Six queens from around Australia spent last week competing for the title of Miss First Nations Ultimate Drag Queen.
The lawns of Darwin’s popular waterfront strip were transformed into a stage where passers-by watched the six contestants come alive.
The competition put the queens through a week of heats, including talent contests, costume competitions, and a photo shoot in typical Darwin style.
But while it was a week full of glitz and glamour, there was a powerful message behind the competition.
“The main part of the competition is creating visibility for our community and also visibility for the LGBTQI+ community and Blackfellas that are in that community as well - brother boys and sistergirls,” The competition’s organiser, Mis Ellaneous said.
“Because we're really struggling with a lot of issues as Blackfellas, but we're struggling even more with our sexuality and gender and so it's really important that we're there and we're role models and we're showing that it's ok to be who you are and love who you want to love and dress up and be fabulous if you want.”
The competition's organisers narrowed a number of entries down to six finalists.
“Funnily enough most of the girls come from regional and remote towns and that's really important because I come from Darwin, so I really want to support the LGBTQI+ Indigenous community that come from those regional and remote communities, so I'm really proud that we have six really fierce contestants from those regional and remote towns all around Australia,” Mis Ellaneous explained.
Each queen has a different story.
Josie Baker hails from Darwin and now lives in Sydney.
“I mean I've been performing pretty much all my life, started off on the stage really so I'm pretty confident and it's fun and you get that rush when you're on stage,” Josie smiled.
“And because I'm Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal my costumes have a lot of Torres Strait Islander animals on it and Aboriginal animals as well, like in the Torres Strait Islands there's turtles, and they're Aboriginal as well, and dugong which is usually in the Torres Strait, so yeah I'm both so I thought I'd get a fabric that represented both my heritage.”
For Josie - the title of Miss First Nations Ultimate Queen would give her the platform to help LGBTI youth feel comfortable in their own skin.
“Winning I would implement a strategy to do workshops and visit communities and stuff, just to mentor the kids to make sure that they know that they're ok, they're fine, they're normal,” she said.
Dunghutti queen, Nova, is another well-known face in the drag scene.
“I don't see too many other queens, if any other queens, doing this style of make-up and I'd like to think it's quite unique and yeah hopefully it does stand out,” she said as she put her false eyelashes on.
“Nova can be cheeky, she real slutty, sort of flirty…yeah she's just cheeky but I think she can carry herself really well and she’s fierce.”
Nova is the co-founder of drag company Dreamtime Divas.
The company is more than just glitz and glamour - it promotes suicide awareness and was started after Nova lost her 20-year-old nephew.
“It was through his death that we sort of you know thought well sure we can get up on stage and belt out numbers and do performances and all that, but we thought having a platform like that we should make awareness of any of those kind of issues that affect our young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth and teens,” she explained.
“We say ‘you're right bub, you don't have to worry about what other people think, you're part of a family’, and generally how it goes we've all got our places in our communities.”
Fellow contestant, Crystal Love, is also an active LGBTI campaigner.
The Tiwi Island Queen is no stranger to the stage.
“This week was good, it was kind of challenging because you know when you're a big heavy set like me, you know it's really really hard,” she laughed.
Like Nova and Josie, Crystal also wants to promote positive awareness for the Indigenous LGBTI community.
“Our people should realise that we are a minority in our own community but with the LGBTI community we can try help each other because this would be a good opportunity to actually tell people we're here and we're here to stay.”
Crystal is often referred to as the 'mumma' of Territory drag.
And she's extremely proud of those following in her footsteps, especially her sister girl Shaniqua, who has only been doing drag for three months.
“It makes me feel like I'm a baby yet, I guess there's girls like Crystal that have been in the scene for many years, they're like a mother for me so the more learning for me in the drag world I think there's many years to come so I'll be like a teenager soon,” Shaniqua said with a laugh.
Shaniqua hopes her position in the competition will inspire other queens in remote communities to be proud of who they are.
Biripi queen, Jo Jo, has been making waves in the central west drag community, and also on the east coast.
“For me, drag has always been a platform to be a voice and a role model for Indigenous LGBTI youth out there, there wasn't much for me growing up so even if one kid see's this grown ass man is just being himself and having fun with it (then) it's ok for him to do it and that if I want to do it I can do it, so if I can reach just one kid that would be amazing,” Jo Jo said.
“As you can see a lot of couch goes into this ass,” Jo Jo said as she stuffed her stocking’s full of foam.
Jo Jo's journey started at a young age, she spent her childhood dressing up with her sisters and watching drag on TV.
“Primary school was rough, you get your name calling, I won't go into it because I'm pretty sure everyone knows what kind of names we get, and then I got to about year seven and decided I can either laugh about it or cry about it so I just laugh about it, like I'm not going to cry about something I can't control,” she smiled.
For Jo Jo, this competition is extremely important.
“To get it well out there and known in the Indigenous community that it's ok, you don't need to stick to the stereotype of being manly, like blokey - footy, sports. You don't have to be into all that and it's still ok, so I think in regards to that it's really important to just change the norm.”
And last, but certainly not least - Nukunu queen, Isla.
Isla is a straight male who loves the art of drag, and describes it as 'transforming'.
“Well Isla is just a whole other person to be honest, she is the parts of me as Izaak that are really I guess reclusive, so they're very exaggerated here and I can really just have fun and step out of my own shoes and into someone else's, it's amazing,” Isla explained.
“Winning this competition would personally just lodge my drag career to the next level, I think on a broader spectrum though it would really give me that foot up in standing up for our community, the Indigenous community as well as the LGBTQI+ community, and then of course together the Indigenous LGBTQI+ community.
“We're very soft spoken and there's not many of us out there, but when we do get out there we kick ass.”
And it wouldn't be a competition without judges.
So, what does it take to be the first ever Miss First Nations Queen?
“For me, it's what's going on, do they have style, do they know what they're wearing are they wearing it well, I am a costume designer by trade… so I wanna see this girl knows how to dress,” One of the judges, Passion, said.
All of the queens walked away as winners - Isla won Miss Talent and Miss Charm, Crystal won Miss Personality, Josie won People's Choice, Nova took out Miss Congeniality, Jo Jo got Miss Photogenic, and Shaniqua was named Queen Runner Up.
But there was only one crown. So, who was named Miss First Nations Ultimate Queen?
Cheers roared through the crowd as Josie Baker was crowned the first ever Miss First Nations Ultimate Queen.
She celebrated the win with her mum, and said it was an unbelievable experience.
“I think I'm still in shock, I feel great,” she laughed.
“I was up against some big competition but I think in the end in my final performance I pulled through, but it was a very nerve-racking experience against all these different queens,” Josie smiled.
Watch the full story on the inaugural Miss First Nations pageant on The Point at 9pm tonight.
NITV has also commissioned a one-hour documentary that will take viewers behind the scenes and focus on the personal stories of three of the contestants, travelling to their hometowns to reveal the challenges, heartbreaks and triumphs that have made them who they are and brought them to the stage.
The documentary, Black Divaz, will be directed by Adrian Russell Wills (The Warriors, Wentworth) with producers Michaela Perske (After the Apology, Destination Arnold) and Gillian Moody (Family Rules).
“Black Divaz gives our mob a whole new kind of role model, only instead of running for Olympic gold, singing in a music video, or acting on the big or small screen, these role models perform in heels, glitter and huge wigs,” said director Adrian Russell Wills.
The series was filmed in Melbourne, Sydney, Kempsey and Darwin and will screen on NITV in 2018.
It received production funding from Screen Australia’s Indigenous Department, in association with Create NSW.