It’s the most lavish, resplendent social event on the College of Law calendar. Law Ball.The annual opportunity for students to adorn themselves in their finest attire, to dine over the most exquisite mass-produced two-course cuisine, and be regaled with tales of classmates over one of the most generous beverage packages of all the Society balls. Tickets are feverishly sought after and are sold-out as fast as your average tutorial sign-up. Despite their prices – which tting with the splendour of the event, are also extravagant – Law Balls consistently attract unparalleled interest. And with glamorous venues, luxurious table ornaments, live music and endlessly owing champagne, Law Ball is always a night to remember. For many decades, Law Ball has been the jewel in the Law Student Society’s (LSS) crown. It has become an inherent responsibility of the LSS Events Vice President to host this glittering yearly event, and justly it has become the most expensive item on the LSS budget. While the cost and format of the ball has been unquestioningly acceded to by committees-gone-by, this year there was a spanner thrown into the works.
As the LSS does not publish its minutes from its committee meetings (full disclosure: a practice for which I am partly to blame), the uninvolved law student has little idea about the mysterious goings-on inside their representative Society. With Facebook posts, emails and, of course, Peppercorn magazine the main modes of communication, the student cohort were largely unaware of the challenge that had befallen their cherished Ball.
Having flagged this debate at an earlier committee meeting, Social Director Kirsty Dale stood against the tide of accepted wisdom and raised underlying concerns that the Ball is expensive, exclusive and inaccessible. For a university as progressive as the ANU, she said, why do we persist with this antiquated event in its present form? Her concerns were legitimate. Many people had expressed pessimism in the past at the prospect of forking out over $120 for a ticket. Moreover, with last years’ table book- ing asco, many could not even sit with their friends. Kirsty believes the expense and limited number of tickets available restrict many students from attending, given not everyone gets support from their parents while studying, with many students working a number of jobs to support themselves.
Kirsty was instead proposing to turn Law Ball into a stand-up cocktail event, which in the scheme of things, was a fundamental alteration of the traditional event. Her rationale was simple: having no tables nor sit-down dinners would reduce ticket costs and allow up to 800 people to attend, as opposed to 680. She identi ed that there would be less ticketing issues, people could attend in smaller groups and the food might be better as canapes would be served which are easier to prepare in bulk. The criticisms were predictable: it would be a less formal event, people would look forward to sitting on tables with their friends, few other balls do a sit down meal, people would get sore feet, Law Ball’s reputation would go downhill, and the ball is a tradition.
The counter arguments were just as predictable: it would be no less formal because you can still dress up, there is greater opportunity to mingle standing up, the LSS Social Justice event is already a sit down meal, there would still be seats for people to sit if they got sore, people would still buy tickets, and ‘traditions are made to be subverted’. The mood was tense. No one wanted to say they were in support of something labelled exclusive and inaccessible for fear of being politically incorrect. However no one wanted to throw away the traditions of Law Ball either.
Ultimately the final decision came down to practical considerations. There were safety concerns with 800 people swarming over a canape dish. How many venues can host 800? Would there still be busses? And most importantly, how different would the cost be? As it turns out, the costings indicated that a stand up event with 800 people would only cost about $11 difference compared to the sit down event. Despite Dan McNamara’s claim that $11 means a lot for a person supporting themselves, he was fooling no one considering a Quarter Pounder meal with bacon costs more.
The committee put the matter to a vote and Kirsty’s proposal was easily defeated. An audible sigh of relief was heard. The insurrection had been stopped and the Law Ball was safe once more. Such revolutionary ideas would be shelved for the foreseeable future, doomed to failure at future discussions. Yet the debate was now out in the open. The Law Ball tradition was no longer beyond reproach. And while this years’ Ball will be as dazzling and grandiose as always, the need for inclusivity and accessibility will perhaps sit at the back of committee members’ minds as they indulge in dessert. Let them eat cake!