Friday, November 10 was a federal holiday in observance of Veterans Day, and it was also the 242nd anniversary of the founding of the United States Marine Corps. At U.S. embassies around the world, it’s the Marines who protect our embassy facilities and everything in them. We owe them (as well as our diplomatic security partners and our host country guards) a debt of gratitude, and everyone in the Foreign Service knows that November means the Marine Ball.
The Marines work all year to raise money for their annual birthday ball; in Canberra, this year’s event was held at Parliament House. That’s pretty amazing in and of itself – imagine the Australian Embassy in DC throwing a reception on Capitol Hill?! More than 450 people from the U.S. Mission to Australia and the diplomatic community showed up at Parliament on Friday night looking fabulous.
For weeks and sometimes months before the ball, women talk excitedly about what they’re going to wear, how they’re going to do their hair, whether their dress fits, where they got it, if anyone wants to trade gowns, where to find shoes and seamstresses and salons at Post, and so on and so on.
I remember in Tashkent ordering gowns online and praying their monthlong journey through the pouch would have them arriving in time. It’s a bit different in Australia because DPO only takes about ten days and there’s plenty of shopping available locally.
We didn’t miss a single ball in Tashkent, where charity balls and women’s group events packed the calendar all season long. Now I have some nice gowns that are “new” again because no one here has seen them. The pics below are from the 2015 and 2016 Marine Corps Balls, which we thoroughly enjoyed.
As you can see, it’s a formal ball and most women wear evening gowns, although you may see a cocktail or hi-lo dress here and there. Men wear tuxedos or military uniforms. I have also seen some men in national dress, primarily kilts.
I booked in at my favorite Canberra salon for an updo, went to get my eyebrows done, had lunch with my husband, and then settled into my bathroom for a major makeup session! I adore the whole process of doing makeup (not only the outcome), and so of course I had to capture a little before and after. (I accidentally did my eyebrows before snapping the before pic, whoops.)
Not to toot my own horn too much, but I thought it came out pretty well. Thanks YouTube! Once we were ready (only five minutes later than planned!), we started off the evening with friends and colleagues at the QT Lounge on the 15th floor of the downtown QT hotel. After a few bottles of champagne, we were ready to hit up the ball cocktail hour.
We summoned an Uber and headed over to Parliament expecting humongous queues at security, but as usual, the Aussies had everything well in hand and running smoothly.
We got in just before a light spring rain started. We were amazed at the beautiful interior, as it was our first time visiting.
When we walked into the ballroom with tremendously high ceilings and more than 50 tables set, my mouth dropped.
What a fabulous party! Obviously #10 was the most fun table too. In all seriousness, I try not to tear up every time our anthem is sung, especially when I am serving overseas. I talked to a lot of people, and although I didn’t get up and really dance with my sad foot, I had a lot of fun seeing my colleagues in such a fun environment where people really let their hair down. Speaking of hair, I got a ton of compliments on mine.
We stayed nearly until the very end, and had to do a lot of recovery the next day. Thank God I didn’t have a flight to Prague like I did the early morning of my first ball!
We drug ourselves out to Braddon’s Haig Park the following evening for a local street food and wine festival. It had rained all afternoon and everything smelled fresh under pine trees and twinkling lights. From Pinot Grigio to Shiraz to Croatian beer, we sampled the wares and brought home my favorite new Riesling. It was a great Canberra weekend.