During the Gay Games two years ago, a particular event at the Beresford was described by my lesbian colleague as an international bear fuckfest. She was spot-on.

Though it seems nothing will ever quite match the frenzy that was the Gay Games, the annual Bear Essentials festival comes pretty close, at least within the den that is Sydney’s bear subculture.

Local and international bears, cubs, wolves and artists-formerly-known-as-chubby-chasers come out of the woodwork for this week of events, held during the Mardi Gras festival each year. Some are tubby, some are hairy, some are both and some are none of these, but most are willing to argue about just what maketh a bear over a cold beer.

Ask your average Yogi or Boo Boo what their festival highlight is and they’ll probably choose the Underbear Party, or maybe the harbour cruise. But truly, it’s the opening Bear Bust that pulls in the biggest crowd, because of a mostly unstated attraction: international bear trade. And bear president Barry Taylor said overseas registrations were exceptionally high for 2004.

Brent and John from Toronto fly into Sydney next week for the Mardi Gras party and for every Bear Essentials 8 event. John describes himself as bear-like and loves beary guys, but also finds such events refreshingly laid-back.

Generally, it’s always a great bunch of guys. Very friendly, and very open to continuing friendships afterwards, John said over the phone from Toronto. We’ve met a few guys from San Francisco to London and we keep in touch. It’s a great way to meet people.

Boyf-of-six-years Brent agreed. We’re very excited, he said. I’ve been wanting to come down to the Mardi Gras for quite a few years now.

Brent said he’s definitely a bear, although he doesn’t know what the definition is, really. I’ve got a beard and I’m hairy, he laughed.
Brent boldly goes to underwear parties in Toronto whether they’re bear-related or not, but is especially looking forward to the Underbear Party in Sydney, as is John.

I think mainly we’re both attracted to bear-type men, Brent said. But there always seems to be this friendliness, this camaraderie amongst the group. There’s an inclusion. We don’t feel like outcasts or anything, which in the gay community there can be a lot of that.

So keep an eye out for two jetlagged Canadians at the Oxford on 2 March. And the rest.

Some key Bear Essentials 8 events:

Circul8te: Bear Bust
2 March, 9pm. Oxford Hotel, Taylor Square

The ever-popular meet and greet of the international bear trade has a new twist this year, with the introduction of Bear Mail. All visiting bears will be given a number for the night, with the opportunity of leaving smooth missives for hairy massives. Admission is free.

Investig8te: Bus Tour
3 March, 9:30am . Departs cnr Wentworth Avenue and Commonwealth Street

Forget Priscilla, this bus tour offers a trip around urban Sydney with Bazbear on the mike (that’s microphone), offering titbits and cocktales about the Harbour city. Tickets are $50.

Stimul8te: Underbear Party
3 March, 9pm. Midnightshift Club, Oxford Street

Yes, it’s the infamous Underbear Party. A sexy stripdown for the body-unselfconscious, this is always a terrific evening of good humour and great music. Underwear is mandatory, although this could be anything from modest boxers to the occasional frilly thong. Three DJs keep everything moving. Tickets $25/$20.

Navig8te: Harbour Cruise
4 March, 6:30pm for 7pm departure. Man O’War Steps, Sydney Opera House

Go cruising in a more nautical manner on The Constellation, a dinner excursion on the harbour packed with bars, a dance floor and an open deck. Expect flirting, food and floating fur. Tickets $75.

Satur8te: Pool Party
5 March, 7pm to 11pm. Cook+Phillip Park Pool, College Street

It’s my party, and I’ll clog up the filters if I want to. Don your Speedos (or perhaps those notoriously see-through Aussie Bum togs) for a pool party with added beef. Look out for inflatable penises volleyballed into blow-up rings. Tickets $20.

For bookings to events phone 9590 8466 or for more info visit www.hcbears.com. Popular bear artist Peter Skirrow will be also be holding a new exhibition which runs throughout March (see picture). WorkersDreamers opens on Monday 1 March at 7pm at the TAP Gallery, Level 1, 278 Palmer Street, Darlinghurst. The exhibition runs until 14 March, with the gallery open from 12 to 6pm every day. Harbour City Bears are giving away two tickets to Stimul8te, the Underbear Dance party, held at the Midnightshift Club on 3 March from 9pm. To win simply email comps@ssonet.com.au by midday Friday and tell us why you think bear is best.

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