Hear ye, hear ye! Applications for an annual ball are seeking the royal touch from Ulladulla’s young women.
The Blessing of the Fleet Festival honours Ulladulla’s Italian fishing past, and centres on the official blessing ceremony at the harbour wharf on Easter Sunday.
The schedule also includes market stalls, live music, games, fireworks and other elements – such as the annual Princess of the Fleet Ball.
Head of the organising committee Louise Garrett said the event had long ago cemented its place in Ulladulla.
“I said to Rotary that we are not going to lose this ball,” she said.
“‘The ball has got to go ahead, and I will step up and do it’, I said.
“I felt it was important it go ahead, as I felt the ball was an important part of the Ulladulla calendar, even though there’s no floats and no procession down the main street.”
Ms Garrett said the search was on for young women willing to get involved in 2024.
“To be a princess, you have to live in our area – south of Ulladulla, up to Nowra – and they’re usually aged 16 or 17,” she said.
“The princesses have to get a sponsor, and the sponsorship package will cover the princess and the partner, the tiara, the sashes, photography and two free tickets for the sponsors at the ball.”
While the Milton-Ulladulla Rotary Club brought back the Blessing of the Fleet Festival in April after a three-year hiatus due to COVID-19, there will be changes next year.
Ms Garrett said that while the lack of a parade meant there would be no floats, other responsibilities of the princesses would remain.
“There will still be a ball, and princesses are expected to participate in the festival.”
Dance lessons are held across six weeks on Sunday afternoons ahead of the ball, which will be held on 23 March, 2024.
“They [the participants] learn these dances with boys they may not even know,” Ms Garrett said.
“They come and they’re all giggly and shy, but pick up the dances and on the night, they’re just gorgeous.”
Ms Garrett said the benefits for participating kids were clear – for both the young men and women.
“They’re applying themselves and learning,” she said.
“Even if it is only a dance step, they’re still putting themselves out of their comfort zone.”
Ms Garrett said the ball had been a coming-of-age milestone for generations of young people in the region.
“I think it’s a rite of passage for girls in Ulladulla – their grandmothers have probably done it, and maybe other kids at their school,” she said.
“We don’t have a deb ball here, like a lot of country towns do.
“Instead, we have the Blessing of the Fleet Festival and the Princess of the Fleet Ball.”
For Ms Garrett, the wider Blessing of the Fleet Festival was a well-known part of life in Ulladulla.
“I didn’t grow up here, but I’ve watched the little fishing village grow and grow,” she said.
“Acknowledging our fisherman is a big part of the town culture.”