24 December 2016

Podcast - Nell's Noël Nonsense

Following on from my holiday post - Load up your devices and dance. Here is a wonderful Christmas podcast from my friend Nell'ee Maydit.

Happy Christmas Colleen x

23 December 2016

Load up your devices and dance!

The party season has begun and we’ll be dancing from now right through till early March.  I’ve been noticing at all the home soirees that the music is fabulous, it’s like friends have a DJ hidden behind the blinds. But it seems we can all enjoy the best sounds and what’s more our favourite DJs are happy to supply the beats.

More than ever before our brilliant local DJs and music producers are knocking out promotional podcasts for us to download or stream through our personal devices.  Sample at home, in the gym or on the beach, then follow them to the club or dance party of choice.

Podomatic, soundcloud, mixcloud, iTunes, Facebook and the DJs personal websites are the go to sites. Get searching and I promise you will be spoilt for choice and all tastes are catered for.

DJ Rob Davis
Since 1985 DJ Rob Davis has played at many big parties in Sydney and overseas. I’ve been a fan the whole time and many a Mardi Gras or Sleaze are forever memorable because of his sets.  He plays every Saturday and Sunday night at Arq, and has done so for 9 years. Before that he was resident at The Midnight Shift for 22 years. So imagine my excitement when I found he uploads podcasts to his personal website.

Recently he posted a new podcast ‘2016 Anthems’ 2 hours worth of happy house and sing-along anthems that hit number 2 on the dance charts after just 24 hours. Rob said “I feel very privileged to have had such a long career. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the club owners and clubbers of Sydney for allowing me to not just pursue, but maintain a job that I love.” 

DJ Mason Andrews

Bursting into the music scene early in 2012, at just 22 years old DJ Mason Andrews is a star on the ascend. Mason has been doing podcasts monthly now for about 5 years and tells me he loves experimenting with new genres and sounds, and sharing that with his many followers.  Mason will be playing a set at the very popular Babylon club night on Boxing Day and is currently making us a main room/circuit mix with all the camp vocal house trimmings as a teaser. 

26 November 2016

25 Years of Polly’s Follies

It’s the longest running drag show in Australia – Polly’s Follies is about to celebrate its silver anniversary. The story of this phenomenon is now legendary amongst the history of Sydney drag and its star Polly Petrie, well she’s achieved what no other performer is ever likely to again.  

It all began at the Albury Hotel 25 years ago when Leigh Jennings introduced a Sunday evening show that had a sense of difference from the famous production show format that played every night. It was all about having fun – the same purpose continuing right through to today.

Polly Petrie
The format was, as it still is, a drag variety show. A place where up and coming drag queens can make a start, learn the ropes, have room to experiment and as many have, blossom into the performers we have all enjoyed so much over the years. While it has never been a talent quest, it has launched stars.  Some of those who started at Polly’s include: Vanity Faire, Beyonce G-Spot, Christina Dior, Natasha Knowles, Jessica James (Drags Aloud, Melbourne), Feminem (Perth) and Sandy Crack (Brighton, England). 

But make no mistake the star of the show is Polly. All the bouquets are hers. Polly holds the whole show together, making it look almost like a fun party, but really it takes commitment, focus and heaps of talent to guide three hours of entertainment, where anything can happen and no two shows are the same.

When the Albury Hotel closed, Polly took the show on the road. First to the Venus Room in Kings Cross then to the Lizard Lounge at the Exchange Hotel and to its current home for the last 11 years The Stonewall Hotel.  Punters of a certain age will have been in the audiences for the whole journey, and even some of the showgirls will have performed on all of the Follies stages.

23 November 2016

Something special happened at the Sydney Transgender Day of Remembrance Candlelight Vigil

Last Sunday night at Taylor Square Sydney, the traditional heart of the LGBTI community, something very special happened. Trans Sydney Pride, TSP, a social and support group for the Sydney trans community, held the first Sydney Transgender Day of Remembrance Candlelight Vigil.

From 7-30 pm on a warm spring evening people began to gather under the large Pride flag that fly’s on Gilligan’s Island. My trans sisters in a large number, our trans brothers, our beautiful friends and allies and a sprinkling of our community leaders and community organisation’s representatives. The gathering was estimated very conservatively to be of 250 plus.

Just before 8 pm as the light was fading a group of transmen and women, who had marched from an earlier event at Harmony Park, arrived via the South end of the Square led by Police transwoman Sargent Val Wagstaff carrying the Transgender Flag. She took centre position on the Island under the Pride Flag and quietly and with great pride gave the event a visual heart.

Peta Friend the founder of TSP set the mood, as everyone held their flicking candles, with some short well-chosen messages and context of the day, mentioning that our sisters are also gathering at similar events all over the world. Greg Gould sang a very elegant arrangement of ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ before the crowd marked a minute of silence.

12 November 2016

Sydney marks Transgender Day of Remembrance 2016

The Transgender Day of Remembrance was established in 1999 as a memorial to those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice.

The event is held annually on 20 November to honour Rita Hester, whose murder in 1998 instigated the Remembering Our Dead web project and a San Francisco candlelight vigil in 1999. Rita Hester’s murder — like many anti-transgender murder cases remains unsolved. 

This year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance in Sydney will be held in Harmony Park, Surry Hills and is sponsored by the Gender Centre, with the support of the Inner City Legal Centre, City of Sydney, NSW Police Force, Queer Screen and Trans Sydney Pride. There will be a free BBQ, with tea, coffee and cake provided throughout the day.

Commencing at 3pm a Police Plaque is to be unveiled in the area around the Police Memorial adjacent to Harmony Park. This Plaque will honour the Trans community and those who have suffered because of transphobia. Following this and back in the Park there will be talks from Edward Santow, the Human Rights Commissioner and Superintendent Tony Crandell of the NSW Police.

These talks will be followed by a Living Library Book feature. The aim of the Living Library is to facilitate conversations between interested members of the public and individuals from marginalised communities. These are the ‘books’ and they are available to the ‘readers’, who can reserve a one-on-one conversation and discuss the life experience of the ‘book’ for half an hour.  The aim is to challenge prejudices and stereotypes and provide the chance for greater understanding in a safe, respectful space.

20 October 2016

A Showgirl Memorial for Taylor Square, Sydney

In February 2014 The City of Sydney Council endorsed Lord Mayor Clover Moore’s proposal to install a permanent artwork at Taylor Square to mark the 40th anniversary of Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in 2018.

This decision came about after the early removal of our loved Rainbow Crossing by the State Government and a well-attended Rainbow Rights Forum held by the City at Paddington Town Hall in July 2013. There were numerous ideas, several of which incorporated a rainbow motif. Ideas included a rainbow suspended over Taylor Square, a rainbow fountain, ideas for sculptures, lighting, and plaques that told our communities stories.

Apart from the range of different ideas, strong views were expressed about the role such a symbol should play. Foremost was the desire that it be permanent and that it capture the character of the Sydney LGBTI community, in both its playful and serious modes. That it should serve as a landmark, a destination and a meeting place. Something people wanted to photograph and share with others.

14 October 2016

Who is Sydney’s Favourite Drag Personality?

The DIVA for Sydney’s Favourite Drag Personality is an award introduced several years after the awards began as a response to the massive change in social drag that began taking off. This year she – your favourite comes of age.

Any award decided by audiences is cherished by the winner, it’s the ultimate response to their work. But it goes further, it acknowledges that very Sydney connection performers have with the fans. Visit any bar or club and you’ll see showgirls taking the time to chat and meet fans after the show and with the explosion of entertainment options without a stage, more so than ever, the performer and the patron are connecting. 

With the drag persona larger than life, it’s no surprise that past winners of this award have been some of our biggest stars. Chelsea Bun was its first and still today when she makes a now rare appearance on the scene fans are lined up for their Bun fix. Minnie Cooper, Tora Hymen, Karen Kardashian and Kitty Glitter all past winners are infamous for a bit of mixing and mingling!

Charisma Belle
Charisma Belle holds the record for this award, she has four of them, and so I checked in with her and asked how important to her this is.  
 “It’s an important award, for me it’s one of the most important. In my mind it means the winner is doing something right. It shows the performer is making a good impression on the audience and hopefully adding something positive to the LGBTI community and beyond.” Charisma said.

Charisma, like many performers, covers all the entertainment options on offer, from the traditional production show, through trivia nights and talent quests as both a host and a judge. So I asked what she tells the new kids about how to look after their fans?

13 October 2016

DIVA 16 - A refresh for the times!

It’s often said that our community organisations must change with the times to remain popular and dare we say relevant. For several years now DIVA has been reflecting the changes we’ve seen in the drag scene and the audience numbers at the annual awards adjusting.

Although the scene is much smaller now the enthusiasm of the audiences is still driving an industry, fuelled somewhat by the RuPaul Drag Race phenomena and the fact our performers are still as good as you’ll see anywhere else.

DIVA have found it difficult over the last few years to establish a judging panel of experts and consequently, who won what and why, was questioned more than ever before. Change was needed.

Kudos to the small team behind Avid Events who have been presenting the awards since 2009. Mostly these days a two hander of Greg Steel and Tim Millgate who have built the event again, year by year, and it was so great to see last year at our 25th anniversary awards how successful they have been.

As soon as those celebrations faded the guys began a process of analysis, what is great about DIVA and what was due for a tweak? Because at the heart, the fact that its main purpose is to recognise the often unsung success of the Sydney drag industry is still as important as it was 26 years ago.

9 September 2016

The Benefit

It seems to come up often when I’m asked about different aspects of my life on the ‘Golden Mile’. And I seem to always say, “I have lived in the best of times and the worst of times”. It’s from these thoughts that I’m reminded of ‘The Benefit’.

A tradition of Sydney drag queens and showgirl performers for over three decades now, doing the benefit was born out of a sense of duty and passed on with reason and smothered in love.

It is traced back to 1985, when the newly-established Bobby Goldsmith Foundation organised the first Boys Own Bake Off at the Oxford Hotel and our performers rallied to do a spot number to help the cause. The inaugural event raised $8,000 and started a tradition of The Benefit still carried on today, raising serious money over the years for HIV/AIDS.

One of the first Benefits held at the Oxford Hotel
Many will recall the great sadness in the ensuing years that were to define our time, and the ways we all helped each other. So many of our friends and lovers were becoming sick and the services being established to help them were generally underfunded.

Our playground of pubs and clubs were mostly found around Oxford Street, and throughout the year every venue would take their turn to organise a benefit night. Their purpose was sombre but their form was celebratory, as is our way. Always at the heart of these events were the performers.

1 August 2016

Ask not what your community can do for you; ask what you can do for your community.

Grounded for winter – no way. I’ve been out and about taking in some of the many community events held over the recent Sydney Pride Festival. It was great to see how this grassroots festival has grown and developed its own identity. It has become a wonderful opportunity for many of our community organisations to inform, educate, entertain and raise funds.

The one thing you notice at every event is the number of people now giving their time for community charities, support and social groups. All genders, all ages – volunteers are the cogs of our community’s heart.

I know from my own personal experience over the years just how much fun and personally rewarding the volunteers’ experience can be; to anyone considering joining in – I say jump!

I spoke to my friend Steph Sands, who in 2015 won the Honour Award for Community Hero. For over 15 years, Steph has developed, guided and supported a broad range of LGBTI community organisations and events, including as co-chair of Mardi Gras and founder of Women Say Something. She said she originally got involved as a volunteer because she wasn’t meeting the type of people she wanted to in the clubs and bars. She was looking for more.

“If you want to create community you have to be community,” Steph said. “It doesn’t matter how you get involved, or how much: just be involved. Do what you feel comfortable doing and be open to meeting some other community minded people in the process.

“I simply wouldn’t have the skills, the network or the professional experiences if it weren’t for volunteering at Mardi Gras,” Steph added. “I had the privilege of sitting across board tables with individuals from many diverse professional backgrounds and it was both an experience and an education to work with them.”

Steph’s service is exemplary, but scratch around and volunteers are important at every level and in every one of our local organisations.

13 May 2016

Come join the Dami Army

I love the Eurovision Song Contest – always have. As a kid growing up in Wales I was lucky to experience the UK glory years. The representatives were the big names of the day, Sandie Shaw, Lulu, Cliff Richard and Olivia Newton-John were just some. Those songs were the massive hits of the decade and are still played on nostalgic radio stations here in Australia.

Now some sixty years later the event is the biggest production in the world, it has more than a fair share of camp layered over the performances, some of the best looking people ever to grace a television screen and fans – well it’s said there is nothing quite like the Eurovision fans.    

And I know this first hand. My friend throws a Eurovision party each year and it’s always one of the year’s best nights. In 2011 we watched the contest broadcast from the German city of Dusseldorf with great anticipation as it had been decided a group of my friends would travel to the winners city the next year.

4 May 2016

Will we Sleaze again?

There’s a growing buzz about the return of Sleaze Ball. It began with the creation of a Facebook page dedicated to the issue last month and has already amassed 1800 followers. The admin behind the page - former Sydney Mardi Gras chair Marcus Bourget - is active in keeping the momentum going and followers are posting their Sleaze Ball memories, photos of what they wore and the shows they remember as favourites. 
The first Sleaze Ball was held at the Paddington Town Hall in September 1982. I recall it with great humour because after spending hours getting ready and pre-party drinks, our group arrived only to be turned away as the place had been full almost since the doors opened.
The next year we all headed to the Showgrounds – the start of 27 years of unforgettable experiences. Sleaze Ball, by definition, was always the more rugged, darker and sexier partner of the Mardi Gras Party. It was, for the greater part of its existence, the main fundraiser produced by Mardi Gras to cover the cost of the parade and festival.

8 April 2016

Fundraising Through Friends

The late Dawn O’Donnell was an important figure in Sydney’s LGBTIQ history. She is often credited as a driving force in the creation of our gay mile – Oxford Street – and for helping to make Sydney one of the gay capitals of the world. 
Iconic venues, long gone but fundamental to our heritage such as Capriccio’s, Patchs, The Exchange, Newtown and Imperial Hotels, were all created by Dawn. She is remembered for being a tough businesswoman but also someone who was often quietly guiding and assisting those she knew were working for our greater good.
Long-time friend Bruce Pollack said Dawn was as much noted for her quiet philanthropy as her commercial success.
“She was a tireless supporter of charities, both lesbian and gay and mainstream,” he said.
It was from this respect and gratitude that a group of our community movers and shakers arranged a huge community event to celebrate Dawn’s 70th birthday. A sold-out fundraising dinner took place in the late summer of 1998 at the Paddington Town Hall with the proceeds benefiting the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby and the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation.
 It was such a massive success that some of those organisers, led by Bruce Pollack and encouraged by Dawn, began to think that this could be an annual event. It was workshopped and developed – and the next year, we all attended the first Aurora Dinner.

Bruce said he has always considered Aurora his baby and from the beginning wanted to raise monies to disburse to gay and lesbian community organisations in need of support. Thus the organisation’s many events, including the annual dinner, The Aurora Ball, have become important charity fundraisers that also bring fun, glamour and joy to our community. 
The Aurora Board of Directors and Trustees

18 February 2016

So We Can Dance!

“Aren’t you a bit old to be here?” 

That was the question – or for him, the statement – that greeted me in the early hours of a recent Saturday morning on one of our local dance floors. I must admit, I gave this twink the look of death to show my indifference to his perception. 
I mean, since when have we, as a community, even given contemplation to this idea, that age deems us no longer a spot on the dancefloor? Surely it’s a place of joy and escape, a place to let your hair down, and to be yourself – no matter your age.
I’ve been around many years and I know the sense of celebration dance floors at big parties like Mardi Gras brings. It’s always been where our tribes, of all ages, share their place in our community, our family.
Some people of my vintage no longer take the plunge by choice, but I know they will agree that if we want, we will dance until we drop. The way our tribes come together and share these spaces is a Sydney phenomenon. Many visitors remark they don’t see this camaraderie elsewhere, which many of those who went before us worked so hard to establish and nurture. 
For me it’s been a place where magic has happened and where memories of our shared social history have been created. 

29 January 2016

Trans Sydney Pride

Many people in the transgender community were taken by surprise by just how much of a watershed year 2015 was for trans people. Never has so much been written about what it is to live a trans life and these stories have appeared in many of the world’s most prestigious titles.
Of course the transition of Caitlyn Jenner and the subsequent television series was the catalyst. Indeed, Barbara Walters named her the ‘Most Interesting Person of 2015’. Many others also broke through with positive messages. In the US, trans activist Janet Mock published her best-selling memoir Refining Realness while Laverne Cox rose to become one of the most respected transgender advocates. In Australia, Cate McGregor has been working tirelessly as a diversity champion and is the Queensland finalist for Australian of the Year 2016.
In the midst of all this, Peta Friend, an acquaintance of mine for over 20 years, invited six local trans women of all ages to lunch one early September Sunday. She had an idea brewing in her mind to create a social and support group for trans men and women of Sydney. 
“I felt inspired to create something within the trans community where trans men and woman can come together in a social environment and have some fun, share our stories and support each other,” Peta said.

By the end of that lunch, Trans Sydney Pride was created. 

3 January 2016

My Sydney Entertainment Centre, how I will miss you

All good things must come to an end. Well I understand progress but I don’t have to altogether like it. I’m sad to see my temple of good times the Qantas Credit Union Arena, or as I still call it the Sydney Entertainment Centre (SEC), close its doors as part of the massive Darling Harbour redevelopment project.

Over the last 32 years I have spent thousands of dollars to see the biggest names in showbiz as they dropped by on their never ending world tour journeys, one after another making my dreams come true. I’ve loved each and every show, the hype, the excitement and the incredible joy seeing my idols live.

The stress of buying those tickets, getting just the right seats, the agonising build up over months and months, revisiting the albums you’ve cherished forever, meeting in Chinatown for dinner before the show, drinks with friends in the bar outside Gate 10, and being able to walk or for me usually dance home - it’s been fantastic.  

You will have your own favourites, but naturally the showgirl in me will slant my memories in favour of the pop divas: I can see them now…

Top of my list is easy – Diana Ross. As a teenager growing up in Wales in the 1960s it was Diana Ross and the Supremes who I escaped to, miming all those classic Motown hits in the safety of my mother’s good sitting room. It was 1989 and with all her classic hits behind her Miss Ross brought her ‘Working Overtime’ world tour to us. That album was her least successful, so the SEC show only included two tracks from that album and two hours of everything else. Performing in the round on a small circular stage it was just Diana, that voice, those songs and heaps of glamour.