Australia: Sydney Opera House hosts festival celebrating queer Indigenous culture

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Sydney Opera House is to hold a three day festival this week to celebrate queer identities in Australia’s Aboriginal community.

Events ranging from talks to films and cabaret performances will take place from 4-6 July, as part of the country’s annual NAIDOC Week (an acronym taken from the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee).

The programme aims to explore the queer identities which have always been a part of the native culture, and are not, as some voices have claimed in Australia and elsewhere, a result of western influences.

David Page, who is performing in the festival in a show entitled ‘Native Gayze’, spoke to The Sydney Morning Herald about his own experiences of being gay and Aboriginal.

He said: “We’re comfortable and we’re supported.”

Discussing his process of coming out to his family, he repeated his father’s response: “It’s not a big deal. In our tribe we had gay men – they were important people, they were messengers.”

On Sunday, the Opera House will screen an episode of ‘Redfern Now’, a television drama depicting the lives of Indigenous Australians in Sydney produced by Blackfella Films. The episode, ‘Where the Heart Is’, sees a gay may fighting for custody of his daughter after the death of his partner.

In November, Australian boxer Anthony Mundine came under fire after he criticised this depiction.

He wrote on Facebook: “Watching redfern now & they promoting homosexuality! (Like it’s ok in our culture) that ain’t in our culture & our ancestors would have there [sic] head for it! Like my dad told me GOD made ADAM & EVE not Adam & Steve.”

Rhoda Roberts, head of indigenous programming at the opera house and organiser of the event, told the Herald that Mundine’s attack on Redfern Now gave her the impetus to showcase queer pride and diversity within the community.

“It astounded me. I was shocked,” she said. “I thought, we have to react and give a space and a platform for the voices that are being ridiculed because no one’s hearing their voices.”

LGBT rights are slowly increasing in Australia, and discrimination is being fought on all sides.

Last month, Opera Australia confirmed that it was releasing a singer from her contract, after a violent anti-gay online rant in which she labelled gay people “faecal masses”.

In April 2014, the High Court recognised a campaigner’s right to a “non-specific” legal gender.

Last week, the first British consular same-sex marriage took place in Sydney.