To be in Broken Hill on September 7 might be interesting! Or not. On a walking tour of this New South Wales mining town on the brink of The Outback, Ruth & I learned about its upcoming Broken Heels Festival beginning on that date on the other side of the International Date Line. We went from the tour to the Palace Hotel, where the festival will unfold, to see it.
Advertised with the sentence “Life outback is never a drag”, this festival invites drag queens each year to Broken Hill for “3 days of Glittering Good Times”. Lonely Planet once said that Broken Hill manifests “elements of ‘traditional’ Australian culture that are disappearing in other cities”. So why are drag queens in pink wigs arriving on September 7th for a Broken Heels Festival? Because the movie Priscilla Queen of the Desert was partially filmed here in 1994. The ladies who manage the Palace Hotel gave Ruth and me a tour, showed us the Priscilla Room, and said proudly, grinningly that Broken Heels will bring 2,500 people each day to their town. They come mostly from Sydney for parades and parties and to see the place where 70% of the movie was filmed.
The Priscilla Room is a hoot. Guests can stay in it, for now, for around $220 to $330 Australian per night depending on whether there are 2 or 4 people checking in. The other main attraction, which our guide showed us next, are murals painted on ceilings and walls in public areas on the first floor, like in the bar. The mermaid-looking woman on top is representative. One of painter Mario’s efforts resulted in a copy of Botticelli’s Venus on a ceiling. The murals were done between 1974 and 2001 by the man who owned The Palace at the time.
The Palace has quite a history. Built in 1889 in an era without media-loving drag queens and movies celebrating them, The Palace Hotel was torched by American Temperance ladies. In the 19th century it had a refined-womens’ parlor and a dining room that served the elite on silver. It was a white tablecloth kind of place with a secret stairwell that led to a saloon and pool hall, so The Palace has always been a double-standard sort of place.
Broken Hill is often used as a movie set. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, which gave career boosts to Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce, isn’t the only film that went international from here. Mad Max 2, Mission Impossible 2, the popular TV mini-series A Town Like Alice, and about 20 other films have come to this area to shoot like drag queens ready to parade and party. By the way, if you don’t know Hugo Weaving, look him up and be amazed at the movies he has been in.