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Queer icons

Photograph of Daniel Browning
Daniel Browning, photographer Joshua Morris, courtesy of Urban Theatre Projects.

Daniel Browning David Johnstone Ian Gray Jordan Clayden-Lewis Leonie Dickinson Mitchell Hull Siala Robson Tobin Saunders Zoe Nolan Muriel

Daniel Browning

Daniel Browning is a journalist, radio broadcaster, documentary maker, sound artist and writer. He is a descendant of the Bundjalung, far northern New South Wales, and Kullilli, south-western Queensland, peoples. He grew up at Fingal and has produced several documentaries on his ancestors and environmental issues there.

Daniel has presented Awaye!, a radio program which surveys contemporary Indigenous cultural practice across the arts spectrum, on ABC Radio National, since 2005. He was a formally a news director at Triple J and has worked for the ABC since 1994. He has been a guest editor for Artlink Indigenous and is the curator of Blak Box, a specially-designed sound pavilion commissioned by Urban Theatre Projects.

Daniel also stars in SBS’s Faboriginal. Born from the New South Wales Art Gallery’s flagship After Hours Art program, Faboriginal takes cues from the Gallery’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art collection and is filmed at Yiribana Gallery. The show is a mix of trivia, celebrity, chat and laughs featuring comedians, actors, musicians and artists. The series is the first of its kind focusing on Indigenous art, and including an all Indigenous cast.

Daniel is interested in queering culture and the intersection of queer and Indigenous studies. He has hosted several academic symposiums on the subject, in addition to focusing on this topic in programs for Awaye!

Read more about Daniel’s experience.

David Johnstone

Photograph of David Johnstone
David Johnston, 1980s. David Johnstone Collection, courtesy of Ian Gray.

David Johnstone was a film director and television producer, well on his way to a promising career in the city. Feeling disenchanted by the increasing commercialisation of the media landscape, David thought he could direct his time and energy to a higher purpose. Inspired by the Down to Earth movement festivals, David packed up his life in Sydney and headed to the picturesque, and increasingly alternative, lands of Northern NSW.

In late 1973, David established Mandala near Uki, now considered Australia's first gay-friendly commune. According to local Queer Historian, Ian Gray, "he envisaged it as a harmonious, vegetarian, ecologically sound rural resource centre for gay men and their friends."

In addition to managing Mandala, David was very active in local Uki community theatre and environmental activism. For the Uki Kulture Klub, David produced and directed many musicals and plays, including The Uki Follies of 1915, Uki Space Follies, The Women and Too Smart for Sydney for audiences at local halls and community centres.

A keen photographer, many of his photographs feature in this exhibition. David donated his papers to The Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives (ALGA) in 2014. Read more about David's life and Mandala.

David sold Mandala in 2000, moving to an old home in Murwillumbah, to embark upon a sustainable-home project that he called 'The Greenhouse'.

By 2014 David's health was deteriorating, so he retired to Cambodia where he was a follower of local politics and the struggle for real democracy. During these final years, David supported land mine victims, people with disabilities, and village education.

David died in Cambodia in 2017 after a battle with cancer.

Ian Gray

Photograph of Ian Gray
Uncle Ian ‘Teacosy’ Gray.

Ian Gray was born in Melbourne, but has lived mostly in the Northern Rivers of NSW when not travelling the world. The Northern Rivers has definitely been his tribal and spiritual home since he first visited in 1974.

Ian wears many hats (and names), including a tea cosy, which just so happens to be his Radical Faerie name. He is also known as Sister Mary Anytime of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence from his early Sydney gay activist days. He marched in the first Mardi Gras demonstration/parade, thus becoming a ‘78er’.

Before moving north, Ian was involved in Gay law reform groups and Gay Men’s Rap (gay consciousness raising) in Sydney and Melbourne. He has sung in the Gay Liberation Quire and was involved in early HIV/AIDS support, fundraising and caring projects in those cities. He also began working on his lifelong dream to create a rural gay commune while living in a communal queer faerie house in Sydney.

Like many queer people during the counter-cultural movements of the 1970s, Ian made his way to Northern NSW, only to find that it was still risky being ‘out’ in the bush. There were few organised groups or venues either, so Ian, along with many other pioneering queer-folks, helped to found multiple local community and social groups. These included the Radical Oz Faeries (with their land sanctuary where he has resided for the last 20 years), Tropical Fruits, the Northern Rivers Chapter of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), and more recently a queer elders support group called OLGA (Older Lesbian & Gay Association).

Ian is also a queer community historian, having co-created the Tropical Fruits Queer History Project and the Northern Rivers Queer History Project with his longtime sisterly friend, Peter Mitchell.

In 2017, Ian curated an exhibition showcasing the history of the LGBTIQ community in the Northern Rivers, Lismore Has a Diverse Past, that was shown at Southern Cross University.

As Ian explained to the Australian Pride Network in 2017, “History must include the whole story, and for too long our struggles and our everyday stories have been invisible, much of it lay hidden, even forgotten.”

Jordan Clayden Lewis

Photograph of Jordan Clayden-Lewis
Courtesy of Jordan Clayden-Lewis.

Jordan Clayden-Lewis is a 24-year old writer who grew up in Murwillumbah, and earned his associate degree in creative writing from Southern Cross University. Since a young age, Jordan has had an adventurous imagination, a love of exploration, and a passion for storytelling.

Jordan published his successful debut novel, Blackhorse Park, in 2019. The plot of the fictional novel is described by Goodreads as

“Five Interconnecting Journeys. One Sole Mystery. A thrilling multi-strand storyline novel that shoots you back to the sands of early civilization. From there, it weaves through space and time, all the way through to a futuristic depiction of an Earth that even scientists are predicting.” The novel is currently rated 4.75 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.

In 2020, Jordan published a single actor short script, Crossroads and Dusty Boots, in This Was Urgent Yesterday, a collection of scripts written by and for young people from regional Australia. In addition to fiction writing, Jordan is an accomplished copywriter and has written numerous articles for SBS News, Buzzfeed, and the Foundation for Young Australians.

Jordan has written about growing up gay in regional Australia, and his experience with homophobia.

On being a small town queer Jordan writes

“For me, growing up as a gay writer in a small Australian town has inspired me to become a voice for the queer community. When I was younger, there wasn't much awareness or inclusion for the LGBTQIA+ community. It felt like the queer community didn't even exist. It was quite hidden — perhaps because of this lack of awareness and inclusion. I aim to be the queer role model I needed when I was growing up.”

Leonie Dickinson

Photograph of Leonie Dickinson
Courtesy of Leonie Dickinson.

Leonie Dickinson moved to the Tweed Coast from Melbourne in 2004, securing a role teaching creative media skills at North Coast TAFE.

As an out and proud lesbian, and wanting to share her love of camping and the outdoors, Leonie created an inclusive, online community of lesbian and/or Dyke campers in 2017. Read more about Van Dykes.

Growing up in country Victoria with ten brothers, Leonie knows how to stand up for herself and what she believes in. Leonie is not into censorship, nor is she afraid to jump on the keyboard to advocate for women-only space and calling out conspiracy theorists.

After studying at the Australian Film Television and Radio School in the late 1980s, Leonie went on to become a Film Director, Digital Content Producer, Teacher, and CEO. She was the first female in the sound department at Chanel Seven.

Leonie continues to work in vocational education and training, dividing her time working between the Tweed and the Northern Territory, where she specialises in working with Aboriginal people from remote communities.

On being a small town queer Leonie says

“Growing up in a small town gave me a great sense of community. I always felt on the fringe of the community. It’s good to see how things have changed. The skill of being on the fringe for so long, is that I learnt to, and became skilled at creating my own community.”

Mitchell Hull

Photograph of Mitchell Hull
Milena Missi, Tweed Daily News, 2020. Photographer: Scott Powick.

Mitchell Hull was born and raised in the Tweed, where his family has lived for several generations. Choosing to stay close to family and the home he loves, Mitchell has never really left the Tweed. Despite having endured extreme homophobia and bullying at high school, Mitchell is creative and sociable. His entrepreneurial drive has led him to achieve more than most at his young age, emerging from those difficult teenage years to create a highly successful drag entertainment business, Queens From Kingscliff.

Mitchell had seen his first drag show at Escape Bar & Club in Surfers Paradise in 2015. From that moment, he knew he wanted to 'drag up' and make the stage his own! With little local inspiration, Mitchell taught himself the art of drag. Not quite knowing what to expect, within a few days he had transformed into Milena Missi, a plus-size comedy Queen ready to 'bring the house down'! Turning Milena into a full time business in 2018 has proved hugely successful for Mitchell. Queens From Kingscliff is often booked out months in advance. In 2020 Milena Missi made it onto the front cover of the Tweed Daily News for her driveway shows during the Covid19 lockdown. Read more about Queens From Kingscliff.

On being a small town queer Mitchell says

“Growing up gay in a small town is almost like being famous… ALMOST. Persistence and love for what I do pays off. Only by speaking out can we create change and that change begins with coming out.”

Siala Robson

Photograph of Siala Robson
Courtesy of Siala Robson.

Siala Robson is a rising star performer from Cabarita Beach. The gender fluid 18 year old featured on the TV show The Voice in 2020, making it all the way to the grand final. Siala’s success on the show has raised the profile of gender diverse people across Australia.

Siala has used her time on the show to talk about her experience as an LGBTQIA+ person, also illuminating the issue of domestic violence, which she has experienced in her life. She took inspiration from the landscape of the Tweed, saying, “Sitting at the beach writing lyrics was me time…Tweed Heads, Caba, Snapper Rocks – taking from these beautiful places, writing poetry and turning it into rap.” Siala’s talent received high praise from The Voice judges, with Delta Goodrem saying, “You are born to do this. I think you can be a superstar around the world.” Boy George said, “You really, for me, represent individuality.”

Siala said

“When I would sing, it would make me feel emotionally better. It was like free counselling, free psychology. I honestly don't think I would be here if I didn't have music. I feel like that's what makes me strong.”

Tobin Saunders

Photograph of Tobin Saunders
Courtesy of Tobin Saunders.

Tobin Saunders is an activist, freelance performer, writer, choreographer, dancer, actor, DJ and events co-ordinator/producer. He is the creator of one of Australia’s most well-known, colourful, and entertaining identities, Vanessa Wagner. Over the past 30 years he has been involved in theatre works, production and performance at Mardi Gras, in fashion parades, film and dance variety in theatres, and numerous TV appearances.

Tobin is thought to be the first person in Australia to ever come out on live television as HIV positive, which he did during his involvement with Celebrity Big Brother in 2002.

Moving to the Northern Rivers in 2002, Tobin began work as a community health promotion officer for ACON Northern Rivers in 2010, which included working across the Tweed Shire. Taking a holistic view of sexual health, Tobin brought his creative flair to ACON’s outreach program, promoting and delivering campaigns.

Tobin states, “It’s really no great leap from showgirl to educator…Vanessa and I have always worked hard to improve sexual health and the acceptance of sexual and gender diversity across all media platforms.”

On being a small town queer, Tobin says

“I’m a small town queer originally from a big queer city so I have my tootsies in both camps (pardon the pun). The Northern Rivers of NSW is made up of so many small towns and the town I reside in is Ballina. Living as a small town queer, I like not having to be ‘on’ all the time; it’s such a nice change from the high end, status anxious, performative world of inner city Sydney. I value the slower place, cleaner air and less pretentious surroundings. My sexuality is not really an issue and I enjoy my own company and that of nature.”

Zoe Nolan

Photograph of Zoe Nolan
Courtesy of Zoe Nolan.

Zoe Nolan lives in Cabarita and is a former member of the Australian Women’s National Soccer Team, the Matildas. Zoe represented Australia as part of the team in 2001 and 2002.

Zoe was also selected as a baton bearer for the Queen’s torch relay in the lead up to the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. Nominated by her workmates at the Gold Coast Airport she said,

“Sport has always been a really big part of my life and I was very lucky to have had the opportunity to play soccer for the Matildas until a long term injury shortened my career. It is a dream come true to be part of the largest sporting event Australia has seen this decade.”

After Zoe’s soccer career ended she took up triathlons and has completed two full ironman triathlons. She also plays AFL, snowboards and surfs.

Earlier that year Zoe married her partner, Michelle Edwards, in one of the country’s first legal same sex marriages. The couple had been together for 11 years but didn't consider marriage until the postal vote showed 61.5% of Australians agreed the definition of marriage should be changed.

Zoe said, "We're really excited. We've been together for 11 years so it's like the icing on the cake…we're just excited to have the opportunity. It's pretty historic.”

On being a small town queer Zoe says,

“We love the little community that we live in. It’s been easy to get to know people and we have made some great friendships over the last 3 years. We don’t feel like we have been treated any differently for being in a same sex relationship.”

Muriel

Photograph of Muriel in her wedding dress from the movie Muriel's wedding
Muriel’s Wedding DVD cover.

Muriel’s Wedding left an indelible mark on Australian pop culture and struck a chord with audiences worldwide, reaching cult-like status. The movie is based on Director PJ Hogan’s real life experiences growing up in the Tweed and includes glimpses into his family stories.

Muriel Heslop’s story, of being a social pariah of the small town she lives in (Porpoise Spit), is one of not fitting in and being the black sheep of the family. These themes struck a chord with queer people across Australia. PJ ends the movie, not with the traditional boy-gets-girl narrative, but with the enduring love of female friendship. The huge appeal of ABBA music, and associated costumes, were also much loved by a queer audience.

Other characters in the movie also held appeal. Gennie Nevinson, who played the home-wrecking scarlet woman of Porpoise Spit, Deidre Chambers, states, “often gay guys - and they get excited when they see Deidre Chambers. They all love Deidre; I don't know if it's because she's such a bitch.”