A colourful and flamboyant celebration of the 21st birthday of the filming of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert in this iconic outback town.
21 years ago, an Australian film was shot in Outback NSW that would change the identity of one of the region’s major towns, Broken Hill. The film was Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. It followed the story of a group of city drag queens travelling across the outback in their glitzy silver bus; a juxtaposition of wild, barren landscape against lavish costumes and glittering glamour. They’re met with hostility and violent bigotry in Broken Hill, conveyed as a quintessentially small-minded and conservative frontier town. But when the film became a national icon it ironically put the town on the map as a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) destination. It became a case of life imitating art, in that Broken Hill now has a strong LGBT community and a tolerance for people of all walks of life. The tail wagged the dog in Broken Hill, and the town celebrated by throwing a vibrant, colourful and raucous 21st birthday party for the film.
And so the Broken Heel Festival was born; a three-day long party comprised of drag performances, film screenings, street parades and an assortment of other frivolous and fun activities.
Many of the film’s scenes were shot in and around the Palace Hotel, so it was only fitting that the weekend-long festivities should centre on the pub. A rambling, three-story corner hotel at the foot of the town’s iconic and ever-present ‘slag heap’, the Palace Hotel is an eclectic joint covered in water-themed landscape murals painted by an Indigenous artist from Port Augusta, SA, Gordon Waye, rendering the pub an oasis in the desert.
The pub’s grand art deco-style ball room became the centre of the action throughout the weekend, while the party spilled onto the side street which was closed off to traffic for the event. An outdoor stage housed a vibrant line-up of entertaining performers, led by event hosts Art Simone and Philmah Bocks from Melbourne; an all-singing, all-dancing and ever hilarious drag duo with an enviable collection of incredible costumes and a cheeky, irreverent attitude. They were wonderfully charismatic hosts across the weekend, bantering off one another and endlessly heckling the audience, which remained enraptured by the pair.
There was entertainment and some serious partying at the Palace on both Friday and Saturday nights, plus daytime events including a Saturday afternoon ‘Drag on Drag’ street parade, ‘Bloody Mary Moo Moo Morning’ recovery Sunday session on the balcony and chartered bus trips out to nearby ghost town Silverton for a daytrip involving lunch at the town’s famous pub.
The atmosphere in Broken Hill throughout the weekend was wonderful, and the whole town came together to dress up, make merry and welcome the throng of visitors drawn to the outback for the party. The soundtrack was ABBA and laughter, and the town’s street cleaners will be finding feather and sequins in unlikely places for years to come.