• Miranda Tapsell and Nakkiah Lui (ABC)Source: ABC
A new podcast from Miranda Tapsell and Nakkiah Lui explores the "hijacking and democratisation" of debutante balls by First Nations women, both in Australia and across the world.
Rae Johnston

16 Jun 2020 - 11:42 AM  UPDATED 16 Jun 2020 - 11:42 AM

Podcasting duo Miranda Tapsell and Nakkiah Lui are back with a new nine-part series talking about the history, culture, adaptation and modernisation of the debutante ball. 

Debutante: Race, Resistance and Girl Power, an Audible Original, poses the question as to whether a "controversial colonial export" like a debutante ball - with its focus on "beauty, poise and politeness" - can be an empowering experience.

Debutante balls, traditionally, symbolise the "debut" of an upper-class young woman into society. Wearing a dress resembling a wedding gown, attending meant you were now old enough to be married.

In Australia, "deb balls" are usually run by a church group or community organisation, attended by girls between 15 and 18. 

Speaking with 7:30 on the ABC last night, Ms Lui said the tradition of deb balls began with women being treated as property, traded between the aristocracy and their fathers. 

The first official Aboriginal debutante ball was held in 1968. Up until that year, Aboriginal women had been excluded from the events. 

"It was kind of hijacking this exclusive tradition that you were told you weren't good enough for," said Ms Lui.

"And in a way ruining it by making it accessible, by democratising it, by including all of the people who have previously been excluded and saying, actually we're going to make this ours, and we're going to have fun and celebrate and have joy." 

At the deb ball run by Lui's mother in Western Sydney, the women perform traditional dance and are presented to a local Elder in place of a monarch. 

While making the nine-episode podcast series, Ms Tapsell said the duo spoke to a lot of young women who were involved deb balls.

"It was really beautiful to see these girls just glow at the thought of being at that ball."

"Not only was it time for them to be proud of who they were, it was also a time for them to be proud of the community that they were a part of."

But, she warns listeners; "this isn't a cosy costume drama about white women in diamond tiaras like Downton Abbey".

Debutante: Race, Resistance and Girl Power is available now on Audible. 

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