Drag Queens, Outback Australia, handbag tossing competitions, the Priscilla bus, donkeys jacking cars for carrots, someone having a problem I haven’t seen for 25 years … beautiful people…. must be the Broken Heel festival.
This week’s adventure was a visit to the spiritual home of Priscilla Queen of the Desert; Broken Hill, for the Broken Heel festival. A festival of stunning drag queens and kings, beautiful scenery and fabulous locals.
Things I had no eyed deer about before the Broken Heel festival
- That handbag tossing is such an art
- I would so want to get on stage in sparkles and lip sync
- I would see a donkey jack a car for carrots…
…then go queue at the pub
I had never heard of the Broken Heel festival until I was scouring Ms Darlinghurst’s weekly email two weeks ago and she said she was going home for it. Being the type of person that I am, I had booked the flights within ten seconds of reading about it, and so it was that I found myself 1000 kilometres from Sydney surrounding by men who look way better in a dress than me.
Broken Hill looks quite close to Sydney on the map on my iPhone so I was surprised when I found out it is actually a two and a half hour flight. And even more surprised when I saw how small the plane was, that it had propellers, and there were only about ten of us getting on it. The hostess informed us that our seating was spread out throughout the plane in order to balance it – which worried me slightly as every one else was down the back and I was at the front. I could draw one of two conclusions here, either the pilot is a big fella or I need to stop eating cake. I certainly couldn’t fault the service, it is the only flight that I have been on where one of the pilots stands at the steps and apologises for the late take off, then the first thing the hostess does is offer to book everyone’s taxis from the airport.
The festival runs over 3 days, but I’m just there for day 2, the Saturday. The morning starts with chicken and champagne breakfast, then line dancing at the host venue of the Broken Heel festival and star of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, the Palace Hotel. A giant stiletto greets us as we enter, as do some amazing murals on the ceilings in the foyer of the hotel. My neck hurts from looking up, and whilst I’m doing so I get chatting to a lovely older lady who tells me that she had read about the festival on Wednesday, hopped on a plane at 7 on Friday morning, arrived at 820am, and was out on a tour by 9am. Now that’s the type of person I want to be in 25 years time!
Next it is on to the Town Square for handbag tossing, line dancing and some performances before the parade around the main drag of Broken Hill. The performance by Vonni is stunning, even more so when I find out that she is 66 years old and has been doing this for over 40 years. The crowd that has gathered in the Town Square is a mixture of people who have come here especially for the festival; both dressed up and not, locals, and others who haven’t a clue what is going on but reckon it looks like fun.
Anyone can sign up to take part in the parade, and if you haven’t got a costume you can still buy a boa for $5 and take part. With none of the formalities of the big city, there is no need for hours of road diversions in Broken Hill, handbag tossing over we are directed to look across the street to where two giant allsorts sweets are standing on the street corner. That is the signal to close the road and get ready for the parade. Those of us who are not taking part dash down the main street to get a good position and shots of the parade as it sets off with its police escort. Nuns, Madonna, super heroes, emus, and the Queen all walk by in a riot of colour. You can see some of the parade on the video at the bottom of this blog. Then it is over and back to the town square for more activities.
I harass a few people to let me have a photo taken with them; one cagily lets me take his picture but says he probably shouldn’t as he is supposed to be at work back in Sydney. I was thinking my photo was probably less of a concern than the hundreds that were just taken of him marching in the parade – but I haven’t printed it anyway! I go back to the Palace Hotel for a drink. On the way I see someone struggling to wind up a cassette that has gotten stuck in the cassette deck she needs for the event. I offer a pen to help, and we reminisce about taping the charts in our bedrooms. I arrive back at the hotel, and I can honestly say it is the first bar in which I have sat down and everyone talks to you. I met some fascinating locals, we shared life stories, put the world to rights, and then I trotted over to meet “Shirl”, the only local to be given a speaking part in Priscilla Queen of the Desert.
I occupy myself for the rest of the day by exploring the town, it’s mining heritage, and interesting street signs.
6pm and it is time for the night’s entertainment to start. The Palace Hotel is packed to the rafters as we watch performance after performance of original acts, big hair and sequin overload. I would give anything to wear one of those costumes and get on stage. Can someone please start a drag queen school for girls? Most people have dressed up for the occasion. Looking around as the night goes on, I realise there is a huge age range here, and a lot of husband and wife matching costumes. Anything goes and I must say, that it is time for another first; the first time that I’ve had to compete for attention at the bar with a nun and a Native American.
Day 3, I go out to Silverton, a mining ghost town with free roaming donkeys and horses, straight out of the set of Mad Max and a whole load of other movies. The festival is heading out here in the afternoon to the Silverton Hotel but unfortunately I’m going to miss it. However, by the time I leave Silverton the feather boas are in sight and the donkeys are already queuing to get in.. I was so tempted to drape boas around their necks but as I had seen one of them car jacking a car of tourists earlier for carrots, I resisted that temptation for fear of repercussions.
I was very sad to leave, I made new friends, saw amazing performances and amazing scenery. Next year I’m definitely coming back, I’m bringing a posse, and I want to be in the parade..
But for now, at least I have a reminder…..