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Time To Get Your Fruit On

Lismore in northern NSW is home to the largest gay and lesbian population outside of a large city in the southern hemisphere. It’s also home to Tropical Fruits, a party that’s been called both magical and feral, a party that manages to be both successful and meaningful, and a party that sells tickets to every major postcode across Australia, as well as to New Zealand, Vietnam, Tel Aviv, London, Hawaii, New York, England, Japan and Canada. That’s pretty impressive for a grassroots community group smack bang in the middle of the Australian bush.

“It all started in 1988 when two dykes and two poofters were drinking in a pub in Ballina,” says Erif – that’s ‘fire’ spelt backwards. “They started a magazine called the ‘Fruit Juice’ and started having gatherings in people’s houses. When it got to the point when houses started to burst they moved into local halls.”

And so began Tropical Fruits, a group that hosts a number of smaller parties throughout the year, as well as their huge New Year’s Eve bash, which now attracts 3,500 people.

Erif is one of the original Mardi Gras ‘78ers and when she speaks about being gay, and about her pride in our community, you can’t help but smile. Her energy is warm and infectious. You can tell that any party she’s involved with is going to have plenty of love in the room. “We’ve been invisible for thousands of years right up until the mid-sixties so we’re still learning, as a culture, how to be with each other. We put this party on for the family to come and visit – I think we are the most beautiful, the most aware things on the planet. I think we should be in control actually – there’s eight of them to one of us, it wouldn’t take much to organise!” she says, “I think we could teach the world some gentleness.”

According to Erif, Tropical Fruits has it all. “We’ve got oldies, youngies, fairies, muscle marys, trannies, queens, vanilla dykes, butch dykes, femme dykes, Michaels – that’s what we call the vanilla boys,” she laughs, “and we all hang out here together. Our parties are very camp, very queer – we embrace the full queer mix.”

And what can people expect this new years eve? “It’s a red carpet theme this year, and we’re making 185 metres of red carpet ourselves out of recycled materials. When you arrive and hit the red carpet there’s a tunnel full of paparazzi, and as you walk along it every decoration is made by us, everything has had our hands on it. There’ll be fan dancers, there’s a film festival running all night, you can hang in a hammock, you can lay in a big bed with sixty other people, you can play cards, you can paint your nails, there’s a big cabaret stage and you can jump up there and sing if you like. In the toilets there’s a graffiti wall that you can scrawl all over. The Radical Fairies will be running the cloakroom, so if you’re ever bored you can go and see them and they’ll dress you, they’ll massage you, they’ll give you lemongrass to rub on your teeth to make you feel fresh in the mouth.”

And in addition to all that craziness there are three dance spaces to check out. “There’s the Persian Palace, where you’ll find Gemma and Kimo. There’s a hall called Trade, and that’s filthy. That’s where you’ll find Sveta, Henri, Mandy Rollins and Feisty. And Arena is more hands in the air, that’s where you’ll find Jo Jo, Les Smith, Ben Drayton.”

Tropical Fruits is also famous for its lighting. “Our halls are really low, so the lights are almost reachable. When the lasers go off it’s like you’ve been dumped in a prison.” Erif’s new age side starts to shine through, “I’ve said to Two Dogs, the tech team behind the event, you don’t actually realise that you’re doing colour therapy on everyone, because the lights are so rich.” There are also fireworks at midnight.

At Tropical Fruits, the party doesn’t stop just because the sun rises. Buses take everyone to a recovery in the morning, then the crowd heads to the local pool for a daytime pool party, and then at in the late afternoon everyone returns to the showgrounds where there’s a huge barbecue, acoustic entertainment, and two halls open for more dancing right through the night.

So, what advice does Erif have for the first timers? “Oh, the virgins!” she laughs, “We love them, we like to see their faces at six o’clock in the morning and say to ourselves, ‘Oh, we’ve had you. We’ve totally had you.’ I’d advise them to wear something sexy, something interesting, something that’s very them, and something they can shed as the night gets hotter. They should bring a little bag, pop something warm in it so they can rug up in the early hours, bring their swimmers for the following day and that’s it. And cloak it – we’ve got an excellent cloakroom.”

Erif says the secret to the magic of Tropical Fruits is that the party isn’t run by a board, or outside contractors, or a committee, the party is the community. All the service providers, everyone from the bar tenders to the cloakroom are gay. “We’ve got no-one perving on us love,” she says, “these are all our family.”

Erif says that the vibe at their parties is second to none. “The camping grounds have never had a reported incident of theft or anything like that. At our parties you wouldn’t believe it, people hand in wallets with thousands of dollars in them. Honestly, we’ve never had any problems. It’s amazing.”

In a world where community groups are being swallowed up by an increasingly competitive marketplace, Erif is thrilled that their little party still manages to attract such a loyal, diverse crowd. “It’s because it’s real. We had twelve circuit boys at our party last year and this big German boy came up to me and said ‘I party all over the world, but this party is special.’ That’s a big compliment coming from those boys. We feel very privileged that people trust us with their time, their money, their new year’s eve, and that they choose to come and see us. We feel an obligation, and we take it seriously. We put a lot of energy into it.”

It’s a beautiful thing.

Tropical Fruits Red Carpet, Splash Pool Party and Recovery run from 8pm December 31 through until 1.30am 2 January 2008 in Lismore. Tickets are still available from www.tropicalfruits.org.au.

Photos by Anna-Marie Calihanna, Rod Spark and Aren.

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danny corvini

danny corvini said on the 26th Oct, 2007

I'd go - if I wasn't in Paris!

Christian Taylor

Christian Taylor said on the 26th Oct, 2007

i'll be there. it sounds insane. i can't wait...

Zakalwe

Zakalwe said on the 26th Oct, 2007

I'll be there too.
Camping at the showgrounds again too. Usually get up to Lismore a little earlier, go on a few bushwalks, go to Kings beach, and then have a blast at the party.

Christian Taylor

Christian Taylor said on the 27th Oct, 2007

yes, i've heard amazing things about kings beach.

taylor-dayne

taylor-dayne said on the 29th Oct, 2007

look at those costumes. insane! how fantastic...

Zakalwe

Zakalwe said on the 29th Oct, 2007


Just watch out for the Parking Police, they're always in attendance, we got done last year, $75 fine.

James-A

James-A said on the 1st Nov, 2007

i'll be there for sure!