Debutantes, decorations and dancing shoes
Once upon a time the highlight of Northcote’s social calendar was the Mayoral Ball hosted annually by the Mayor and Mayoress of Northcote. The event was a team effort presented by a committee of volunteers usually councillor’s wives and daughters, who chose the theme, decorated the venue and organised for the illustrious guests to be entertained and refreshed with a supper. The event was always reported in the newspaper’s social pages with the long list of attendees named reading like a who’s who of eminent Northcote.
A society column feature followed certain conventions. It was vital that every name should be listed so as not to offend anyone important by leaving them off the guest list. Mayors of neighbouring councils appeared first followed by Northcote’s councillors and then the general admittance. The ladies were always noted under their husband’s names. For instance the wife of a prominent lawyer, Labor Party politician and Federal Member of Parliament for Batman is mentioned simply as Mrs Frank Brennan. Her own name is lost in the protocol of the day. And yet the reporting of these lavish occasions was all about the ladies and the fashions they wore. Mayoral Balls were a chance for unmarried daughters to dress up and, as debutantes, be officially presented to society. Their first dance with a suitable, eligible, bachelor was carefully managed with the “debs” led on to the floor by the highest ranking young lady, usually the daughter of one of the councillors. Dancing allowed a socially acceptable intimacy that would hopefully lead to a respectable engagement by the following year’s ball and marriage the year after that. The Mayoral Ball then was eagerly anticipated.
The first ball was held in 1912 in the newly opened Northcote Picture Theatre on High Street. Mr Harold E. Bastings, the Mayor of Northcote, and his wife Amy hosted 600 guests in a room festooned with gold roses on natural foliage intertwined with lines of alternating blue and amber globes. Ladies of the “Debutante Set” were led into the ball by a relative of Mrs Bastings, Miss Doris Grindrod, and Miss Thelma Smirl. The occasion began an annual tradition that continues today with the most recent Mayoral Fundraiser Ball in October 2011 held for “Unmask a Cure for Multiple Sclerosis”. Darebin Mayor Cr. Diana Asmar and guest speaker Senator the Hon. Stephen Conroy were in attendance on that occasion.
Balls were less frequent through the years of the First World War. Northcote was reported as first to kick off the tradition again in 1921 with a brilliant display of gold and glamour. A few years later in 1928, with the Wall Street Crash that lead to the Great Depression still a year away, the Northcote Town Hall was decked out in a mid-winter spring for a June ball. Gaily-coloured butterflies poised on the pink-blossomed branches festooned the ballroom’s white walls. The stage was bordered by garlands of ferns and early spring flowers. The hostess, wife of Northcote’s Mayor Councillor Samuel Dennis, looked suitably handsome in her black georgette royale gown with white yoke collar. To offset her choice of classic elegance she carried a bouquet of blackberry sprays linked with pale pink camellias and carnations that complemented the spring décor. Her daughter Irene was more youthfully playful in her choice of full-skirted almond pink georgette frock trimmed with bands of satin. Mrs Frank Brennan, wife of the ball’s most prominent guest, was dressed with considerably more colour in delphinium blue georgette with silver and crystals sewn into it.
In 1930 the addition of a new entrance hall and lounge to the Northcote Town Hall venue was much admired, decked out in poppy-coloured lights and streamers. The Mayoral Ball was the first large function to be held there since the alterations to the building. The Mayor Cr. William Hayes presided with Mrs David in “a well-cut frock of flame-red georgette with long, close-fitting skirt” at his side acting as Mayoress for the evening.
In 1940 the affair was a patriotic one as the country was still gripped in the early fervour of World War II. On the 16th July the Town Hall was decorated for an Australian bush settling. Councillor and Mrs A. C. Bird were Mayor and Mayoress on this occasion. Imperial and Nationalistic pride was in evidence in the life-size paintings of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth draped in swags of red, white and blue. Colonial and Dominion coats-of-arms were placed in the balconies of the hall. Mrs A. C. Bird’s costume was tailored to appear reminiscent of military fashion. Her gown was cream French satin-striped moiré with a draped bodice and full skirt of which she wore a matching jacket over top. She carried carnations and tiny blue forget-me-nots in her bouquet. Twelve debutantes wearing uniform frocks of white marquisette were presented to the Mayor and Mayoress. Mrs and Mrs Brennan were again guests at the 1940 Mayoral Ball in Northcote.
PERSONAL.(1921, 8 July). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), p. 4
SOCIAL EVENTS. NORTHCOTE MAYORALL BALL. (1928, 28 June). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), p. 4
WOMEN'S REALM. NORTHCOTE MAYORALL BALL. (1930, June 26). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), p. 5
AUSTRALIAN SETTING FOR MAYORALL BALL. (1940, July 17). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), p. 8
Lemon, Andrew (1983). The Northcote Side of the River. North Melbourne: Hargreen.