Potch Queen

If you are sensitive, or think you may become unsettled by images of munted opal miners in drag, scroll no further. For the rest of us: woo hoo! POTCH QUEEN!!!!

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The opal is Australia’s national gemstone, and the mid-year Opal Queen is a chance for the town’s ladies to shine. They dress up in all their finery, promenade and do an interview, and the winner goes on to represent the Ridge at various, I dunno, opally things.

Potch is the word for the other 99.9% of the crap that you pull out of the ground when you’re looking for the precious. It’s the worthless crud of mining, the heart-breakingly valueless junk that most miners spend most of their days looking at and weeping about.

So what better counterpoint to Opal Queen than Potch Queen?

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I’d been hearing about Potch Queen since I got to town. I think it’s fair to say it’s the most anticipated event in the Ridge. Sure, Opal Queen’s a big do and the Opal Festival is a massive drawcard, but ask people which night they’re hanging out for and there’s only one answer. The premise is simple: men dress up as women and do a dance on a stage. The cunningly crafted catch is that the entrants get free grog all day as their reward for having a go and so, by the time they actually hit the stage, they are totally blootered. Stories abound of drag queens falling into the audience and of various “bits” becoming liberated from ambitiously small g-strings. And all this is not just for the fun of it! Oh no, it is in fact a fundraiser for … the local childcare centre! Gotta love the Ridge.

There was a dress theme of “Celebrity” and our MCs for the night were Madonna and Prince. If it weren’t for the fact that I’d heard a rumour His Purpleness was dead I’d have believed I was in the company of the real thing. Less certain about Madge.

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For the rest of us the theme may just as well have been “Dress up in whatever you’ve got”. I’m sure that the Mad Hatter, Fred Flintstone and Beetlejuice aren’t actually celebrities, but they looked great.

There were pre-drinks at a friend’s place but when I turned up I was told in no uncertain terms that I’d failed to reach the appropriate standard. I was given a selection a blouses and told to go home with and try again. I’m no expert but I reckoned the blouses made me look like a retired porn star and so I had a scrabble through the wardrobe and I managed to dig out a white shirt, bow tie and evening jacket (just the basics necessary for a summer in the Ridge) and re-emerged, transformed. I was supposed to be Sean Connery as 007 but everyone thought I was “seat filler at the Golden Globes”. Whatever.

The sun disappeared in the direction of the Grawin and billions of moths and flying critters swirled like tornadoes around the stage lights. Our judges were Lynn and Paul, a couple from the Central Coast who’d come to town to celebrate their silver wedding anniversary. If they thought they were in for a quiet weekend then they were mistaken; the MC had dragged them from their motel room with, I expect, the promise of free piss and instant stardom. I asked Lynn at half time how it was going. She had the shellshocked expression of someone who’s just watched a petrol tanker crash into a children’s hospital and mumbled something about it being “a bit different”. You bet! Let’s go!

The first entrant was Helen B Generous. Always a tough gig, getting up first, and like the first pancake Helen did struggle a bit. But the crowd got behind him. Her. We were off!

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Second entrant was, I think, Amanda Lick. Geddit?!

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Amanda put everything into her dance, so much so that, during the interview (“What’s your ultimate sexual fantasy with a man?”) she kind of ground to a halt, her lips moving but no words coming out until she finally managed to stammer “Sex?” Big cheer.

The third entrant was, disturbingly, a student from school. The assembled teachers winced and grimaced and formed themselves into a defensive phalanx by the back wall. Yes, he’s 18 and theoretically in control of all his decisions, but … shallow breathing … oh god …

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She came on as Betty White to Thank You For Being A Friend, the theme tune from The Golden Girls, but then cut into It’s Raining Men. Holy shit. The party started. I’m not sure how Lynn and Paul felt when Betty shimmied from the catwalk, strode across the benches and hurled herself into the judges’ table. But the crowd lapped it up.

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Jugs were hurled through the air. People cheered. The teachers stopped hyperventilating and allowed themselves to start breathing normally. For the moment.

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You may notice a gradual degradation in the quality of the pictures from here on in. I think I might write to Apple because it always seems to happen later at night: the pictures get less focused and more loosely framed. Does anyone else have this problem?

There was an interval and so the crowd swarmed around the bar to pick up cans of Bundy and Beam and beer in plastic cups. Then Prince and Madonna announced competitions for the best men’s and women’s costumes. My Golden Globes Seat-Filler costume caught Madge’s eye and so, excruciatingly, I found myself on the stage next to Al Capone, Herman Munster, Steve Irwin and bunch of other men, all of whom seemed drunker and happier to be there than me. I thought we just had to stand there and be voted on but, no, we had to do a catwalk shimmy for the judges. Holy fucking fucketty fuck fuck fuck. I won’t go into detail, but I can now say that I’ve done the catwalk at Potch Queen. Fully clothed.

The women were better than the men. Isn’t that always the way? In style of a true Shakespearean farce the men were women and many of the women were men; it has to be said that the two Cap’n Jack Sparrows (both women) looked more like Johnny Depp than he does. There was a Red Foo, a Frida Kahlo, a Lara Croft, a Courtney Love, an Al Capone.

The winner was Lady GaGa. Thankfully, given the flies we’ve had lately, she wasn’t wearing a suit made of bacon and salami. She was, in fact, wearing bugger all, but my goodness she wore it well. Oh to be that young, hot and confident!

And then it was straight into Round 2. First up was Mary Jane Rock Your Brain. I think this was the first occasion of “bits” emerging. Well, I mean, look at that tiny red thing. It was bound to happen.

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MJ got into character, sculling most of a goon sack before tearing it open and writhing around in the sticky mess. Crowd: ecstatic. But there was more! Too much? What is “too much” at Potch Queen? There is no “too much”.

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Tina Queen Of The Outback hit the stage next. Tina was bloody awesome. What a routine!

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Again, my phone doesn’t do it justice. I think her tune was either Cherry Pie or I Touch Myself or maybe even both: it was getting loose by this point and my ability to keep accurate records was becoming compromised. Who was this? Cinderella? No idea!

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There was a young fella on and I didn’t get any pictures of him because, I think, he had the most mesmerisingly awesome bum I’d ever seen. A rumour swept the place that he was a pro drag queen up from Newcastle. I’d believe it! A friend said she preferred legs with a bit more muscle on them but I thought they were about as good as legs get.

I was still fanning myself when the next contestant came on. By this stage I was giddy and struggling to keep up with events. This one was called … um … can’t remember and danced to … ah … buggered if I know.

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But I’m guessing he didn’t get those boots at Duncan’s or Mr Cheap.

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Who was this? Nope. No idea. None whatsoever.

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At the end of the catwalking bit all the entrants came out and did a kind of impromptu mass dance-off. It was all a bit weird. I wondered what Lynn and Paul were thinking. Do they have children? What would they tell them about their holiday?

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Thankfully, whatever their feelings, they took their job seriously. I think the winner was Tina Queen Of The Outback. Or was she Miss Personality? Again, the details were becoming sketchy. And, anyway, did anyone really care?

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With the main part of the night over the catwalk was dragged off to one side and the dancefloor opened up. Pope Francis commandeered the catwalk for a rousing rendition of Village People’s YMCA before holding an improvised communion from a plastic goblet of Bundy Red Rum and a packet of rice crackers.

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The floor was covered in a thick mulch of crushed Bundy cans and broken plastic glasses. The music was – how can I put it? – eclectic. The DJ segued neatly from Highway to Hell to Shorty Got Low to Save A Horse, Ride A Cowboy and everyone kept going without batting an eye or missing a beat. Around midnight the place had become a chaotic mash-up of a B&S ball and a primary school disco, with lines of happy drunks doing the Nutbush and the Time Warp and the Macarena.

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I think I bailed about 1.30.

Is there anything more poignant than a red carpet at the end of the night?

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I could still hear the music as I walked down the Three Mile Road. A car that was headed into town saw me, dipped its lights, slowed a bit for a look at this middle-aged dude in a faux tuxedo who looked like he’d just finished a shift filling seats at the Golden Globes. Then it sped up, fishtailed and gave me a yahoo on the horn.

Potch Queen: you were all that I could have hoped for. But Sunday will be quiet. Very, very quiet.

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