It’s the closing party at Darwin Pride and a pink-wigged performer has taken centre stage beneath the palms at the Gardens Park Golf Links.

Local drag identity Hillary Bombing twirls and pouts to a backing track, but she’s forgotten to shave and seems unacquainted with a makeup case.

Suddenly Bombing reaches into her underwear and plucks out a barbecued sausage, feeding it to a delighted spectator. And then she’s gone: no polished choreography, no high-end lip-synching and almost certainly no rehearsal.

As it turns out, Bombing’s tour de farce is a bit like Darwin Pride -“ a little rough around the edges, irreverent and imbued with a wacky sense of fun.

The Northern Territory capital’s annual gay and lesbian festival has been running on and off for 21 years, though by national standards it remains a minnow. In 2001, the festival had just five events. This year’s two-week schedule, which ended last Saturday, had 21.

In keeping with Darwin’s seductive tropical climate and seriously laidback lifestyle, Pride participants seem happier kicking back than playing political.

The festival boasts an opening Fair Day but no parade -“ organisers canned that a few years back because of poor attendance. Other events include a harbour cruise, a women’s car rally and a popular quiz night.

The latter, a colourful Pride fundraiser, draws about 150 people to the Chung Wah Society hall in downtown Darwin on the festival’s second last day.

Hosted by another local drag queen, Miss Marzi Panne (who does, for the record, bother to put on a face), the trivia competition sums up Darwin Pride as neatly as Hillary Bombing’s closing party show.

In name the quiz night is about competition, but friendliness comes first. People greet old mates and make new ones, and there’s none of the sneering attitude seen so often at Sydney gay events.

Darwin’s casual ambience must have something to do with it, but necessity is also at play.

Unlike bigger communities, Darwin’s diminutive gay and lesbian crowd can’t really afford to bear grudges -“ they’re all thrown in together, and many of the Pride events have to cater for everyone at once.

On the Gardens Park Golf Links dancefloor, for example, kids keep close to their lesbian mums while shirtless gay men step into full exhibitionist mode.

Anyone wanting to kick on after the closing party also has a single option. Throb is the city’s only gay-friendly nightclub (the iconic Railcar Bar, in a converted train carriage, closed last year) and is yet another Darwin curiosity.

Though it’s Pride’s official after-party venue, Throb is pumping with a thoroughly mixed crowd this Saturday night, and straight partygoers make up the majority.

Elsewhere on the Pride calendar, events like the Desperate Housewives cocktail party illustrate Darwin’s hybrid status.

As gay boys in midriff-baring tops chat with cheerful lesbians and British backpackers, the atmosphere at the gay-owned Loui’s On The Park caf?s both cosmopolitan and small town-esque -“ much like Darwin itself.

An older gay punter at the cocktail party puts it best when he notes the city is probably the only state capital where the man you pick up at a beat one day is someone you’re likely to meet at the shops the next.

Perfect for some, but another drinker at the cocktail party misses Sydney’s choice of gay venues and having any exclusively gay space at all. That could be why Darwin Pride gets few interstate visitors.

Northern Territory tourism authorities are trying to increase outside interest, but Darwin Pride isn’t going to rival Mardi Gras any time soon. Which is probably just how the northerners like it.

For more information visit the Darwin Pride website.

Ian Gould visited Darwin with the assistance of the Northern Territory Tourist Commission.

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