To understand how it is we came to be here, we must first perhaps also understand our past. This year as part of Star Observer’s Festival Guide – Midsumma Edition 2021 we first take a moment to reflect on the history and evolution of the Midsumma Festival as we know it today.
Kicking off in 1989 and running over 10 days and almost as many nights, Danny Vadasz the inaugural Midsumma Chairperson tells us they “remember talking to a number of people about how there was no venue for the celebration and promotion of LGBTQI art and culture in Melbourne. Sydney had its Mardi Gras, but Melbourne had nothing even close to it.
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“The intention was to celebrate art and culture, but also queer perspective, and recapturing what was in a lot of circumstances, filtered out of mainstream culture. There was a quiet activism about it. It was also of course a time when we were dealing with the HIV/Aids epidemic and the level of antagonism that was rising publicly. It was about reasserting that our lives were not dominated by this, and that the diversity and richness of our culture deserved recognition.”
Like any grassroots festival, Vadasz tells us that those first fledgling years of the festival were a struggle with little to no support from those outside of our communities.
“We had no funding base but decided to establish something that was a celebration of LGBTQI skills, capabilities and perspectives, and that has evolved. But some of the hallmark Midsumma events, including the annual picnic event were right there in the beginning.” Vadasz tells us. “It took a long time before we got in-kind support from local councils and governments. It was a far cry from what it is today, the idea of government tipping money into an annual LGBTQI event back in those days was completely laughable. But in those days, everything was a struggle if you were flying under a banner of an LGBTQI event.”
But among the challenges of those first few years, were also many highlights.
“The drag queen led bus trips to shopping malls like Chadstone, which were incredibly hilarious and provocative in those days, and the incredible turn out we had to the initial Midsumma picnics were some of the things which helped us realise we had clearly hit a common nerve and that there was a need for this kind of an activity.
“It became clear that no matter how difficult it was to sustain the festival, it was the right time and the right format. To believe 30 or 40 years later the event would still be occurring, still thriving and still an important part of the LGBTQI calendar, it has exceeded my wildest dreams”
The festival continued over the next three decades to grow into the behemoth that is Midsumma present, a week’s long celebration which takes over venues across the city, attracting not just local but national and international visitors. But if one thing is for sure, that spirit of activism and love for the subversive that Melbourne so very much prides itself on, is still there at the heart of the Midsumma Festival.
While this year may look a little different to previous incarnations, particularly because of the limited ways in which we can come together. In context though it is now more important than ever, and not just for our communities to feel connected again, but for a show of support for the artists and makers that have been unable to present work for more than a year now.
Your One-Stop Guide To Midsumma: Watch out for our coverage of Midsumma Festival 2021, with previews of shows, profiles, reviews, photos and more.