It was 1976 and I was in Year 8 at high school in Taree. In English class, we were told to do something artistic, so I decided to do a Judy Garland number, Get Happy, dressed in the same costume she wore in the movie Summer Stock. As I remember it, I was a hit and there were no adverse affects.
The next time around, a friend and I dressed as Agnetha and Frida from ABBA -“ I was Agnetha of course. So, you could say I have been gender-bending for some time.
I had a dress-up box of women’s clothes in our shed and dressing up came naturally for me. People thought it was just me being silly more than anything else, so it was never a problem.
Taree was a very homophobic place at that time, as most country towns are. I didn’t identify as gay and was very closeted, but I had a group of friends and we all hung out and supported each other through the school years. When I was 18 in 1980, I left for Sydney to become an actor.
In Sydney, I moved in with a gay relative and that is where my character Gina Lola was born. One of my relative’s friends was a drag queen and I would pop on her frocks and we would have nights out at the old Cricketer’s Arms Hotel in Surry Hills.
I made my drag debut on the bar of the pub, lip-synching to Shirley Bassey and Dusty Springfield and waving my arms around. It all just evolved from there.
Gay Sydney to a boy from the country was like opening a jewel box and I remember everything being so colourful. It was such an exciting time to be part of the scene as doors were being kicked open and the scene was totally gay.
I loved it as I felt I could identify with lots of people.
The singing Gina came about from the cabaret shows I began doing in the late 80s. The shows were my one-man character shows, but I would always throw in an appearance by Gina.
Her appearances kept getting bigger until she took over, and the bitch got her own show, Everything’s Coming Up Gina. Then I began at the Albury Hotel and other clubs across town and outside of the city.
Gina is the clown. She can get away with almost anything. As George, it was never acceptable for me to say get fucked, but as Gina I could get away with it with a smile on my face. I could be vile and bitchy and hideous, and audiences loved me for it.
My life changed in 1999. I did a play, began working on my Mae West show for Mardi Gras, and I was holding down a full-time job as the administrator of New Theatre, as well as negotiating to buy the farm in the country. There was too much going on, and I was diagnosed as being clinically depressed. I had had enough.
The farm at that time was just a weekender -“ the main house was rented and I had the shack at the bottom of the garden. But after a few more months in Sydney, something had changed and I felt it was time to move on. I really had to get away.
When my tenants moved out, I decided then to reverse the order of what I was doing and spend three weeks in the country and one week in Sydney. I did it and have never looked back. I was able to make a living by doing some consulting work in the city and also running stalls at country antique markets on weekends.
I also had plans to go into the cut flower business and planted over 100 waratah plants, but they needed so much work that now I just give them to friends. I have cows and chickens, whom I call my Golden Girls, and we have plenty of eggs.
It is never lonely here as I have a large family and I have moved into a wonderful community and been accepted wholeheartedly by a great group of friends.
Being gay has never been a problem and I have also found some great gay friends with whom I love just to hang out and have a giggle.
Gina has made a few appearances up here, but I see her as part of an era that has passed. There is just not that excitement any more. She is stored in a wardrobe in a shed, although when we do shows the local women have fun rummaging around in Gina’s old frocks.
Gay Sydney is not a place I socialise in now. I come to the city to work and see friends, then I get out of there as quickly as I can.
Mardi Gras also has no relevance in my life any more. It was always fabulous to do the parades and the festival, but for me Mardi Gras was at its zenith in the 1990s. After a while, you realise that time has gone and you have to move on.
When friends do come to stay, however, I usually terrorise them by slipping on an old headdress to remind them that Gina can appear at any moment.
Sitting here on my verandah, looking over my property to the mountains around me is just the most glorious sight. An era of my life has passed, but what has replaced it is really good too. I never feel like I have lost anything when I have gained as much as I have.
Interview by John Burfitt