From young missionary with a passion for puppetry to leading Sydney drag identity, Graeme Browning, aka Mitzi Macintosh, has lived his life according to the laws of creativity and charity.
After raising millions of dollars for gay and lesbian charities and after an illustrious artistic career, including a three-year stint as the creative director of Mardi Gras, Browning is set to receive the ACON Honour Award.
It is an award which he said inspires a certain amount of embarrassment, considering the numbers who work tirelessly but quietly for the community, but he is glad to be considered a community identity if “the work I do is noticed and if by that being promoted, it encourages someone else to get inspired — that’s fantastic, that’s what I would want to achieve.”
Originally from the Blue Mountains, Browning said he always felt the creative urge. As a young man he was passionate about puppets and devoted hours to creating puppetry kits to send to children in Indonesia.
His Pentecostal missionary parents encouraged his creative side which led him to pursue stage roles in Fiddler on The Roof and Oliver — he was cruelly turned down for the part of Oliver because he had “an evil face”.
By 17 he was working as an outreach minister in Canberra but was dismissed for “spending a little bit too much time on my knees.”
“I moved to Sydney in 1988 and loved the idea of being in theatre but was overawed by the idea of Sydney and the theatre scene, but I saw a drag show and thought ‘Oh, I could do that, that’s easy’, ” Browning said.
“It was a definite indicator that the first drag show I ever did in public was to raise money [for a Mardi Gras parade float]. I think I’ve always seen drag as a bit of a tool.”
Mitzi has since become the long-standing and outrageous face of Bingay, and has MCed everything from sporting fundraisers to the annual BGF Bake-Off. She’s even served her time as a red ribbon bucket collector.
“Ultimately the satisfaction you get from it is phenomenal,” Browning said, alhough he said it’s getting harder.
“You know there’s a target they have to make, and that has to be done with humour and with fun but you want to try and grab their wallets and empty them. Sometimes that’s not easy to do and has become harder and harder. The job of doing it a few years ago was much easier than it has been recently. It’s the economic crisis. People don’t want to spend the extra money, everyone’s holding on to any extra change they’ve got, especially the big spenders.”
Browning counts his role as creative director for the Mardi Gras parade as his proudest achievement.
“The first year I did it, I just stood there and cried on the night.
“It was such an amazing progression from seeing that first application to seeing the parade start and Dykes on Bikes roar up the street and then one by one, all of these community groups going up the street. It is such a phenomenal process, such a phenomenal thing to be involved with.
“The pride that I felt from the time when people’s applications would come in, and we’d laugh about someone who was putting in an eight-foot flashing vagina — we’d just be delighted at the creativity of the community groups, because that’s what makes it — it’s five percent Mardi Gras and 95 percent community.”
info: Graeme Browning will receive an Honour award alongside Ken Davis on September 24. For more details or to book tickets to the charity event visit www.acon.org.au/honour

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