Ballarat Beat Rockabilly Festival is renowned for bringing the city alive with 1950s rock ‘n roll, but it is a weekend of more than petticoats, hair pieces, dancing and rock beats for those who attend.
For those embedded in its culture, rockabilly is about laughter, confidence, friendships and infectious fun.
The whole festival is a celebration of a culture from a time past that is in line with the values of its host town that promotes – a pride in Ballarat culture and history.
A couple are dancing on a makeshift wooden dance floor at the back of the George Hotel on Saturday. They are smiling while they are dancing and people stand around watching laughing and cheering as the song finishes.
The dancers are Gloria and Roger Campbell, members of the Ballarat Rockers – a social club of rock and roll dance enthusiasts that hosts dance classes and social events.
Gloria and Roger have been interested in rockabilly for 16 years and have attended the Ballarat Beat Rockabilly Festival since it began in 2013.
President of the Ballarat Rockers group John Morris watches on as they dance.
He says it is great to have such a popular rockabilly festival in Ballarat.
Some people are interested in cars, some clothes, others dancing and some are interested in everything. It is a real community
“You make friends from other areas and bump into them at other events. Many follow rockabilly festivals around the state,” he says.
It seems fitting the event is hosted in a town which has such a strong rockabilly following.
There are 120 members in the Ballarat Rockers group. John says 110 people joined the rock and roll dance class on Friday night.
What is it about rockabilly so many people love?
John says it is simply so much fun.
“It’s like one big family,’ he says.
“Rock dancing is something anyone can have a go at. Some of our members are up to 80 years old, the youngest are in their late teens.
“You get a lot of satisfaction out of seeing people who may never of danced before having a go.”
Many walking around the festival have fully embraced the rockabilly culture wearing 50s style clothing.
Women wear frocks with petticoats and colour, hair pieces and high heels.
Angela Tedesco has set up her 50s clothing stall Bee Bop Boutique in the courtyard behind The George Hotel.
She travelled from Adelaide for the festival, and is often on the road selling at rockabilly festivals around the country.
Angela says she loves 50s clothing and helping women develop the confidence to wear it in their everyday lives.
“A lot of people want to wear 50s clothes but don’t because of a fear of looking strange. I believe it is important to break down those barriers,” she says.
“If we don’t teach people it will be a dying thing. I encourage women to start off by maybe mixing a vintage skirt with a normal top or a vintage top with jeans if they are feeling out of their comfort zone.
“After you teach them to dress they get into it slowly and by the end of the year many will be wearing full 50s costume. It’s about building your confidence up with how you dress.”
THE PIN-UP PERFORMANCE
The Pin-Up Competition, described as one of the highlights of the four-day festival, is an event that oozes messages of self-confidence and body positivity.
Competitors perform a skit on stage to a packed Mining Exchange, with emphasis on costume and 50s style.
Each skit must be a certain length and include three poses and fall into different categories include roackbilly, glamourbilly, psychabilly, geekabilly and another category with couples.
Catch a short glimpse of the pin up competitors below
As a first time pin up watcher, it is hard to know what to expect – and it is also hard to describe. It is an alternative version of creativity and storytelling.
Ballarat competitor Kandy von Kisses performs a skit as Barbie, entering the stage wearing a hot pink dressing gown and stripping down to an original black and white strapless Barbie bathing suit.
It is a humorous routine – she has the crowd laughing and cheering when she pulls an elderly male audience member to the stage to act as Ken.
But it is a performance that is empowering too - sending a message to women and young girls in the audience to embrace their bodies, no matter what shape or size, flaunt what you have got, be proud of who you are and show it off with confidence.
You be your individual self and that is what is accepted.Bambi, pin up competitor
Watching more of the competitors take the stage, what stands out is their diversity. Each of the women and men play on their strengths, are a diverse range of body shapes and talents. They are oozing confidence and embracing their femininity and ability to create.
Most importantly, they all have fun on stage - it is infectious and you can see that in the crowd that cheer and laugh.
As the competition continues it becomes clear the rockabilly culture for these women is a celebration of femininity, diversity, sisterhood and fun. They all support each other and form strong friendships throughout the competition.
There are young girls in the crowd watching, hopefully inspired by the diversity, confidence and body positivity on display.
They sit beside older women, who would remember the vintage clothing and music from their youth.
Backstage, the competitors congratulate each other on their performances and laugh at what some may describe as ‘crazy’ skits.
Becca Bam Bam performed as part of the psychabilly category with a storyline that followed a woman who drank radioactive gin. She returns backstage covered in green slime.
She describes the experience as empowering.
“I just feel so alive on stage,” she says.
“For us, it is just so empowering to be on stage and show this is who I am. It is something that has really helped me become more body positive. I am not a size six or a size eight but it just makes me love my body. The style of the clothes are really good with curves as well.”
Becca Bam Bam’s dad Rock n’ Rob also performed as part of the pin up competition. He got involved last year after seeing his daughter have so much fun.
“It is just a buzz. It is hard to describe. You come off stage and you just want more. I can never get enough of it,” he says.
“I think the biggest thing is there are girls here who have had issues, whether it is with body or with mental health. This gives them an outlet and really helps them to recover from that sort of thing.”
You can read The Courier’s full interview with some of the pin-up competitors backstage below:
You were practically wearing bathers on stage. Do you think there is something about seeing that diversity on stage, and embracing your bodies, and having fun?
Bambi: I think definitely the confidence side of it is important to come across. Even if you are super nervous, there are people in the crowd who are even terrified to get on stage, for them it is the fact you are up there. I have friends who have come to competitions who have watched me on stage and gone up there the next year because of that. You have that kind of influence that even if you are completely messing up what you had in your head you are still owning it.
Lucky Dip: It is not just about what you do on stage. Bambi has done a lot of charity fundraising as well for Share the Dignity. So pin-up is not just about performance, it is about community and raising awareness and friendship.
It really is a type of performance that not many people used to seeing and a creativity that is very different to anything else.
Miss Tamara Hartley: It is almost like a beauty pageant meets a drama skit and stand up comedy meets pageant. Everyone has their own individual style as well and that is really reflected in what they do. Even if someone had a similar costume or similar idea it would never be executed the same way because everyone is so different in the way they create and perform, that is the nice thing about it.
It seems like you’re all good friends and embrace and support each other. Even sitting out there, is that your friends who are cheering?
They all laugh. Some yeah, strangers, people we might know.
Kandy von Kisses: I think the energy at these types of festivals is really infectious. I think it really brings together really strange parts of the community that wouldn’t otherwise gather together.
Definitely. I am feeling it out there. Walking around the festival and particularly in the pin up competition, it seems like it is all just about having fun, being happy and being confident.
Kandy von Kisses: 100 per cent.
Lucky Dip: But it is very scary at times and very stressful. But we support each other and when you get up and you have done your performance it is great.
Bambi: We were standing at the side stage shaking and then afterwards you just have a big group hug. It is a competition but we feel like a family as well.
Kandy von Kisses: If anyone is going to start this is a good competition to start off with because it is a big competition for Ballarat as well as Victoria, so it is good for newbies to come in and just go for it.
Miss Tamara Hartley: This is my first time doing a pin up competition and it has been really fun. Everyone is super lovely and super supportive. It is a really great experience. To go through something like this brings everyone closer as well. I was about to puke my guts out, I was really nervous, but everyone was here and supporting me.
Kandy von Kisses: Even if some of us compete in competitions others aren’t entered in we would go and be their moral support.
Lucky Dip: There is something about Ballarat too. There is so much history in this town and there is so much diversity here as well. Some of us come from out of town just to be here to be amongst all the buildings, be amongst the community and to feel that energy of retro and that is what we are all trying to express.
Miss Tamara Hartley: Even though it is a competition when you get up there you don’t even have that in your mind. You just enjoy the moment and it goes so fast. It is just about enjoying it and engaging with the audience and having fun.
How long does it take for you to prepare all your costume, make up, hair and skit?
Miss Tamara Hartley: I guess it really depends on the performance.
Kandy von Kisses: A lot of us get our hair done the days before the competition and there are some who do their hair on the day.
Bambi: We found out in January if we become a finalist for here but I think most people start about two months before.
Lucky Dip: It takes a lot of time as well to research and understand vintage. There is a lot of history to it and a lot of predecessors in our sector as well that have come before us and we want to do them proud as well and do our best to represent this.
How did you get into it?
Kandy von Kisses: I first started dressing up in 2013 when it was the very first Ballarat Beat. Looking at those photos now to where I have come, I have come a long way. My first competition was the Ballarat Beat in 2017 and I have competed around since.
Lucky Dip: I have a day job which is really intense so this is my outlet. I get to come up with really crazy elaborate plots and put them on stage in front of an audience. It is like having a second life for me sometimes. I really did it as an outlet for expression and to have that community feeling.
Miss Tamara Hartley: I have always done varieties of different performance throughout my life and I am pretty new to Melbourne as well and I wanted to find a new community to join. The pin up world in Melbourne is pretty strong and it fits in with what my interests are at this point in life and I thought I would give it a go.
How do you choose what category to go in? Does that depend on your costumes?
Lucky Dip: I have a done a few different categories. Last time I entered I was doing physcabilly so very different to what I am doing now. I think it is part of the evolution of your style. Back then I was into edgy rock and roll, now I am moving towards vintage a lot more, finding traditional things and really valuing the precious items I find in op shops.
Bambi: I am a nerd. I love the geekabilly. I think it is great how you bring your style and you do you. You be your individual self and that is what is accepted.
What is it like for you being up on stage? Is it empowering to be able to do whatever you want?
Becca Bam Bam: I just feel so alive on stage, it is so great. I was so nervous backstage, I was shaking. It is always like that. I get really really nervous and then I go on stage and I love it and didn’t want to leave.
I saw that, you were just going for it. You wouldn’t have many opportunities in life to just do that and be embraced.
Becca Bam Bam: That is what I really love about Ballarat Beat because there is so many avenues you can choose, so if you want to do something that is pop culture related you can do geekabilly, if you want to do something a little bit scary you can do psychabilly. That was the first time I have ever done psychabilly and it was just so empowering, I just loved it.
For people who don’t know what you do in pin up, what do you tell them?
Becca Bam Bam: It’s a look, it’s a style, but it is more than that, you are telling a story on stage. You have to do three poses and you choreograph the rest. I like to add something a little bit different to it. The last couple of routines I have done have been alcohol related, I think it is a bit of my alter ego party monster kind of thing. You can bring anything to pin up now. Back in the day pin up competitions were about having the most well put together vintage outfit, it is still obviously that too but there are so many other facets now. You can have something that is a little bit scary or goth, you can have a modern day take on the 50s style, you can have pop culture, the possibilities are endless.
For us, it is just so empowering to be on stage and show this is who I am. It is something that has really helped me become more body positive. I am not a size six or a size eight but it just makes me love my body. The style of the clothes are really good with curves as well.
It’s the first time I’ve seen pin up before. For me sitting in the crowd seeing you up there being so confident and embracing and flaunting what you have got, it is really inspiring.
Three and a half years ago I saw my first pin up comp and thought I could never do that. These girls are amazing and I love watching it. Then I said to myself my New Year’s Resolution is to do one. My first one was this competition Ballarat Beat three years ago. I was in the vintage section and I had so much fun and I won that section.
I have done other competitions as well and they are really great but Ballarat is just the one I always come home to. There is something magic about it being so inclusive. Guys are involved now. My dad is in the competition, he is Rock ‘n Rob. It is so fantastic. There is something about this competition because we meet more times than just showing up it is not really just a competition it is a big group of friends coming together to form a family. We look out for each other. It is sisterhood and brotherhood as well.
Rock ‘n Rob: I think the biggest thing is there are girls here who have had issues, whether it is with body or with mental health. This gives them an outlet and really helps them to recover from that sort of thing. Body issues are huge. There wouldn’t be too many people who like their body.
Why did you get into pin-up?
Rock ‘n Rob: I followed her into acting. I have performed on stage with Bec. Now Bec has started pin up and she said I should get involved.
Becca Bam Bam: They wanted more guys. I didn’t think he would.
Rock ‘n Rob: The more time I spend up on stage, the better I like it. This is good fun. I could see Becca was having a lot of fun, so I thought why can’t I do.
Last year was my first year. It was Elvis and now I have brought him back from the bed.
What’s it like for you on stage?
Rock ‘n Rob: It is just a buzz. It is hard to describe. You come off stage and you just want more. I can never get enough of it.
Did you think you would ever be doing this?
Rock ‘n Rob: No certainly not, no. Acting in a play no problem at all, but not this sort of thing.
The Ballarat Beat Rockabilly Festival runs from February 8 to February 10 in Ballarat. Visit the website for the events schedule.