If you’ve been looking for an excuse for a quick break down south in Australia’s Apple Isle, Tasmania, now’s the perfect opportunity — the relatively young queer festival TasPride had a fantastic run in 2008, and is gearing up for an even bigger 2009.
The festival runs from October 31 to November 15, with a multitude of events on offer, from relaxed picnics to pumping all-night dance parties. Those from the mainland can head down for a long weekend to get a taste of what’s on offer, but with the festival so jam-packed with activities, it’s tempting to stay for the whole fortnight.
Festival coordinator Madi Peattie has been working hard for the past six months on this year’s festivities, and can’t wait to see the fruits of her labour.
“This is really the second year that TasPride’s been on the radar,” Peattie told Sydney Star Observer. “It’s been around for five years, but last year we took it up a notch, and rebranded the whole event — we had a two-week festival across the whole state, and it took off. We had a dance party, a rock night, a film festival.
“The nice thing about being down here is that we can involve a lot of bushwalking and mountain climbing activities as well,” Peattie enthused.
One unique aspect of the festival — and one that’s a reflection of Tasmania’s laidback vibe in general — is its inclusive nature.
“The focus is on the GLBTIQ community, but we also extend our arms to friends and family. That in itself is quite unique, but Tasmania’s like that. There are no ‘gay ghettos’ like you find in larger cities — everyone just lives side by side.
“This is what the festival’s all about — promoting respect within the GLBTIQ community, as we’re all so diverse, but also within the wider community. It’s about them celebrating with us,” Peattie said.
“The demographic is a bit older too. A lot of the younger kids leave when they’re 18-25, and you find they’ll come back when they’re a bit older to setttle down. So while we do have dance parties, we make sure we have a lot of events for older age groups too.”
These events include a pre-festival camping trip to picturesque Maria Island, several film screenings, a night of (costumed) life drawing for those with an artistic bent, and a relaxing meditation retreat.
Of course, it’s been a long road for Tasmania to become the inclusive state it is today. Only a decade or two ago, Tassie had a reputation as something of a backwater in terms of gay rights and acceptance.
I asked Peattie how she thinks the state has experienced such a dramatic turnaround that mainland queers in search of a more relaxed lifestyle are now moving south.
“It’s a hard one to answer, but things have been changing. We’ve got a really young government on board at the moment — they’re all Generation Xers, and the old school are all retiring,” she offered.
There’s also a remarkably driven gay activist movement that’s been chipping away at the coalface for many years. The Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group have staffed a stall at Hobart’s famous Salamanca markets come rain or shine for over 20 years now, handing out information to passersby and gaining support for law reform.
“That’s right. [Gay activist] Richard Hale, who’s on our committee, is a legend. Every Saturday, without fail, he’s down there at Salamanca manning the stall.”
It could be argued that those in Tasmania’s GLBTIQ community are so mobilised because they aren’t afflicted with the ‘gay fatigue’ that can set in for those living in a bigger metropolis — without the multitude of options for gay life that you’d find in Melbourne or Sydney, people really come out of the woodwork when an event like TasPride takes place.
“They do, they really do. There aren’t a whole lot of events throughout the year for the wider gay community in Tasmania — there’s only one gay-owned nightclub that operates each week. But we’re hoping to change that too. We’re looking to develop a party weekend over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend, with parties in Hobart and Launceston,” Peattie said.
“One of the main aims with TasPride is to include the whole of the state, especially since there’s such a vibrant community in Launceston as well. So with performers like the Blow Waves [the queer disco-punk band are among several Melbourne identities booked for the festival, including drag diva Dolly Diamond and JOY FM stars Andy & Adrian], they’ll do one show in Hobart, then another in Launceston the next night.”
Asked to choose a few highlights of the two-week program, Peattie nominated the opening night party — held the day after Halloween — as a night she won’t forget in a hurry.
“The Halloween party is going to be fantastic this year — the theme’s ‘The Bear, the Bitch and the Wardrobe’, ” she laughed.
“I can’t wait to see what everyone’s going to wear for that. To enter the party, everyone will have to walk through a wardrobe of fur coats, just like they’re going into Narnia. It’s going to be so much fun.
“Our quiz night and drag bingo events are also always such a big hit, particularly for people in the community who aren’t as into dance parties. They were the two events we were turning people away from last year. Vonni, who was one of the original Les Girls, will be hosting, and we’ll be taking both events up to Launceston as well as Hobart.
“And of course the picnic day is always a big hit. We have drag races, pet parades, sack races, and everyone just chills out for the day. It’s a good mix — you can go to a dance party at night, then go for a big bushwalk down a mountain the next day. It’s such a diverse mix, but then, so’s Tassie.”
info: TasPride runs from October 31 to November 15. www.taspride.com