ONE of Australia’s biggest gay bear festivals returns to Sydney in February, with organisers looking to shine the spotlight on the diversity of the community.

Coming into its 19th year, Bear Essentials has come a long way to become one of the world’s most renowned bear festivals, and Harbour City Bears president Evan Cannan believes this is largely due to the diversity of Australia’s bear community.

“In other parts of the world the bear community has been splintering off and doing their own things but here in Australia with our relatively smaller population, our community very much exists together,” Cannan said.

“We’ve got our muscle bears, chubby bears, Asian and south-east Asian bears, European and Middle Eastern bears, everybody’s all together and we’re using Bear Essentials this year to encompass and represent everyone.

“We wouldn’t be the community we are without them.”

To celebrate this diversity, the theme for the next Bear Essentials is “Fifty Shades of Bears” — and yes, the reference to popular novel (and upcoming film) Fifty Shades of Grey is deliberate.

Alas, unlike the book, there won’t be a focus on sex.

“We’ve done this obviously as a bit of a play on words with the book Fifty Shades of Grey as a way to encompass the entire bear community and show the wide range of diversity that exists,” Cannan assured.

For the first time over in Bear Essentials’ history, there will be an Indigenous smoking ceremony as a part of the official welcome during the opening party.

Cannan said this would be a symbolic recognition and a show of respect for the growing number of Indigenous members of Harbour City Bears, including a few on its committee.

“We can’t be all inclusive – as per our charter – if we’re not including the original land holders of the country,” he said.

“We’ve put an Indigenous theme into a couple of the Bear Essentials events to show a greater amount of support and inclusiveness.

“It’s really something we should have been doing for a while but I’m very proud that we’ve started.”

There will also be a four-hour guided harbour tour that will focus on Indigenous history and culture.

“For the first time we’ll also be doing a Tribal Warrior Indigenous tour of Sydney Harbour which will include lunch on Clark Island and local Indigenous dancing.”

Regular Bear Essential events will also return for 2015, as well as a few old favourites.

“We’re bringing back a trivia night which is something we haven’t done for about five or six years,” Cannan said.

“A few regular events will be back in 2015, like our Yum-Cha lunch and our black party at Kinselas on Oxford St.

“We’re bringing back a beach outing that we haven’t done for a few years where we’ll go down and take over the sands at Bondi with a great big bear flag.

“We’ll [also] be having a great dinner at the Paddington Bowls Club along with some barefoot bowling which is something we haven’t done before.”

And what about the the mainstays of a pool party and a chance to dance in nothing but underwear?

“Of course our much-loved Wet Fur and Underbear parties will be back, with some local and international DJs,” Cannan said.

“There will be a lot of fun to be had.”

Set to start in the lead up to the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras festival, Bear Essentials 2015 gives national and international visitors an excuse to head to Sydney to begin celebrations a little bit early.

“Heading into its 19th year in 2015, Bear Essentials is hoping it can show the great amount of diversity the community has to offer, not just for the bears but for Sydney as a whole,” Cannan said.

“With Bear Essentials we’re not just trying to promote Harbour City Bears, we’re also promoting Sydney as a national and international destination.

“We have a thriving bear community and we are a very friendly group of people.

“We won’t bite unless you ask us to.”

Bear Essentials 2015 will run from February 25 to March 8. For details , visit bearessentials.com.au

(Main image credit: Ann-Marie Calilhanna; Star Observer)

**This article was first published in the January edition of the Star Observer, which is available to read in digital flip-book format. To obtain a hard copy, click here to find out where you can grab one in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.

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