Australia may be the country of Mardi Gras, Dame Edna Everage and Kylie, but how gay friendly is it really? MATT RISLEY looks into travelling and working in pink Oz
Now, I don’t know about you, but it’s somewhat of a personal ideology that I don’t tend to trust or rely on many things Les Dennis has been in. Amanda Holden, for starters (not sure if you’ve seen Britain’s Got Talent yet, but…. no. Just…. no). Still, I’d bet serious cash that an overwhelming majority of 20-30-year-olds have absorbed more cultural and general knowledge through Family Fortunes than your generic
“three R’s” schooling.
And were you to ask people what they associate withAustralia, Kylie Minogue, Sydney’s Mardi Gras and Dame Edna Everage would be fighting, handbags swinging, for the top spot.
With the country’s easy-going approach to life and excessively sunny outlook, it’s no surprise that thousands of gay backpackers flock to the country every year.
With that in mind, it’s worth knowing the unsaid rules, places and etiquette to live by if you want to experience the best of what Pink Australia has to offer.
The way foreign gay communities enthusiastically harp on about Oz, you’d half-expect to see Dame Edna’s fugly mug leering back at you from the back of 50 buck notes, the streets of Sydney to be paved with crushed up disco balls and an omnipresent floating blimp blaring out pop-disco from high up above.
Imagine if George Orwell had written 1984 chained to a gay bar all the while sipping from a mushroom-spiked cocktail, and you’re not far off the idea.
Whilst positioned as the gay Mecca (how to offend 90 per cent of religions in one easy go) of the world, Sydney is more restrained than you may think, although certainly accepting of gaytravellers.
With metrosexuals parading up and down every street and beach in town, and the city’s diverse multi-cultural population, the gay community has eked out a thriving base in the heart of the city.
Oxford Street stands strong as its beating pink heart, and for bars,
clubs and gay-friendly premises, you’re unlikely to find a more blatant or comfortable location.
The Mardi Gras – undoubtedly the gay (if not the Sydney) event of the year – dominates this area come February. I can guarantee that, whatever your sexuality, you’re unlikely to experience a more electrically charged, party atmosphere during your time in Oz.
My last one offered me one of my quintessential travelling experiences: drunk, sunburnt and dancing between a wheelchair-bound goth transvestite and a 7ft lesbian swigging from a bottle of VB.
You did want fresh, eye-opening experiences when you went travelling, didn’t you?
For a less obvious hang-out, head to Newtown. Sydney’s hippy, arty and student centre embraces all walks of life and offers more of a cultural experience than the stereotypical clubbing/image-heavy one.
Self-consciously proud of its quirk and individuality, it’s the chilled destination of choice and a refreshing change of pace from Oxford Street. It’s also, along with Leichhardt (affectionately known as Dyke-hard), one of the best hang-outs for the Lesbian community.
Sydney may get all the column inches, but each of the other flagship cities offer more than enough to entertain and stimulate (oo-er, mister).
As the cultural hub of the country it’s no surprise thatMelbourne is equally as accepting.
The hostel I lived and worked at in St Kilda, for example, was also the unwitting home to Spanky – a bestraggled, loveably audacious and boozed-up transvestite hooker who invaded our reception on numerous occasions to ever-growing acclaim.
If you’re looking for the colourful side of life, St. Kilda tends to make Disney look like Slipknot.
The east coast is home to a long-forgotten sociological equation: the further north you trek, the proportionally hotter the person and more radically inverse the tan-line. In non-geek speak: people here = beautiful.
While it may not be up to scratch in rivalling Sydney or Melbourne for the quality and diversity of the scene, there’s simply no better place to work for the casual traveller than Queensland(the clue’s in the name).
There are countless gay-friendly or even gay-exclusive resorts up and down the tropical coastline with catering/housekeeping/barwork jobs aplenty,and the endless sunshine, apparently.
The mandatory drinking culture and beautiful people aesthetic conspire to offer gay and lesbian backpackers a home away from home and the perfect balance between constant partying and chilled out lazing.
Darwin, Cairns and Perth try their hardest to pass off a gay scene (bless ‘em) and while each pocket has its own Pride and celebratory festivals dotted throughout the year, if you’re looking to make the most of Oz’s camper side, it’s best to stick to the two biggies.
That said, Adelaide certainly stakes a claim for the title. The city explodes the arrival of Feast, Oz’s best annual gay and lesbian cultural festival, which stirs the city to life with a diverse range of queer theatre, concerts, film, exhibitions and partying.
My mother continually warns me that her friend’s sister’s niece’s hairdresser’s binman has told her that Russia (and pretty much every country ending in “ia”) has a strict “anti-gay” policy that will see me lynched, mugged, disseminated with anti-gay spray, and deported because
I happen to fancy boys instead of girls.
So with that in mind, it’s clear to see that (a) my mum is challenging Kerry Katona for the title of the decade’s biggest mentalist and (b) Australia is easily one of the friendliest and instantly accepting countries for gay travellers.
But, like anywhere, homophobia still lurks and for every worldly wise backpacker you meet, there’s the potential for bigoted, idiotic close-mindedness.
While The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert did its sparkly jazz-handing best to educate the remote areas, it’s a general rule that the more sporadic the area the less accepting they’ll be.
Spend even a little time in Oz and it’s clear that you come to expect the unexpected. Sunny one minute, monsoony the next. Cuddly wickle animal in theory, death-spewing monster a heartbeat later. Hairy genderless ogre sober, attractive lady four beers later.
And yet I guarantee you that no matter the surprising levels of freedom, diversity and affable welcomeness you’ll come to expect as a gay traveller in Oz, there’s still one final, life-changing realisation set to provoke and challenge: Australia’s gay scene somehow manages to validate Les Dennis’ existence.