“Bloody weather! What do you think?”, was the text message I sent out to the three friends I’d organised to spend the day with on the annual “Mardi Gras History Walk” and “Fair Day”. Two out of three responded in the affirmative, hopeful the weather would clear. The third, however, responded initially with “Would it be bad to stay in bed?”. I was on his side for a fair while, and then peer group pressure got the better of me. I’m glad I did, because it was a really great day.
“They moved Mardi Gras from July to this time of year to avoid the inclement weather”, noted one of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence on the history walk. I’ve been on a few of these walks previously, including last year, and the year before, both of which I’ve blogged about. As I understand it, though, this year’s walk was the first time they’ve focussed on Newtown. They covered everything from the only printing company in Sydney who would publish gay and lesbian literature in the 1970s to some of the early bars, clubs, and sex venues.
There was a wonderful story, for example, about someone called Candy who had a club on Enmore Road in 1960s and 1970s, whose mother ran the till seemingly oblivious to the goings on. They also covered bits and pieces about “Priscilla” including a rather amusing anecdote about the graveyard scene, filmed in the historic church graveyard. Apparently if you look closely in the background to the scene you can see a drag queen throwing up, presumably the result of a big night on the town previously. Unfortunately we didn’t travel down to Erskineville to see “The Imperial” and we only walked quickly past the “The Newtown” which closed quickly in November 2007.
In my view, and in that of my friend Graeme this was a weakness in the tour. “There’s so much about the history of the Newtown Hotel and its importance that was just glossed over and misrepresented”, Graeme said. And he should know. He was well and truly there with the Dot and Fanny Show during those heady days. I would have liked to have heard a little more about Dawn O’Donnell, as, for all her apparent faults, she has always come across as a rather engaging figure with many, many stories to tell.
Still, it was still a reasonably entertaining day, and we had fun. My other friend, Andrew, has also blogged about the day with some terrific photographs. I’m #8 in the photographs, by the way.
We then wandered off to Fair Day, which Andrew has also blogged about, wandering around for several hours, watching a show here and there. One of my favourites, Hayden Tee, performed a number (only blood one!!) from his forthcoming show to a small crowd. A much larger crowd watched the underwear competition. I’m not much into beef-cake, so had only intended to watch the first model, but the very witty comments of the hosts convinced us to stay until the end.
Bob Downe was also truly bloody hilarious as he sang three or four songs, including a medley of 70s/80s hits in his unique style. Amusingly, there were obviously some people who didn’t understand the whole Bob Downe thing. For example, he introduced “Down Under” as a song by Peter Garrett and Midnight Oil. Seconds later, I overheard a young man say, “That song’s by Men at Work, and he said it was Midnight Oil. F&*(N loser!”. As the young man said it without any sense of irony I can only make one assumption about who is the FKK#$N loser! I’ve seen Bob’s show a few times in my life, including two occasions in a row – one in Adelaide, the other in Sydney – where I was the guy picked on during the show. I’ve since met Mark who plays Bob and told him the story. “You must have been wearing something bright”, he said to me. Bob was much funnier, and much more vicious than I’d ever remembered. “Take the FHJKN@ photograph”, he screamed at a member of the audience who was taking too long to get their camera set-up, as he paused on stage for a photo opportunity. Equally vicious were the Victorian bushfire jokes, but let’s not go there…
For Graeme, one of the highlights of the day was meeting and having a picture with Matthew Mitcham. I explained to Graeme that I “get” the Matthew Mitcham thing, but that since I was travelling last year, and didn’t watch the Olympics, I didn’t really share the excitement of it all.
As we sat at “The Rose” we reflected on our experiences of the day, my friend Graeme expressed some concerns. “I’m really worried about the gay scene in Sydney”, he commented about the lack of “gay venues” and the mainstreaming of “the scene” in Sydney these days. He also expressed some concerns about how well community organisations are responding to the needs of young gays and lesbians these days. Twenty years ago, the Counselling Service and Young Gays played a significant role in providing peer support, and now it’s the internet and chat rooms and so on. My own view is that life goes through peaks and troughs. And in the 1920s there was an active and vital gay scene in Germany, and ten years later it was all closed down. And then we find ourself in a situation where Berlin is one of the most interesting gay scenes in the world. The same with the political situation. A year ago America was, for many people, an international pariah state. A year later that’s all changed. My view is that history goes through peaks and troughs. And that, at the moment, “gay Sydney” is going through some downtime. On a very positive note, though, “It’s great seeing the diversity of the community evident at Fair Day”, Andrew commented at one point.
Soon afterwards, we all bid each other farewell, as we all had other things planned.
I was on my way to my friend Colin’s place to help him with some home technology issues ahead of dinner tonight upstairs at The Woollahra Hotel. The food and conversation were both great. And overall, it was a very nice way to end a very fair day, indeed…