blak queens talking: it’s a drag thing

kaboobie and constantina bush in conversation

Constantina Bush

Constantina Bush

CABARET AND CROSS-DRESSING ARE AN IDIOSYNCRATIC PART OF CONTEMPORARY INDIGENOUS CULTURAL EXPRESSION, BEST KNOWN IN THE SHAPE OF MARY G, QUEEN OF THE KIMBERLEY (MARK BIN BAKAR). HERE, KABOOBIE (VISUAL AND PERFORMANCE ARTIST TROY-ANTHONY BAYLIS) CONVERSES VIA EMAIL WITH CONSTANTINA BUSH (ACTOR AND CABARET ARTIST KAMAHI DJORDAN KING). THEY YARN ABOUT EMPOWERMENT, THE ART OF DRAG, THE ROCKY ROAD OF GLAMOUR AND QUERYING QUEER, BLAK-WAYS.

Kaboobie: Hello my darling sista Ms Bush. Finger-waving at you from Adelaide on Kaurna country! You’re on Larrakia country preparing for your show That’s The Way Life Goes as part of the 2012 Darwin Festival. How are the preparations coming along?

Constantina Bush: The preparations are coming along good way. The Bushettes arrived here the other day and we now doing little bit rehearsals you know. Darwin mob will probably like this one show because we talk little bit about the Interventions in it. Even though we bin go all around the country with this show it will be the first time that they will be seeing us here in Darwin. So being back on my home turf will be little bit nervous for me cause you know all the stories I talk about in my show is true and they belong for my families, so they will know.

Let’s step back in time. How did Constantina Bush come about? How did she start? How was she born? Was she even born at all? How did you get your name?

Constantina Bush came about because a performer pulled out of Outblack [a social support group that raises awareness of gay and lesbian issues both within and outside Indigenous communities. ED] and a friend asked me to fill in her spot. I offered up some live singing and a very sassy cossie. It was an instant hit and I bin workin’ it ever since. The name Constantina Bush came when I was asked to a luncheon to meet Condoleezza Rice for the 2006 Commonwealth Games. I didn’t know who she was so I had to ask the driver who was taking me there. He informed me that she was the US Secretary of State. When I got there and met her I addressed her as Constantina Bush and also called her a UN Ambassador, much to the amusement of those around me. Ever since then the name stuck.

That story’s so funny, and now you embody it in namesake for always. I first saw you in the flesh when we shared a dressing room and time-shared the stage for Outblack in Melbourne in January 2010 as part of the Midsumma Festival. It was a live performance where you sang, and you had great earrings that provided some fitting, campy dance. (An ‘earring,’ dear gazer, is a term us Queens use to describe a back-up dancer or singer, who sings and/or dances on either side of us). The gig was a late night ‘nightclub’ act and different to the other shows I saw that are more cabaret-style, where you talk-up with your audience. I think your versatility and adaptability are some of the qualities that make your work accessible, plus word is out you’re easy to work with. Why else do you think people are so drawn to your charms? Tell us about your audiences? Do blakfullas respond differently to whitefullas? What about outside of the big city lights, beyond the city limits?

Yes, absolutely they do. I think a reason is because Constantina talks Myall or Kriol, a mixed form of English and Aboriginal with a bushy sort of accent. As always, the humour is typical of our Australian Aboriginal sort and they get it straight up. However, the nature of my shows is to educate the broader community and non-Aboriginal people about the issues we face. By speaking this way it encourages people to listen really closely and pay attention. They don’t always immediately understand the Kriol but they get the gist of the actions and come round after a while. I think people are drawn to Constantina because of her naivety and innocence, and maybe because I am different and real strong in that. Blakfullas draw on that strength and can relate to it.

 Kaboobie, Proud Mary, Queensland Artworkers’ Alliance, Brisbane 1999

Kaboobie, Proud Mary, Queensland Artworkers’ Alliance, Brisbane 1999

Not to mention your fabulous pins! Real superwoman legs you got there girl, with something extra. I am a big fan of your publicity imagery. I find them to be artful. Some of the shots remind me of film stills from road movies like Rough Rider, Mad Max or maybe Mad Maxine from the television series Prisoner, which you know is my favourite TV show of all time. You butchin’ it girlfriend: motorbikes, pulling fuel, petrol stations and bitumen! Total glamour. Does celluloid seduce you? Does it inform your work? Is there a movie in the works?

Cellulloid does seduce me, especially after seeing The Sapphires. It’s such a great film. Really takes you to another place and time. Three Darwin girls in there I might just point out. There is a movie in the works for me and we are setting it in the 70s when children were still being taken away. I can’t say too much of it at this stage because it is not that far past the synopsis stage but there is some interest in it already. I see Constantina as a bit of an art piece herself and would love to keep doing more works like Attack of the 50 Foot Black Gin (2010) and get the imagery out there more.

You sure is an art piece—a fine piece of work. I am so glad to hear that you gonna get more stories out there through film and art as well as your performance work. I think it is important to speak-up from our own knowledge position as Queer-Aboriginal people and challenge the ways our cultures are socially constructed, and express a bit of fun too. I dunno know ‘bout you, but I bin abused once or twice by extremists who say people like us be introducing gender and sexual diversity to communities and that gender and sexual diversity is not Aboriginal way. I think even our own mob sometimes don’t realise or give much thought as to how deep colonisation imposed itself onto our cultures and how when we buy into a culture of homogeny we do the coloniser’s work. Since when did Aboriginal people become straight anyway? Just because the record is absent or vague on the matter of queerness in Aboriginal cultures, it doesn’t mean that it didn’t exist. Anyway, this stuff really gets my wig wet. Do you have any thoughts about this issue or ever felt the whip just for being you?

Haha, thanks for your comments, you’re too nice. In regards to your last question, Kaboobie, I have been made to feel bad about what I am before, but this was mainly when I was younger. Since then I have grown up into a physically and more mentally strong person and I don’t so much get it now. People look at me and think twice before they pick a fight with Constantina Bush! I know some smaller built people that are like me and are persecuted here in the Aboriginal community. I have never had to deal with too much of that though. The times that it does swing my way is usually by my own family because they know me and think that they have a right to input into my choices in life. It’s not really a choice for me anyways but an orientation, something I can’t control, and it is difficult for a lot of people to understand.

I am looking forward to seeing you perform again and seeing your creative presence generally. I hope you can blow-in to Adelaide again soon. In the meantime have fun at the Darwin Festival. Break your legs. Amour Amore, Kaboobie xxx

Thank you my sista. Hope to share the stage with you again very soon and also blow-in to Adelaide. Adelaide is ready for a bit of Bush I reckon. CB xxx

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 13

© Constantina Bush & Kaboobie ; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

9 October 2012
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