Night of Nights – The inaugural Gympie All Abilities Ball

The All Abilities Ball was a shining example of how to make an event inclusive for people with disability. The event celebrated diversity and acceptance, while providing extra supports like quiet spaces and availability of accessible taxis to attendees.
Community members smiling and posing together

MC Sean Connelly Photo by Brea Martin Photography

The term “night of nights” is often overused, however Friday 1 December 2023 at the beautiful Gunabul Homestead really was Gympie’s night of nights.

As part of Disability Action Week and International Day of People with Disability celebrations, the inaugural Gympie All Abilities Ball took place in the homestead and on the grounds of the historic 140-year-old recently reopened Gunabul Homestead, not far from Gympie CBD.

The All Abilities Ball was a shining example of how to make an event inclusive for people with disability. The event celebrated diversity and acceptance, while providing extra supports like quiet spaces and availability of accessible taxis to attendees.

People with Disability Australia was one of the proud supporters of the event.

“The whole event was special to be a part of,” said People with Disability Australia Advocate Sean Connelly, the event manager for the night. “Consulting with the disability community shone a light on what we could do to reduce barriers, from getting a ticket, dressing up, the need for quiet spaces, to returning home safely. It meant the entire person was considered and that people felt included in their community.

The Disability Action Week Committee Photo by Brea Martin Photography

“The focus of the volunteer committee was to host the most inclusive event possible through community and business support. This meant considering how to create a memorable and welcoming experience for everyone.”

The sold-out event had over 200 attendees on the evening, and also had a large waitlist.

This event was around nine months in the making, led by small voluntary committee with representatives from People with Disability Australia, Jobmatch Employment, Weeroona Disability Association, Bravo Disability Supports, Avenues Lifestyle Supports, Adapt Mentoring & Support Services, Queenslanders with Disability Peer Support Group, and community members with lived experience of disability. They created a program of events for Disability Action Week (25 November – 3 December) and International Day of People with Disability (3 December), with the All Abilities Ball being the showcase event and highlight of the calendar.

The dress theme for the evening was “dress your best”.  A partnership with Fancy That Op Shop in Mary Street, Gympie, meant anyone requiring an outfit could present in-store and upon identifying that they were attending the ball, they were given an outfit at no cost and the accounts were later reconciled by a generous benefactor, like the fairy godmother preparing Cinderella for the ball.

Entertainment of the night consisted of performances by people with disability or lived experience of disability. The Just Us singing group led by local songstress Karyn DeVere, an acoustic performance by Olivia Sindel and the headline act was the Aspy Jones band. 

The Just Us singing group Photo by Brea Martin Photography

The evening began with a blessing provided by Father Adrian Farrelly of Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church, who led a minute of silence to honour the passing of Roxanne MacGregor and Kim Edgar, stalwarts of the Gympie disability community. Local disability champion Roxanne MacGregor pioneered Disability Action Week events in the Gympie region and passed away in late 2021. Kim Edgar, who worked for local disability services Weeroona, Avenues and Endeavour, passed away in early 2023.

I really enjoyed the night, being able to get dressed up and have where I felt accepted for who I am… I thought the speeches were really relevant and meaningful for people who are vulnerable and/or anxious about going out. Aspy Jones was awesome as it got people out of their comfort zone and out on the dance floor. I also like the fact that there were a number of areas for people to retreat to if they were feeling overwhelmed.
– Lorelle, a PWDA client who attended

Uncle Kevin Starkey led an Acknowledgement of Country before performing a traditional Smoking Ceremony to cleanse the evening ahead of speeches from State Member for Gympie Mr Tony Perrett and Mayor of Gympie, Mr Glen Hartwig.

Uncle Kevin Starkey Photo by Brea Martin Photography

The event was warmly received by the crowd, despite a brief period of showers during the Just Us musical performance, however this only galvanized the crowd to move indoors and appreciate the evening and company even more.

Guest speakers included Michael Condon from QDN’s Peer Support Group, Annette Nugent and her daughter Georgia, Gympie’s very own Special Olympics champion.

The collaborative nature of how the town and the people within Gympie pulled together meant many of our most cherished residents had a night to remember with family and friends.

Many of the disability organisations and committee members donated or subsidised tickets for their members and clients.

Financial and in-kind support came from Gympie Regional Council, two generous benefactors, Wellness Australia Group, Michael Hehir and the catering team at Capelli’s, Ezy Adventures, Gympie Cabs (who ensured accessible transportation was available), Gympie Party World, Gympie RSL, Nightingale Law. Special thanks to Gunabul Homestead events team of Hayley and Maddie and Brea Martin Photography team for capturing photos from the night, and Just Us singing group. Media partners included Bilko and Jade and their team at Zinc 96, Gympie Today newspaper and Gympie Living magazine.

The MCs for the evening were PWDA’s Sean Connelly and TV and radio star Jamie Dunn and his ‘talking bathmat’ sidekick Agro.

Staff and participants from Avenues Disability Lifestyle Association Photo by Brea Martin Photography

Friday night was awesome. The entertainment was great. Not too loud. Outside was delightful. Just lose the mosquitos.
– Jenny, a PWDA client who attended

“Roxanne MacGregor would have been looking down and smiling and I know she would have been proud of what we put together,” said Connelly, “Our goal is to establish this as an annual event; we would continue to work to eliminate any access issues like financial barriers so people with disabilities in our community can be included.”