IT’S a common complaint  that getting teenagers to be effusive about almost anything is a futile effort.

But not so for the bunch of 13-17 year olds who have returned from a unique camping expedition on NSW’s mid north coast.

“Camp changed my life, it made me feel I can be who I am,” says one.

“Camp is a place where you can figure out your headspace,” remarks another.

“And then decorate it with glitter and feather boas.”

This uncommon enthusiasm is due to Camp Out, an annual camping trip tailored to the needs of young LGBTI people.

“We know many young peoples’ schools and homes are not great places so if they’re queer or trans*, camp provides a space to explore who they are,” Camp Out committee member Sam Salvidge says.

The camp is one of seven projects in NSW supported to the tune of around $5000 each by Aurora, whose annual fundraising ball will be held on June 20.

Salvidge says the excursion, which brings together young LGBTI people from both urban and rural areas, costs up to $16,000 to hold.

“We charge $200 to cover accommodation, food and travel but it’s really important camping is affordable to everybody, so we make it a priority that people can come even if they can’t afford it.”

Some young people who attend have never met someone else who is also LGBTI.

“The transformation at camp is amazing,” Salvidge says.

“From scared people to people who make friendships for life.

“The most important thing is for the campers or make connections and find their own queer communities.”

A range of activities and workshops — from cake decorating to performance nights — helps the campers bond.

“Without a doubt Camp Out has a massive impact and we just couldn’t do it without the grant from Aurora,” Salvidge says.

This year, the funds went towards the creation of a video about LGBTI history which, according to Salvidge, has helped the participants put their own situations in a wider context.

It’s a project Aurora co-chair Adam Niewand is excited about.

“The video featured GLBTI people of diverse backgrounds, such as the 78ers, but the campers were also able to add their own stories,” he says.

In 2014, Aurora raised $50,000 with larger grants going to Sydney-based LGBTI youth organisation Twenty10 and the Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service.

Smaller donations went to Camp Out as well as other groups, including the Women in Prison Advocacy Network for a project working with gay and bisexual prisoners transitioning back into mainstream society and the Prostate Cancer Foundation to raise awareness of the disease among gay and bisexual men.

“The organisations and projects that we fund are often quite niche and can fall through the cracks when it comes to government funding but they are vitally important,” Niewand says.

Now celebrating its 16th year, Aurora was founded when funding was concentrated on combating HIV with other LGBTI organisations often missing out.

Niewand estimates the organisation has donated upwards of $750,000 to LGBTI groups and projects since its foundation.

This year’s theme for the ball is “Once Upon a Time” with organisers expecting wicked witches and Prince Charmings to be prowling a Grimm Brothers-inspired fairytale land.

“Back in the early days it was a glum time so the ball brought some glamour back to the community,” Niewand says.

“Since then a key aim of Aurora has always been to raise funds through joy and excitement.”

The Aurora Ball “Once Upon a Time” is on Saturday, June 20 at Sydney Town Hall. For details and tickets, visit


Other (gay) balls:

The Queen’s Birthday Ball

Where: Brisbane City Hall

When: Sunday, June 7

What: The annual Queen’s Birthday Ball is one of the longest-running events LGBTI events in the world. The 54th instalment will recreate the famous New York nightclub Studio 54 as its theme. Includes live entertainment and the presentation of awards for outstanding achievements in Brisbane’s LGBTI community.


Midwinta Gala Ball

Where: Savoy Ballroom, Grand Hyatt Melbourne

When: Friday, August 7

What: A headline event in Melbourne’s relatively new winter festival program, Midwinta, which runs from July 25 to August 8. The gala ball is also a fundraiser for Midsumma — one of Australia’s biggest LGBTI cultural festivals that is held over summer.



**This story was first published in the June edition of the Star Observer, which is available to read in digital flip-book format. To obtain a physical copy, click here to find out where you can grab one in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.

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