Foundation Day, 2 March 1913, was One Very Big Event.
Dignitaries from across Australia and from the United Kingdom and other countries gathered with Canberra's Founders for a day of speeches, flag-raising, march-pasts and a grand luncheon – in a marquee, for lack of better accommodation.
And at the end of the day, the festivities over, the visitors boarded the train at Queanbeyan to return to the relative civilisation of Melbourne and Sydney.
Normally, an event of this type would culminate in a Grand Ball. And such a ball could have been a great event because, according to the London Evening Standard in 1911, the dancing in Australia "was equal to anything in the world".
But there was no Foundation Ball that evening, because Canberra in 1913 was barely more than a paddock, and there was nowhere to hold a Ball, not until our own Albert Hall was opened on 10 March 1928, 15 years later.
But think this, better late than never!
After a wait of only 100.5 years, on 7 September 2013 more than 130 dancers Kicked Up Their Heels in our Albert Hall at the Founders' Ball – the one that didn't happen back in 1913 – evoking the music and dance styles of the 1910s and 1920s – waltzes, quadrilles, two–steps and more.
After a late opportunity for dancers to refresh their skills at a Taster Class, the formal part of the evening started off on a strong note with a recital of dance music on the Theatre Organ Society of Australia (TOSA) Compton Theatre Organ, Stuart Warner on the keys. This was followed by the main feature an enjoyable and welcoming programme of heritage dances, including The Merrilyn - more about which below - and the specially-composed Canberra Centenary Waltz).
The dancing side of the evening commenced at 8pm with a Grand March, led by Peter Lundy RFD and Di Johnstone, President and Secretary respectively of the Friends of the Albert Hall (FAH).
Dancing continued until the early hours, interrupted only by an excellent supper provided by Nibblez Catering.
Incidentally, the choice of Di and Peter to lead the Ball was most appropriate, because they had both been founding members of the FAH which, ever since its inception in 2007, has been instrumental in lobbying the authorities to return the Hall to its former splendour. In this the FAH has received considerable support from John Hargreaves, who attended the Founders' Ball in a private capacity, accompanied by his wife Jenny.
This, the Monaro Folk Society's 33rd annual formal heritage dance event, was chosen by the Canberra Centenary Office to be a significant part of the Kick Up Your Heels social dance project in 2013, and to be part of the official photographic record of the Centenary program, Documenting the Commissions — Photography. You can see a selection of those official photos on the C100 website.
[The Monaro Folk Society also established another association with the Canberra Centenary. The Society's annual Shearers' Ball on 2 February was endorsed as part of a package for the Centennial programme, in this case to mark the 1910s decade, the first serious post–colonial period for the region, and to give a flying start to the whole Kick Up Your Heels programme.]
The Canberra Times covered the event, publishing several photos to support a delightful report.
You can see some of the dances on YouTube - beginning with
a dance medley that opens with the Grand March, there is the
Dinky One-step (a bit out-there ay?) and the
Boston Two-step, the elegant
Veleta, the appropriately-named
Salty Dog Rag, and of course the
Canberra Centenary Waltz. The evening concluded with a communal
Auld Lang Syne and a free-for-all Polka. (These clips represent less than half of the total program.)
The slide-shows illustrate that many dancers showed great enthusiasm for an opportunity to dress up in Edwardian and post–WW1 clothes, while others took a more relaxed approach.
Maybe some found inspiration from the images below, taken from sheet music covers of the period, which we found in the National Library of Australia, or maybe from our fashionista's special advice on the attire of the 1910s and 1920s.
There was an organ recital, featuring the TOSA theatre organ that had been such a hit at the 1930s and 1940s events earlier in the Kick Up Your Heels programme, and kick–started this dance programme.
Then there was the highlight and unique feature of the evening, the reminiscences of one very special guest of honour.
Merrilyn Fahey recalled that, when she was a small child in Melbourne, her parents were ballroom dancing champions and dance teachers. And she told us that for her first birthday gift her parents composed a New Vogue dance and named it for her.
It was The Merrilyn, which became part of the repertoire for competitions in international ballroom dancing championships. And we danced it in her honour at the Founders' Ball.
A special commendation is due to the 7–person–strong Stringfiddle Big Band, led by Bob McInnes. The success of the evening owed much to the band's great versatility in playing a range of dance music that included not only the ragtime and jazz of the 1910s–1920s, but also older styles that were still popular in those times (and indeed today).
Finally, a few words from the dancers:
My congratulations for a lovely evening last Saturday. The Ball was a great success, people very friendly, music super and a lovely supper. Thank you all very much for the great organisation.
Elaine - Canberra ACT.
Thank you for being so welcoming on the evening of the Ball. I had a marvellous time and thoroughly enjoyed all the dances, the supper was delicious and the company was great!
I will have memories of the evening for many years to come. As I was telling others on the night, my Grandmother was born in Goulburn in 1913 and the Centenary of Canberra means a lot to me.
Suzanne - Sydney NSW.
The Founders' Ball was everything I thought it would be - and more! It was very nice to see a few more dancers from interstate. The previous nights we attended were just so enjoyable and we are sorry that we cannot attend all of the future dance nights. I did not mention costume and perhaps someone else will - because I thought there was a great variety of costumes which very well reflected one hundred years.
Margaret & Bill - Sydney NSW.
(Margaret attached a more comprehensive report which has since been published in the October 2013 issue of Monaro Musings.)
The Founders' Ball was a wonderful night of fun and dancing. From the moment I stepped into the Albert Hall I knew that I was in for a treat ...
The band was great ...
Now the supper was absolutely fabulous ...
I thought it was a very good ball and well organised and run. ...
My thanks to all who played a role in the presentation of the Founders' Ball.
Congratulations, I had a ball :)
Bill - Newcastle NSW.
(Bill's remarks above are extracts from his very comprehensive report, which is published in full in October Monaro Musings.)
It was a great night enjoyed by all. Well done. Thank you again.
Madeleine - Canberra ACT.
I'd just like to thank you very much for insisting on our attendance at the Ball on Saturday, I thoroughly enjoyed it — the venue of course, the dances, the music, and the delicious supper. Everything was perfect. (J)
And thanks for organising the weather! (R)
Judy & Richard - Sydney NSW.
I just have to say what an absolutely fabulous night Saturday last (7th Sept) proved to be. Please thank all concerned for everything. Dancing, calling and the supper just proved to be exceptional.
Graeme - Bomaderry NSW.