"It's Grafton in its Midsummer Night's Dream"
UNDER ominous skies and the purple haze of Market Square, Ulmarra SES volunteer and aged-care worker Sharni Wren was crowned the Queen of the Jacarandas for 2016.
Queen Sharni, as she will be known throughout her 12-month reign, was enshrined into Grafton's history while being draped in the regal purple cape and ascending the Jacaranda throne on stage on Saturday night.
Freshly crowned and still in a bit of shock, the smiling 22-year-old said she was looking forward to the duties that awaited her and the Jacaranda Queen's party.
"I'm still stunned at the moment but so, so excited for the next year. I can't believe it has happened; even when they announced it, I had to calm down to speak.
"Luckily they gave me a second before I had to make my speech," the newly invested queen said.
Miss Wren said the best part of her upcoming role would be "a bit of everything".
"I'm excited to be out in the community and experience the history which is also a big part of it. The history is what has made Jacaranda Festival what it is today. But it also wouldn't be here without the community either - without supporters, it would be impossible to be standing up here."
The girls raised more than $30,000 between them, with Sharni also announced as the highest fundraiser.
"Shannon and Heidi did an amazing job. It's been a great experience for all of us and we are looking forward to the next week together," she said.
Queen Sharni's mother Annette Wren, who was moved to tears when the announcement was made, said it was a long journey for the family. Sharni entered last year's quest then had to withdraw due to family illness.
"Her grandmother got very sick with cancer after she had nominated last year and we realised our commitment was not going to be full-on enough for Jacaranda so we had to withdraw. She lost her grandmother last year but she would be stoked for Sharni tonight. We are all so happy for her," Annette said.
This year's crowning ceremony was noticeably more streamline with some new faces hosting in thespian and part-time town crier Desan Padayachee, and former Jacaranda Queen Sarah Templeton on microphone duties.
A large video screen ensured that everyone could see and VIP seating was provided for those willing to contribute to the festival's coffers.
Traditional highlights were retained through the visually beautiful ballet performance Homage to the Crown, the various renouncements and the tears. The 2016 Jacaranda party announcements continued, naming Heidi Madsen as the Jacaranda Princess and Shannon Carter as the Queen's Party Princess.
Special guest Cate McQuillen, fresh from picking up another big award for her show Dirtgirlworld in Sydney this week, felt like she was "in the middle of a fairytale".
"My love of the Jacaranda Festival has further blossomed. It's Grafton in its Midsummer Night's Dream."
Despite the dreamy atmosphere, Ms McQuillen said there was also something genuine about this ceremony.
"It has a long-lasting lovely history. I have deep respect for these girls. It's not a beauty pageant. I see the profound effect it has on their lives, encouraging them to walk tall and stand proudly and confidently. And that's got to be a good thing."