Drag in the desert: Broken Heel takes us back to the birthplace of Priscilla

Drag in the desert: Broken Heel takes us back to the birthplace of Priscilla

This year saw the third annual Broken Heel festival in the isolated desert town of Broken Hill. Running over three days, it was a huge celebration of queer culture, and Jess Jones got to be part of it.

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My first impression of Broken Hill was that it reminded me of other outback mining towns, with its tiny airport and mining infrastructure.

But over the few days of my visit, I came to feel there was something very special about the place.

I arrived late on a Thursday night, on a tiny plane from Adelaide.

A cab took me the short ride into town to the Ibis Styles hotel, where I was staying as a guest of Destination NSW in a beautiful spa suite overlooking the pool.

The manager was exceptionally helpful the whole length of my stay – even coming up to my room to remove a spider for me, which is pretty above and beyond.

After breakfast on Friday morning I headed out to pick up my festival pass from the famous Palace Hotel, which I recognised from The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

The whole town is by all accounts very proud of its appearance in the movie. I never would have imagined such a gay-friendly small town in the middle of nowhere.

Over the three days of the festival, same-sex couples openly held hands in the street, men walked around town in drag, and nobody batted an eyelid. I felt safer in Broken Hill than I might in a big city.

I headed to a charming little café called The Silly Goat for lunch and to catch up with some media colleagues. We all agreed the food and coffee were superb (try the haloumi burger) before hopping onto a bus for a guided tour of some of Broken Hill’s many art galleries.

No matter what your artistic taste, there’s sure to be something in town that you’ll enjoy.

The Broken Heel festival kicked off on Friday night at the Palace Hotel, with a gloriously extravagant drag tribute to Priscilla that even featured fireworks.

A smaller indoor stage also featured cabaret-style acts throughout the night. I got to meet a number of drag performers, from up-and-coming names I recognised from the Brisbane scene to some of Australia’s most famous queens like Maude Boat.

Saturday morning saw a beautifully chilled out champagne breakfast at the Palace, followed by a short walk to the town centre for the drag parade and fashion show. It seemed the whole town turned out in glitter and rainbow gear for a little desert Mardi Gras.

After the parade it was back to my hotel for a disco nap in preparation for the evening’s festivities.

I had snagged a ticket to the VIP party in the Priscilla suite of the Palace, which is by far the gayest and most fabulous room I’ve ever been in, complete with flamingo décor and ABBA records.

Dinner was at the S-Que restaurant at the Ibis Styles hotel, reportedly the place to eat in Broken Hill.

Indeed, it was booked out most of the weekend and I was lucky to get a table. The food and drinks were fab, and the service very friendly.

The evening’s dance party was a blast, with locals and visitors alike dressed up in some stunning outfits to dance the night away.

Trevor Ashley treated us to a fantastic diva set and regaled the crowd with colourful tales of performing in the Priscilla musical.

The So You Think You Can Drag contest was a close battle, with stunning performances from all the fabulous entrants. In the end, Adelaide’s Princess Laya beat Brisbane’s Aurora Arsenic for the coveted title of Queen of Broken Hill.

Both nights of the festival, ACON were present at the Palace, offering a chat, sexual health information, and rapid HIV testing.

There was also a chillout area, so to speak, with space heaters against the chilly desert night and huge comfy beanbags that I took advantage of for a couple of breaks from mingling.

On Sunday morning I checked out of the hotel and made my way back to the Palace one more time for a breakfast and bloody mary morning.

I caught up with some old friends and new ones, including Dariea Turley, Broken Hill’s first female mayor and a champion of the LGBTI community.

It had been a jam-packed long weekend that gave any other queer festival I’ve been to a run for its money. I had time for a little walk around the town after breakfast, and then it was time to head to the airport and travel home to Brisbane.

I love visiting new places, and Broken Hill was an absolute blast. There was so much I didn’t get to do (did you know there’s a Mad Max museum?), and I’d love to go back another time to explore more of the town and surrounding area.

If you like the idea of a quirky little town and a festival with a really beautiful fun vibe, a trip out to the desert for Broken Heel might be just the thing for you.

Keep an eye out for next year’s festival—I have a feeling tickets will be going even faster in the future.

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