Tropical Fruits – the largest regional gay and lesbian social group in the country – certainly know how to put on a party.
The upcoming 2011 New Years Eve TRIBE festival held at the Lismore Showgrounds is part of a three-day schedule which also includes fireworks, cabaret, youth space, camping, cafe, art exhibitions, pool party, recovery party, queer film festival and parade.
The tribal theme extends through the décor of the event, which will include remarkable totems and lots and lots of flowers.
Melissa Hargraves caught up with Shane Duniam (event coordinator) and Fairy Princess Amber (cabaret stage manager) to check out the bustling preparations.
Shane, let’s begin with the space chosen by Tropical Fruits to hold the NYE event. Can you share the history and the 7-year connection with the Lismore Showgrounds?
SD: The showgrounds are a traditional gathering place. We want to share this piece of beauty with our brothers and sisters from the city and show them that there is more to life. I think in this global environment the whole tribal thing is relevant. I mean, the car tribe shows up at the speedway here every second Saturday night. There are many tribes amongst us.
‘TRIBE’ is the theme of the event. How does a showground transform to support that?
SD: We are trying to create a future garden. We find as much of other people’s rubbish as possible and turn it into something a little bit glam and a little bit gay. For example our front entrance backdrops are created from recycled hospital sheets. Materials also come from the tip shop.
Does the event include people outside the target audience? How important is it to have respectful people attend the event?
SD: Where would we be without our straight mates? We give thanks to all of those wonderful people that support us, help us and protect us throughout the year. The broader community in Lismore I have found to be gobsmackingly beautiful. I sit on the Lismore Show Pavilion Committee who are all farming stock, and they are just beautiful good people. We live in a bubble here on the Northern Rivers as there is limited homophobia. This is a gathering of a tribe, to be as one, see in the new year, have a lot of fun, meet new people, catch up with old friends and drop some ‘pink dollars’ into the local economy.
Has local acceptance aided the survival of Tropical Fruits?
SD: Most definitely. One of the main reasons for survival is because the extended family has been so welcoming and open. Initially it wasn’t, it was a bit of a struggle. I think we have proved that we are here, we do good work and we really care about our community and our future.
A lot of celebrations are about enjoying the present. Is there an honouring of the future as part of the festival culture?
SD: It is a designated safe space for the LGBT (Lesbian Bisexual Gay Transgender) community and we are very protective of that space. It’s not always there in the big wide world so we construct these spaces deliberately and build them for years to come.
This time of year can be associated with family acceptance. By creating this TRIBE theme and LBGT-friendly spaces, are you creating a family that is showing acceptance and tolerance to an individual’s sexual and gender preferences?
SD: That is what Tropical Fruits is all about, a constructed family. When I grew up, there was nothing like Tropical Fruits for me, no umbrella of safety in a time when there was not a lot of acceptance.
Fairy Princess Amber, this year you have taken on stage manager role for the cabaret. Share with us your Tropical Fruits journey?
FPA: About eight years ago I arrived in Murwillumbah from Newtown. It was my first experience with homophobia. I suffered a bit of depression and isolation so I started up a youth support group. We contacted Tropical Fruits for support. We forged a relationship and our group travelled to the opening of the Clubhouse. Following that I attended a Fruits NYE party as a punter and camped. It wasn’t an organised campsite, more of a sleep-over affair. So next year I was given the role of ‘camp-bitch’. Now at least 400 campers use the space and it is one of the only areas of profit from the festival. It’s a big jump for me to be on the main party site. I am really passionate about raising the profile of the cabaret stage. The stage has only been going for three years; it is grassroots and well received. Now in its fourth year it has its own legs and by the fifth year will really have its own identity in the festival guide.
You have recently returned from a trip to Berlin. What part of that journey will contribute to the cabaret stage?
FPA: I did an ‘eco-sexuality’ workshop. I am now out-and-proud eco-sexual and understand the flowers of the genitalia of the plant. So I get very excited about the flowers. It’s all about the flowers in the cabaret space. I have created a very eco-sexy environ. I am working with the most amazingly creative team. The most beautiful flowers are being made out of toilet rolls!
What time does the cabaret stage kick off? Can you characterise the spread of performances?
FPA: Performances start at 10pm and go through to the morning. Just after the fireworks, internationally fabulous ‘Shiny Shiny’ are doing a brand-new show. You will see highly theatrical quirky queer interesting performance art, traditional gorgeous gender illusion, song and dance routines, comedy, opera, and shadow puppetry.
Are you able to perform on the night?
FPA: Yes I am! I’m MCing the second half and I’m in a performance troupe called ‘Combat Cabaret’. We have rehearsed all year so we can’t wait to perform it live for the first time!
Fresh Fruits caters for under-25s. How will they be represented at TRIBE?
FPA: Over the last couple of years, Tropical Fruits has been experimenting by giving a whole dance floor to our youth and Fresh Fruits to organise and set up. It’s training inside a bigger festival setting.
Is it healthy to have sub-tribes inside the ‘TRIBE’ culture?
FPA: Different spaces evolve from the community, so if there is a need and energy there, people will make it happen. It happens naturally and is evolution. It creates opportunity for people to meet and creates safety for people to meet. For me personally I like having different spaces inside festivals to explore and you can gravitate independently.
The environmental footprint is consciously being reduced each year. There doesn’t seem to be any social carnage left after the festival? Is it fair to say that the majority of festival-goers are socially conscious?
FPA: The town does not get trashed. Contact the local police and they will confirm that there are few or no incidents from this festival. We do a great job here; we do it because we love it.