&S blues. But it needs to be safe. Don't drive if you're tired, or drunk. Most B&Ss have breathalyser facilities with the bacon and egg brekkie the morning after, so take advantage of the gold coin donation breatho and freebie roll. Get on the breatho, hook into some bacon and eggs and water, and have a kip if you think you'll need it for the road. Everyone wants everyone else to get home safely.
24. Even if you don't meet your future husband or wife, you'll leave with more friends than when you arrived.
Like we said earlier - go in with an open mind and you'll be fine. It's a funny old crowd in that everyone is there for a good time, so you'll make friends pretty easily.
25. Yes. The food dye does come out. Eventually.
Everyone has their own little tricks to getting the dye out. One good way (but it sounds a little ... wanky) is to make sure you've moisturised well before being spewed on by a rainbow. Baby wipes are everyone's best friend, especially ones that have alcohol in them. A long shower, lots of soap and scrubbing, make-up remover, nail brushes - take your pick. TOP TIP: Natural food dye is your enemy. Not even nail polish remover will shift that quickly.
So, what have I missed? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
DISCLAIMER: The author has been going to B&S balls since making her debut at Finley in 2009. Since then, she has been to more than 25 balls in three states, including a trip to Inseminators in Western Australia in 2013. She currently serves on the Hay B&S Committee. This piece was first published in 2014.