If you go down to the hood today, you’re sure of a big surprise!

And by hood, we mean the city of neighbourhoods that make up Melbourne and by today, we mean from the June 11 – 19, which is when all the hurly-burly bears of Australia and New Zealand will migrate south for the Winter in 2022, for the annual spectacular that is Southern HiBearnation!

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Southern HiBearnation has become an annual pilgrimage for the Australian and New Zealand Bear community for over 20 years. VicBears Secretary, Adam Walton, had a chat with Star Observer about what this event has come to mean over the years last two decades.

Bear Clubs From Australia And New Zealand Converge

“Southern HiBearnation, in general, is just the week when all the Bear clubs from around Australia and New Zealand descend on Melbourne and yeah, just celebrate all things Bear for the week! Southern HiBearnation’s been around for 20 years itself, the VicBears is the oldest, and we’ve been around for 26 years now. It just used to be the celebration of that, and now it‘s turned into what it is now, with all the other clubs coming down and celebrating, because each of them have their own little Bear-fests or whatever they want to call their events throughout the year. Then HiBearnation is the big one to round it all off!”

When asked about the kind of people one might find at Southern HiBearnation, Walton was enthusiastic about the change in patrons he’s been noticing over the years, especially as the Bear community has become more comfortable with their role in the community, saying, 

“Over the years since I’ve been involved with the Bear community, it has become a lot more diverse. I’ve been in Melbourne eight years and I’ve been basically going to the Bear stuff since day one and it’s nice to see that change over the years of more and more people coming in, as I suppose the Bear community becomes more accepting, because of a possible reputation the Bears might have had of being very insular, which is changing. 

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For me now, it’s a place to celebrate body positivity, no matter who you are, no matter what shape you are, whether you’re hairy or not, if you’re comfortable, celebrate it! 

Struggling With Body Image

It’s an important message as well. I think, no matter who you are, you do struggle with body image and excluding people because they’re too small or not hairy enough. It kinda goes against the whole foundation of being a Bear and celebrating yourself!”

As someone who has himself competed to be crowned Mr Australasian Bear, it’s not surprising to hear that the highlight of the week for Walton is the pageantry of it all, “For me, it’s definitely the competitions. Without the competitions, there’s no point in even having the week. 

“It’s the person who won the state sash or the NZ sash for their own club coming down and we just celebrate the shit out of them for the week and then at the end of the week, just seeing these guys coming in and really doing stuff for the communities they love and talking about the charities they want to support with their new titles, and it’s just really good to see. 

There’s so much community love in one spot, and everyone is in a such great mood during the competitions, and it’s just so much fun!”

Trans Inclusive

Has there been any change in the type of folks looking to get involved with the Bear community as we’ve started to get back to the ‘new normal’, since COVID has taken a backseat in our consciousness?

“Oh absolutely, and one thing that I have noticed is the uptick in a lot of young trans guys coming along to the Bear events, which is so good to see. I hadn’t really thought about who would be coming out after covid ended, I was hoping all the people I had been seeing out at other events and it was all the people that you would have expected and then there was also a bunch more! I think a lot of people missed out on two years of socialising in Melbourne, so it’s a lot of people trying new things and going out with different crowds,” Walton says.

Mr Australasian Bear

Besides a hankering for world peace, what other characteristics make for an ideal Mr Australasian Bear, according to Walton?

“Someone who has a strong sense of self and represents diversity and body positivity within the Bear community. Someone who can be a role model for all members of the community to look towards and see their own values reflected back in themselves”

And don’t worry if you find the idea of going to a dance party and stripping down to your personals a bit daunting, Adam reckons it’s all good! “After 5 minutes, because everyone’s essentially dressed the same, you don’t notice that everyone’s just in their undies!”

If all this sounds very interesting to you, there are a plethora of opportunities to check the Bears out in their natural habitats, including the main event, The Mr Australasia Bear Competition but also featuring Bear Soup, the very excellent UnderBEAR party, Retro Dance Party, BEARaoke – you’ll need a hibernation to recover from HiBearnation!

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