“I was quite scared to begin with,” says Ingvar Kenne, who has now been to ten Bachelor and Spinster (B&S) Balls, all in different regions of the Australian outback. “It’s by far one of the most intense things I’ve ever experienced. It’s full on, and non-stop.”
B&S Balls are notoriously drunken and raucous parties. They were originally set up to give young people in rural Australia the rare opportunity to meet a potential life partner; nowadays they are mostly an excuse to let loose, but many of the old traditions have stuck, and hundreds of people still drive from all over the country to take part in them.
On Saturday morning, anywhere between 500 to 1500 people turn up after a night of driving accross the country. They pitch their tents in the campsite and get straight onto the booze, often dressed in formal attire or costume. They make their way to the main arena, where they often cover themselves in food dye, and a band plays till the early morning.
They have a particular history and form but, as Kenne points out, they aren’t so different to scenes you’d find at a music festival in Britain, during the Spring Break across America, or at the Midsummer celebrations in Sweden. For him, these things happen all over the world.
“I don’t think it’s a rite of passage, I think that’s giving it more than it’s worth,” says Kenne, who thinks of these coming-of-age celebrations as a break with the values of the previous generation. “How do we authentically relate to the past any longer? How does this inform our identity, our traditions and the way in which we belong?” he asks.
The B&S Balls are 18+ and ticketed, and organised by local communities who donate the profits to charity. The crowd can be anywhere between 18 to 30 years old, and some of them will attend the parties monthly – or weekly if they could. “For country people who work really hard all week, this is one of their only outlets,” Kenne explains. “They live an isolated life, so it’s a chance to let loose.
“It’s not negative or positive portrayal in any way, I’m just photographing what I saw, where I found some kind of beauty or balance,” he adds. “[B&S Balls are] like a subculture, they almost feel like they’re franchised. Just like people following a certain type of music, with these balls you try to be part of the tribe. They’re close-knit, and they’re protective – and proud – of what they do.”