When Joseph Cardona was first approached to perform in drag, he was very reluctant. He was a professional dancer living and working in his hometown, Darwin and didn’t want to create an act based on bitchiness and mockery like so many drag acts are known for. But when you’re an experienced performer and you’re living in the home of the iconic Throb Nightclub, hosts of Australia’s most entertaining drag shows, bypassing such an offer would be regrettable. Joseph soon learned that there’s more to drag than cruel jokes and crass humour, and in 2004, he created ‘Josie Baker’, a fun, flirtatious showstopper with a love of pop songs and emotional ballads.
Ten years on, Josie is now one of the country’s most reputable drag queens. Last year, she was crowned ‘Miss First Nation’ at the national Indigenous drag pageant with the same name, which opened some exciting doors for her. She is an ambassador for Yes Equality, teaches ‘strut’ masterclasses (how to walk and dance in heels) and currently has a residency at the historic Imperial Hotel in Sydney’s Erskineville, performing Mariah Carey’s legendary hits. She’s a staple of Sydney’s gay scene and was in the spotlight this years’ Mardi Gras, repping her Territory roots on the Top End float.
“Lately, Josie has been very busy,” Joseph told NITV.
“At least once a fortnight— Gosh, I hate shaving so much though,” he laughs.
Despite having top skills in the biz, Joseph says that throughout his career, Josie’s had a few challenging learnings along the way.
“I’ve had my fair share of mis-haps on stage,” he said.
“Many times I’ve fallen leg-up on a slippery stage and even had my wig fly off.
“I’m pretty good at lip-syncing. But if ever I doubt myself, I always use the number one drag queen rule for not knowing the words… ‘watermelon, watermelon’.”
Joseph is passionate about helping LGBTI youth feel comfortable in their own skin, especially Indigenous Australians like himself. He’s proud of the way his role as Josie gives visibility to LGBTI Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and credits the Miss First Nation pageant, who he gained mass success from winning last year, for their work in promoting black excellence in queer spaces. However, he still recognises the negative stereotypes that are placed on drag entertainers.
“A lot of people think that drag queens are bitchy, mean things,” he said.
“Not many of us are like that. Josie’s very friendly. She’s a ‘people person’.”
Josie was named after 1920s African-Native American cabaret dancer, Josephine Baker, the woman who revolutionised gender and race in jazz culture, with her the radical and controversial ‘banana costume’. Offstage, Joseph is a fashion student and since, 2004 he has made all of Josie’s impressive outfits; from leopard print mini-dresses to fishtail frocks.
As a Malak Malak (Aboriginal) and Badu Island Torres Strait man, Joseph often includes animals on his costumes that represent his heritage; turtles, dugongs and lots of oceanic blues.
Both Joseph and Josie will soon be passing on their crown onto a new Indigenous drag star, as seven promising winners are anxiously waiting to be awarded at the Miss First Nation 2018 Grand Final tonight.
“Well, I get to keep my crown, thank goodness,” He laughed.
“This year has definitely been one to remember, and I have made some wonderful memories.
“This opportunity has been amazing and passing on the title of Miss First Nation will feel very weird, but I cannot wait to see the next Miss First Nation. Who ever it is, I’d love to see them flourish and join my royal reign,” he said.
But Josie’s moment in the sun is far from over. Coming up, she is focusing on more cabaret and burlesque styles, has plans to travel internationally, and soon, she will join the Midnight Feast Theatre Company and perform at the Sydney Opera House.
As a new Miss First Nation is upon us and we excitedly await for the next generation to arrive, one thing is certain— whoever they are, they have big heels to fill.
Watch the Miss First Nation Grand Final tonight, 9pm on NITV Facebook LIVE. Follow the event #MFN18.