Party Down Under

Interviews: Ginava, The Hairy Godmothers, Leather Lungs and Skye Scraper – meet the drag artists from Australasia who are ready to turn the Fringe upside down

feature (edinburgh) | Read in About 5 minutes
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Ginava's Messy Friends
Photo by Kaifu Deng
Published 28 Jul 2023

Australasia has a fair slice of the global drag royalty pie: the superstars of Drag Race Down Under, iconic Dame Edna Everage and the cultural meteor of Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Plus, there is a long tradition of drag from down under that subverts the artform, from Leigh Bowery to contemporary drag king Sexy Galexy. 

What makes Australian and New Zealand drag different from the rest of the world? "Larrikinism, mateship and authenticity," says Skye Scraper (The Life and Times of a Drag Queen Accountant). "Australian drag artists can take a joke far better than most of them." According to Perth troupe, The Hairy Godmothers, it’s the scene’s ability to be "unique, to carve out its own identity," although they have found that the Australian sense of humour can sometimes get lost in translation. "There are some songs, or jokes that people find really funny or thought provoking, and the same line in a different country could get no reaction." 

Perth, where three of the acts spoken to for this feature originate, seems to be a hotbed of innovation. "Darling, Perth does drag different!" effuses Skye. "We’re the most isolated city in the world – we can’t escape, so we need to connect and grow a strong community." This rings true as alongside her solo show, you can find Skye acting the 'colossus of camp' in Perth legend Ginava’s Messy Friends with Mary Lamb O God, Flynn V, Bobby Knox, Bebe Babow. "Each of these artists represent a unique corner of drag," explains Ginava, and bringing them treats audiences to a full spectrum – it's a veritable drag Avengers.

Dizney in Drag, photo by Deric Martin

If you are looking for a place to start your road to Oz, The Hairy Godmothers have got a pumpkin carriage waiting for you. Encompassing LGBTQIA+ performers and allies, hailing from a wide range of backgrounds including academia, law, engineering and piano, the Godmothers recognise that "we all have something to learn from each other." Their unique mix of drag and pantomime was born out of a group of mates wanting to create something meaningful for the 2020 Perth Fringe. Their Edinburgh debut, Dizney in Drag: Once Upon a Parody, a nostalgic comedy musical, is the ideal gateway Fringe show with familiar fairytale narratives given an adult twist. Their second offering for this year, WET explores all facets of what it is to be a woman through kaleidoscopic cabaret offerings. "There’s comedy skits, heartfelt poems, cathartic contemporary dances – even physics lectures," Godmother Jae West explains. It's an artistic smorgasbord ensuring "everyone is welcome into this space."

If you prefer a more intimate hour with some of Oz’s leading talent, join ‘Kwozzie’ (a Kiwi born of both Maori and English descent, based in Aussie) Leather Lungs for their self-titled show Leather Lungs: Higher Love. Through "sprinkling moments of vocal masturbation on top to shock and excite," Leather Lungs brings their own flavour of "hilarious but heartbreaking" cabaret with a powerhouse voice that boasts four octaves to the average mortals’ two.

Drag necessitates chameleon-like powers, something Leather Lungs has in droves. Their previous impersonation show saw them rattle through 27 famous voices. But there is also a power in drag to uncover and accentuate aspects of self. For Leather Lungs, their personae allow them to create meaningful connections whilst standing with the vulnerable. "Leather Lungs is an extension of the day-to-day," they explain. "They have all the courage and fearlessness to say and do things others might be afraid to."

Leather Lungs, photo by Matto Lucas

Simarlily, Ginava, while known for their ‘acid’ drag featuring incredible full costumes and make up transformations, is aiming to strip it back through Messy Friends. The performers are unmasked in verbatim interviews played throughout the show, creating a generous and inclusive invitation to their inner lives. "I’ve often found transphobes and homophobes are scared of what they don’t understand," says Ginava. "This is an opportunity to tell our unapologetically authentic stories, humanising drag and queer performers without an agenda, which arguably is what the world needs right now."

In the UK, where we are facing an increasingly hostile climate towards drag, connected with a frightening rise in transphobia, it feels vital to see diverse and representative LGBTQIA+ work. For Leather Lungs, maintaining a hope that their confrontation of trauma through art might "inspire someone else in their own journey" is paramount. The Hairy Godmothers see their art as education through entertainment.

"If we can empower change to the benefit of this beautiful community, that has so much value to share, then that’s a massive win." And they put their money where their glitter lips are, donating $1 for every ticket sold to their June shows to Transcend Australia, a charity working to support trans, gender diverse and non-binary children. Ginava summarises their message simply:  "To my gender diverse people out there, I see you. To my heteronormative thinkers, there’s nothing to be afraid of."

Leather Lungs adds, "It’s important as a queer person to show up, be seen, tell our stories and put a spotlight on the fact that we aren't going anywhere and we are shining examples of success and kindness!"