Why is a town in the middle of the desert, better known for being the birthplace of mining giant BHP, welcoming thousands of drag fans? One word: Priscilla, the 1994 hit film “The Adventures Of Pricilla Queen Of The Desert”. The film from Australia followed the cross-country shenanigans of two drag queens and a transgender woman, became a worldwide phenomenon and symbol for the Festival. Broken Hill played a starring role. But not exactly in a positive way at the time.
In 2019 the town’s reputation as the centre of Priscilla-mania was boosted when the film’s director Stephen Elliot gifted the Palace Hotel, where key scenes were filmed, the silver bus the trio travelled on and the huge stiletto that sat upon its roof. The latter sits proudly in the hotel foyer.
Since the festival started in 2014 and every year since then, it’s doubled in size with Broken Heel 2018 potentially pumping as much as $1 million in the local economy.
Broken Hill is one of a number of country towns that has seen the benefit in wooing the pink dollar. From the Chill Out festival in the Victorian town of Daylesford to the New Year’s takeover of Lismore in northern NSW by Tropical Fruits. Of course not everyone like it, but do recognise the festival is good for the town and are slowly warming to the fun and tongue and cheek comedy portrayed in the original film all those years ago.
The gay men and lesbians in the audience are outnumbered by straight people; many locals, but also those who’ve made a pilgrimage to see the acts, marvel at the costumes and crack up at the lewd jokes.
There’s a posse of healthcare workers from Whyalla, a couple of grey nomads from Albury. They’ve all heard it’s “a laugh”. One Sydneysider says Broken Heel has “turned the outback outrageous”.
The town’s normally quiet railway station — two trains a week — is where many of the festival goers arrive after a fourteen-hour sequin flecked voyage from Sydney aboard the Silver City Stiletto express.
“Last year was the first train and you could see all the passenger’s faces as the train pulls up; they’ve been partying the whole way and then we have flags and music on the platform so everyone gets off to a bit of fanfare.
Mike Briggs, Broken Hill 2018