OUTBACK TOUR: Drag Bingo At The Palace – A Punter’s Guide To Avoiding Humiliation

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As part of his ongoing ‘New Matilda Fantastical, Historical, Political Outback Tour’ series, New Matilda editor Chris Graham stops in at Broken Hill for a night of… drag bingo!

Admittedly, my features on the ‘Outback Tour’ have been pretty heavy going, reading-wise. They’ve also all been part of the ‘Aboriginal Edition’ – i.e. I’ve only written on the mob thus far. So I thought I’d take a brief break and lighten things up a little bit, with a story stopover in Broken Hill. Specifically, Drag Bingo at the Palace Hotel in Broken Hill, a remote country town in the far west of NSW.

‘The Palace’, as it’s known locally, featured in the iconic 1994 Australian movie Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. It’s been a hub of drag culture ever since.

The pub and its garish décor are a significant tourist attraction in Broken Hill, particularly for grey nomads on their way around the continent. So too is the annual four-day festival at The Palace called ‘Broken Heel’, which celebrates all things drag. And then there’s Drag Bingo, on the third Tuesday of every month, hosted by two resident Queens, Shelita Buffet and Christina KneesUp.

If you’ve ever been to a regular old bingo night, you’ll know it’s a lot quicker and more challenging than you might expect. It’s also generally pretty staid and conservative. Drag Bingo at The Palace bears very little resemblance to that, due in no small part to the nature of drag, where everything is over-the-top, from the hair and make-up, to the dancing and the banter. Particularly the banter.

Drag culture is about as far from politically correct humour as you can get. A few years ago, during the Broken Heel festival, one white drag queen ‘gave birth’ to a black (plastic) baby on stage. Friends of mine who witnessed it are still unsure why. In short, the humour is extremely bawdy, with no airs and graces… although the people behind it have largely been oppressed and had their political activism ignored for centuries. So, you know, we’ve kind of been asking for it.

Inside the iconic Palace Hotel in Broken Hill, the spiritual outback home of drag culture in Australia.

Drag Bingo at the Palace honours this tradition, with bingo calls like, ‘Number 16, sweet 16, she’s never been kissed but she bangs like a dunny door in the breeze’ and ‘Number 18, 18, coming of age, coming on my face’. I’ll leave it to your imagination to work out what happens when the number 69 comes out.

It all culminates in a pretty hilarious three-hour marathon comedy show, with prizes, and a lot of audience participation.

I attended earlier this week, and Shelita Buffet and Christina KneesUp opened proceedings by walking over to my table. I’d like to be able to tell you what Ms Buffet subsequently said, but when a seven-foot tall (including hair) drag queen starts rubbing your bald head in front of a large crowd in a pub, it tends to play havoc with your faculties. Thus I honestly don’t remember what was said… although I’m pretty sure it wasn’t fit for a television audience before 9:30 at night.

Having said that, if you’ve never been at the loser’s end of a tongue-whipping from a drag queen, well, you haven’t really lived. Nor been truly humiliated. So, I’ve put together this helpful guide, to try and make a thoroughly enjoyable night of Drag Bingo at The Palace a little less painful.

 

The Rules Of Drag Bingo

The first rule of Drag Bingo is you DO talk about drag bingo. To all your friends, and even strangers. I’ve always found coming up with creative phrases that rhyme with numbers to be excessively funny, but Drag Bingo is something else entirely. It’s an excellent night, and the best value three-hour show you’re likely to find anywhere.

The second rule of drag bingo is try and fly under the radar, and whatever you do, don’t take the Queens on. You’re not going to be funnier than them, and they’ll humiliate you to within an inch of your virginity.

By way of example, one group of punters marked off random numbers on a friend’s bingo card when she went to the bar. When she came back she thought she’d got bingo, so she called it out. The Queens checked the card, realized there was no bingo, and so forced the friend behind the prank onto the stage to dance.

There are exceptions to every rule – even drag bingo rules – and this was one such occasion. I’m guessing the song the Queens chose appears to have featured prominently in the young woman’s relatively recent high school eisteddfod, thus her performance was extremely well choreographed, and really quite excellent not to mention popular. It prompted Shelita Buffet to remark, “I just want to point out, that was supposed to be a fucking punishment.” Anyway, on with the show.

The third rule of drag bingo is buy the bingo cards (they’re for sale at the bar) because that’s how the Queens keep the event running. But don’t be too committed to actually trying to play and keep up. There’s a few reasons for that.

The first is that if your head is down in the bingo card, you miss quite a bit of the action and the comedy, and it moves very, very fast.

The Palace Hotel in Broken Hill.

The second, and most important, is that if you do get a bingo, and someone else gets one as well, you’ll be made to come up on stage and compete for the prize.

It can be anything from lip syncing a song, like a real drag queen would, or playing Simon Says, or basically whatever humiliation comes into the minds of the Queens at the time.

The fourth rule of drag bingo is chose your prizes wisely. I did actually win – indeed I was the first bingo for the night and, mercifully, the only bingo for that round. I initially went for the ‘needle jelly shots pack’ – basically a package of syringes that you’re supposed to put alcohol and jelly into – but then I realized it didn’t come pre-made with shots. So I put them back and went for another pick, but under pressure from the Queens to hurry the fuck up, I panicked and ended up grabbing the first thing that caught my eye… which happened to be a large tennis racket-shaped insect zapper.

Apparently, you’re supposed to swing at the insects like you would with a fly swatter and it electrocutes them with a small charge from a battery. Obviously, as a 46-year-old man, I have limited use for this toy, although I suppose I am on the road a lot these days, and the flies and mozzies can be quite challenging out bush.

In any event, as long as you choose your prizes wisely, don’t take the Queens on, don’t mark off a friend’s bingo card, and do tell your family and friends, you’re going to have a pretty awesome and painless night.

Drag Bingo at The Palace is on the third Tuesday of every month. You can get more details here.

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Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the publisher and editor of New Matilda. He is the former founding managing editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine. Chris has won a Walkley Award, a Walkley High Commendation and two Human Rights Awards for his reporting. He lives in Brisbane and splits his time between Stradbroke Island, where New Matilda is based, and the mainland.

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