Not long after arriving in Sydney in the mid 1990s, I remember being blown away by the elaborate wigs of drag queen, Maude Boate. In contrast to the permed and blow dried wigs of so many drag queens, Maude had cartoon-like headgear made of plastic.
Maude was a regular performer at the legendary, sadly missed Albury Hotel. Working alongside Maude at The Albury, was barman, Tim Chappell, one of the Academy Award winning costume designers for “Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert”. Apparently that’s how some of the Maude Boate designed headgear and dresses ended up in the movie. The other connection between Maude and Tim was that both came from my hometown, Lismore. I remember discovering that about Tim about the time he won the Academy Award. But it wasn’t until a few years later I discovered Maude Boate was in fact, Michael Gates, also from my hometown.
“When I was growing up in Lismore, drag was completely unacceptable”, Michael says on a short video that’s playing as part of “Maudeville” an exhibition currently at the Lismore Regional Art Gallery. Being of a similar age, I knew exactly what he meant. And yet, at the same time as Jim Brigginshaw, the editor of the local newspaper, The Northern Star was writing inflammatory anti-gay editorials, people like Mike Bray and Vera Bourne (the mother of a schoolmate) were hosting Gaywaves on the local community radio station, 2NCR-FM, Mike ran a gay restaurant called “Double Dutch” and the local social group, Tropical Fruits was just starting out.
Thirty five years later, Tropical Fruits is now a multi-day festival (with a pool party and street parade) that attracts a lot of visitors from elsewhere (the actor Alan Cumming was the star celebrity guest this year), and there’s an exhibition at the local art gallery paying tribute to the work of a man who achieved a great deal through his drag persona. Design-wise, Maude Boate continues to influence how many of Sydney’s drag queens dress. In the short video, Michael also describes how he makes wigs for the stage production of “Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert”.
It’s a lovely exhibition. Well worth a look. But be quick, noting it closes January 30, 2016.