GAY men in Melbourne hear stories from Midsumma Mooning before they even know what the event is.

Ostensibly a “bare-arse competition”, the infamous, long-running night at The Laird Hotel in Abbotsford held once a year during the Midsumma festival has become something of a breeding ground for urban legends.

One of the most well-known Mooning stories is from just a few years ago, and like any good urban legend, the details vary depending on who you ask.

It’s clear, at least, that during the night a man on stage played a few bars of a song on a recorder inserted into his anus.

Given the event’s proximity to Australia Day, the best version of the story says the song was Advance Australia Fair.

“He only got about halfway through it — I don’t even think it won — but it was just one of those memorable ones,” recalled Tex McKenzie, who established the event with a friend over 20 years ago.

At the height of the AIDS crisis in Melbourne, McKenzie had wanted to raise money for a community cause free from the red tape of an organisation. They chose the David Williams Fund, established in 1986 to provide emergency financial assistance to people living with HIV.

“We wanted to do an event which raised money, which was fun, so the first thing we chose was an event called Mooning, because gay men like showing off their arses, and gay men like arses,” McKenzie told the Star Observer.

As well as selling tickets, money comes in from things like a rapid auction held during the event.

While it’s never been hard to get punters in the door at The Laird for Mooning, finding contestants was a different story.

McKenzie said he would scope out men with a “nice arse” hanging out at The Laird and appeal to their vanity to convince them to enter the competition.

When Mooning began the competition had two rounds, each taking place through a cut-out hole in a large, temporary wall set up on stage.

In the first round, contestants would simply show their rear ends through the hole, while the second round was a kind of talent competition, where contestants would do “tricks”.

“Very quickly, within a year or two, people started sticking things in,” said McKenzie, explaining the lengths people would go to in order to win.

“There was a local trophy maker who would make a trophy and donate it, and there were prizes from local businesses for the guys who came first, second and third. But everybody got a gift basket.”

As well as the recorder player, McKenzie described a trick where the lights went off and a glow stick disappeared and reappeared, as well as the story that has almost single-handedly given the competition its reputation.

“The most infamous story was of course, which came first, the chicken or the egg — one year it was the egg, two years later it was the chicken,” he said.

When current co-owner Brett Lasham took over The Laird in 2007 he made a few changes to Mooning, though all keeping in the absurd spirit of the evening.

A wet jock round was added, in which the judges squirt water onto the underwear-clad crotches of the contestants when they appear through the hole on stage, and the new owners added a comedy act.

Even the comedy act has become the stuff of legend — Judith Lucy and Denise Scott famously appeared on stage at the men-only venue in flesh-coloured body suits.

This year former-Spicks and Specks team captain Alan Brough is appearing in the comedy slot, which Lasham acknowledges is a brave thing to do.

“The fact that they’re getting up there between a full crowd of people wanting to see butts and jock-fronts, they still have to get up there and make them laugh in-between, so it’s always a fun one to see how they go with that,” he told the Star Observer.

“It’s maybe a bit cliché to say, but gay guys have a great sense of humour and don’t mind having the piss taken out of themselves, and when comedians get up there and realise, hey, I can go nuts with this crowd, they usually do let loose.”

Midsumma Mooning is on tonight at The Laird Hotel in Abbotsford. Tickets are on sale and selling fast, with all money raised going to the David Williams Fund to support people living with HIV in need to financial assistance.

For more information or to buy tickets, visit the website.

(Main image: the winner of 2012 winner of Midsumma Mooning. Photographer: Ari Neuebauer; Star Observer)

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