The recently released book ‘Frocks, Country Halls and Deb Balls’ by Darling Downs writer Nicki Laws and photographer Ann Alcock tells the story of Mrs Dulcie Mason, and the late Mrs Thelma Buetel from Acland, the skilled seamstress who drafted and sewed sixty lavish frocks and ball gowns for her friend and best client over five decades.

The stories encompass twenty country halls of the north-east Darling Downs where Dulcie and Ken Mason travelled to dances, from Kingsthorpe to Cooyar, Emu Creek to Gowrie Little Plain. The passion for these community buildings is apparent. It tells of the struggles of modern committees to keep country halls maintained and floors painstakingly polished. It shows how halls may be lost through floods or white ants, or the vast social upheavals wrought by a mining boom. Halls are where far-reaching decisions are made, where townspeople and travellers harbour during natural disasters and where monthly dances were held, which commonly attracted more than four hundred patrons. The mostly aging committees continue to work tirelessly to fundraise, hosting morning teas, weddings, funerals, tai-Kwando, indoor bowls, annual pig on the spit suppers or weekly card evenings.

Throughout the volume are gorgeous images of the dresses, hats, bags and shawls belonging to Mrs Mason and the Beutel family. These are not shrinking-violet numbers but extravagant lámes and velvets, glittering sequinned panels, 1970’s crimplene caftans and flowing multi-tiered ballgowns. This was the era when country women worked as hard and as long as men during the week, milking cows, driving trucks, keeping chickens and selling eggs. It was a time where a Saturday dance could be found within a thirty minute drive somewhere in the district and, for a few hours at least, a woman could feel feminine, graceful and admired, cosseted amongst family, neighbours and friends.

Country dances still happen and debutante balls are still hosted, although numbers of participants are declining. The book features the Goombungee Debutante Ball run by St Mark’s Anglican Church, and the Gowrie Little Plain Deb of the Year Ball. These traditional ceremonies still have significance in these country communities - perhaps not the official ‘coming out’ of the debutantes of last century, but somehow more meaningful than just elegant frocks, jewellery and photographs.

‘Frocks, Country Halls and Deb Balls’ by Nicki Laws and Ann Alcock, 2015. This project received Regional Arts Development Fund support, an initiative of Arts Queensland and Toowoomba Regional Council to support local arts and culture.  This book is available for $20. Ann and Nicki will be speaking on 25th August 2015 at the Naturally Resourceful Workshop in Oakey.

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