Tunne’l vision exposes the ‘other’ drag scene in Ipswich

Men dressed in sparkly dresses, looking fabulous, mouthing the words to others songs, while sashaying about on stage, has a very long Australian history.
The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert movie and musical were worldwide hits and introduced LGBT culture to a mainstream audience.
Our most iconic female impersonator would have to be Dame Edna Everage. Barry Humphries’ character played a drab to fab Melbourne housewife, satirising Australian suburbia.

Australia’s biggest party was on this weekend, the Sydney Mardi Gras. But you don’t have to go all the way to Sydney to join in.

Ipswich’s own drag queen, Dianna Tunne’l, has performed at the Ipswich Festival, Brisbane Pride Festival, Big Gay Day and various pubs and clubs.

PJ Robinson has been performing in drag for about 26 years. For the past 10 years, Mr Robinson has been hosting and performing in Ipswich.

“I was born and raised here, I was born in Ipswich Hospital,” he said. “I went to high schools in the area. It’s my home.”

Fortitude Valley is home to drag in Queensland so PJ has set out to expand the scene to the regions.

“The regions have never really been very accepting of it,” he said.

“It’s a big part of the reason why I started my show here. I remember growing up and how hard it was for me in the area. So I wanted to do something for the gay community to raise more acceptance and awareness.

“Also to educate a bit too because it was the whole ‘those queer bastards type of thing’. Seeing the younger kids back when I started, it was so hard for them.”

According to Mr Robinson, the local community has come a long way.

“Our first night we had 65 people attend and most of them were gay or lesbian,” he said.

“Tonight we have 96 booked and it’s mostly straight people.”

The show, Palace ‘A Night With The Queens’, is held the second Saturday of every month at Casa Mia.

Mr Robinson transforms into his alter ego Dianna Tunne’l, which involves around three hours applying make-up, wig, undergarments and heels.

Then, she speaks: “I’ve always tried to stay with the old style of drag. Feathers, sequins, showgirl style,” Ms Tunne’l said

“Modern drag is more fish, more feminine, more ladylike. I like to be a bit gaudy.

“The hardest part of the costume to adapt to is breathing in a corset.”

Ms Tunne’l said she does it for the friendship, the applause and the appreciation.

“It’s definitely not a thing you do for money,” she said.

Her “jewels” join her on stage. These are her resident “Queens”. She also has “baby drags” who are just starting out and then she has guest stars who travel from all around Australia.

ABOVE: Dianna Tunne’l performing on stage in Ipswich (third from the right) RIGHT: Dianna Tunne’l (centre) with two of her jewels. (left) Bebe Gunn, who went onto work alongside America’s RuPaul’s Drag Stars and (right) Medea Monroe, who is a long time jewel and co-host.

Casa Mia owner Mario Grimaldi says what a lot of people may not know is that Mr Robinson has a heart of gold.

“His drag show is one of our most popular events and he runs a raffle on the night, most of which he gives away,” Mr Grimaldi said.

Mr Robinson said mostly he helps people in the audience who tell him their story.

“This year we helped a single mother pay for her children’s schoolbooks,” he said.

“We have also helped a family get a headstone for their baby and we paid for a cremation for another couple’s baby. We’ve paid an electricity bill, that sort of thing.

“We try to give back as much as we can to the community. If we improve the community it improves life for us.

“If people don’t see us as weirdos, freaks, and so forth it makes it easier for us.”

check out a show

Find out more information here.

* Warning: Some parts of the show are a little bit naughty, so it is regarded to be Adults Only.

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