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.

Between the venues, funds were raised for BGF, ACON, St Vincent’s Hospital Ward 17 South, the AIDS units at Prince Henry Hospital, Little Bay, and at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Camperdown and The Luncheon Club.

Luckily there were enough performers to go around. You’d help organise the event if it was held at your home venue, but happily drop in to do a spot number with your sisters elsewhere. I often talk about the Sydney showgirl traditions of being a family and here was an example of our tribe at its best.

It wasn’t easy to walk out on stage to perform and see friends and the boys who you’d come of age with so sick. But I still remember now the faces would light up for a few hours and the joy of the drag show shine. Many tears were spilled in those dressing rooms, along with the usual banter and a bevy – it was our way of coping and supporting each other.

Coco Jumbo performs at  Orgy of Drag 2016

Fast forward 30 years, and I popped along to the recent Orgy of Drag, an annual fundraiser at the Stonewall Hotel, which raises money for ACON programs. The hotel was shoulder to shoulder with regular customers and community supporters, the atmosphere was electric, and it had all the hallmarks of the benefit at its brilliant best.

This event, which has been running for 18 years, raised $4,300 through entry donations and an auction, all thanks to that great community support, the ACON volunteers, donations from local businesses and the performers donating their time.

Kat Vass is the Events and Marketing Assistant at Stonewall Hotel. She has organised Orgy of Drag for the past five years.

“It’s a night I always look forward to as all the drag of Sydney comes together for charity. It’s difficult for some of the girls to get to the night when they have other gigs, so it was an amazing feeling when they came along to support the night.”

An incredible 23 performers took part this year, including all of the current girls working the strip each week along with heaps of baby drags, many of whom were experiencing the benefit vibe for the first time.

It’s wonderful to know this showgirl mentality to give back to the community through a few complimentary performances a year continues to thrive.

Coming back full circle, the BGF Bake Off is on Sunday, September 18, at the Beresford Hotel. As always amongst the splendour of the cakes and the marvellous volunteers will be local Sydney drag queens and showgirls. Just as it was, just as it is!

Kat Vass (front right) and performers Orgy of Drag 2016

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