What do you do if you grew up in the Bega Valley with the dawning realisation that you might be gay and fought isolation and bullying only to move back as an adult to find things haven’t changed as much as you’d like?
If you are Headspace peer worker Carly McDonald, you decide it’s high time that some of the acceptance and celebration associated with cities came to rural towns – and you create a Mardi Gras style festival in coastal Pambula.
The Rainbow Wave Festival will be held at Oakland’s Event Center in Pambula on Saturday, April 13 and will feature local band Soul Train, Canberra group The Unmanned Band, tours of the Priscilla Queen of the Desert movie bus, a speech by transgender activist Catherine McGregor, family-friendly activities like face painting and delicious rainbow wraps!
Carly came up with the idea of the festival, something she would’ve wanted to see happen during her teenage years.
“It’s a bit of a personal journey for me – not that I can attribute all my mental health stuff on being gay but it’s hard.”
Carly’s instinct that rural LGBTQ young people need support as much as she did growing up was correct.
“At our very first meeting, when the idea of the festival was just a tiny seed, we had two year 10 students show up and since then they’ve been coming to every meeting,” Carly says with a grin “we weren’t sure at that point whether the event would be over 18 only but as soon as those girls turned up, we knew it was an all ages event.”
Since the first two teenage organisers signed up, a flood of young people have joined the crew. Laughing, Carly says that a friend who came to a meeting of over thirty people last month said she had never seen so many young people choose to go to a meeting.
“It’s not just about kids who know they are gay and have come out, it’s also providing a space to talk about sexuality and ask questions so all young people can figure out who they are,” Carly says.
16-year-old Luka Riley, of Turingal Head, has not been involved with planning the festival but is looking forward to attending and says she wants to support the LGBTQ community.
“I have lots of friends who are gay and lots of my friends are planning on going to the festival.”
After attending Mardi Gras in Sydney last month, Luka is keen to see some of the energy she saw there come to the Bega Valley.
“Everyone was so on the same page,” she explains “it didn’t matter what you looked like, everyone was just – united, that’s the word!”
While the Rainbow Wave Festival was created with the struggles of rural young people wrestling with their sexual identities in mind, Carly says that the festival is truly for everyone.
“It’s not for only gay or straight or old or young – it will be good because we’re all there. We need to change the culture so that gay people in rural areas don’t feel like they are on show all the time but are part of a bigger, inclusive community.”
The Rainbow Wave Festival has been made possible by volunteers, fundraising events and generous donations by many businesses and groups.
“We need to give a big shout-out to Oaklands in Pambula for donating the space, all our speakers and performers for donating their time, Bendigo Bank for helping to pay for a bus to transport people on the day and countless other local businesses who have donated,” Carly says.
Any profit raised by ticket sales will go towards next years festival, which Carly hopes will include a street parade and multiple venues.
“Big things are on the horizon,” she grins.
The festival is open to all ages from 3:00 pm to 7:30 pm, with over 18’s only from 7:30 pm.
Carly explains that there will be a bar after 7:30, as well as DJ’s, including the Bega Sound Collective but that the Rainbow Wave Festival want to emphasize safe and respectful partying.
Only 500 tickets are for sale. Get yours here.