Adelaide’s Feast Festival is in its ninth fabulous year, no mean feat considering its large scale and its small setting.

From Friday night’s Pride March -“ at which marchers assembled in Victoria Park a half hour before the start -“ to Sunday’s tour of some of Adelaide’s many great gay gardens, the most remarkable thing about Feast was its community accessibility.

Anyone could join in the Pride March: the invitation said to meet pink cowboy-hatted volunteers in the park or just start marching along the way.

The Pride March was not unlike a mini-Mardi Gras, with elements of spectacular drag, a few hotpants-wearing flaggers and about a thousand people representing some of the diverse wonders of Adelaide’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer communities. Some of it was low-rent: balloons were popular, and one group carried rubbish bags inflated with helium gas. But, like Mardi Gras, there were flashes of brilliance and the occasional heart-in-throat moment. Even these were typically Adelaide, like the opposite-sex pair of bikies who joined Dykes on Bikes carrying a sign: We love our lesbian daughter.

That’s the point: Feast belongs to its community, and everyone is welcome to get along and have a go. On night two of my visit, the very popular Feast volunteer coordinator Brian North performed a one-woman show as his alter-ego Brenda Baklava.

To an outsider, Brenda’s show was almost unbearable; it had poor production, poor writing and was badly rehearsed. But my jaded Sydney opinion proved to be irrelevant. The crowd loved it, screaming for an encore that lasted half as long as the show. In Sydney, he probably would have been booed off, even if 98 percent of the audience were his friends. In the Adelaide environment, I was the only sour-faced punter.

This year’s Feast festival coincided with some long-overdue debate in the SA state parliament. As reported in this week’s Star, South Australia is the last state to fix up its old legislation giving basic rights to same-sex couples.

A forum on Saturday aimed to provide interested community members with updates on legislative reform, and throw a few ideas around in the process. Mark Brindall, the recently outed bisexual Liberal politician, spoke candidly about his experiences and University of Adelaide associate professor of Law Carol Johnston talked about Adelaide’s image problems. Johnston said SA was in danger of becoming Australia’s equivalent to the US’s deep south, a cultural backwater to outsiders’ minds. The fact that its politicians were so slow at moving gay and lesbian civil rights laws along, she argued, contributed to this impression.

Such forums have played a significant part in Feast’s history. This year’s topics range from disability and sexuality to one on HIV/AIDS treatments, hosted by Vanessa Wagner.

Sunday morning was a chance to experience another Feast institution: a Garden Tour through several suburban and Hills gardens. The Garden Tours are one of Feast’s institutions: successful (most sell out) and immovable from the calendar. Most of the people on the bus were repeat riders from previous years, and most had looked forward to the trip for months.

The Garden Tour is hosted by Feast legend Margie Fischer, her partner Roxxy Bent and their daughter Ruth. The idea is simple, gay men and lesbians open their homes (or in the case of gardener Stuart Maitland, their Botanic Gardens) to a diverse group of enthusiasts. Everyone is friendly, and the presence of a Sydneysider on the bus warranted a shout-out from the very friendly driver: Talk to her! he commanded, and everyone did. The Garden Tours last eight hours, cost $55 and include entry fees, lunch at a caf?a seat on the bus and morning and afternoon tea.

Like its host city, Feast has a country-town friendliness about it. Anyone who turns up by themselves at an event can seek out the special Feast welcome mat volunteer, who’ll hang out with them and introduce them around. Many relationships have formed at Feast, and I’m sure a lot more will form in its future.

Feast runs until Sunday 27 November. Visit the Feast website for information.

disclaimer

Stacy Farrar travelled to Feast with the assistance of the South Australian Tourism Commission.

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