Celebrating NAIDOC Week, DNA revisits some of the inspirational Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people we’ve met in DNA.
Dallas Webster is better known as Nova Gina, a “faboriginal” queen and Dreamtime Diva! He spoke to Andrew Creagh about drag, identity and facing down cancer.
DNA: Dallas, you identify as a Dunghutti man; can you tell us a little about that identity?
Dallas Webster: Yes, I originate from the Dunghutti nation and peoples, located in Kempsey, New South Wales. The Dunghutti nation is where my father was born and the Barkendji nation is where my mum comes from, two hours east of Broken Hill.
How did Nova originate?
Nova comes from back in 2018 back when I was asked to be a part of a cabaret night at the local RSL Club in Kempsey. I managed to gather another five Aboriginal drag queens from around NSW and we filled the auditorium to maximum capacity with standing room only.
You also entered the inaugural Miss First Nations pageant in Darwin – how did you go?
It was an amazing experience where I got to meet some faboriginal queens and now have lifelong friends. I won the coveted Miss Congeniality title, of which I’m super proud.
You’ve marched with the First Nation’s float in the Mardi Gras Parade; what does that mean to you?
I’ve marched with the First Nation’s group on more than one occasion, but a highlight was marching back in 2017. My nephew, Baylin Hoskins committed suicide four years ago, just three weeks from his 19th birthday. Baylin left letters for his family where he wrote, “the reason I got to this point was because I couldn’t come to terms with who I was”. Baylin’s depression didn’t allow him to see his value, and listening to others put down LGBTIQ people, well, he just took all that on. He believed what others said and it tormented him. He couldn’t see that they were wrong. Baylin’s parents, Gerald and Hayley, put some of Baylin’s ashes in a necklace, which I wore throughout the Parade and he also got to share the stage with me, which was a complete honour. So I was able to take him to his first Mardi Gras. There’s a Facebook group dedicated to him called Baylin’s Gift.
What are your plans for the Parade this year?
Having been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January, I have been focusing on my health, obviously, and my treatments. I’ve consciously made the decision to surround myself with a select few family and friends to help carry me through. With my team of amazing doctors, I’m working out a plan of action to fuck cancer right in the piehole… dry!
Many people saw you for the first time on the ABC’s, You Can’t Ask That. What was the most confronting question you answered?
I’ve done a fair bit of television but You Can’t Ask That was a stand-out. I was on the episode, Drag Queens And Kings. I guess the hardest question was, “What’s it like living as an Aboriginal drag queen?” I answered, “All I need is a disability and I’ll have the triple whammy!”
Is the LGBTQI community becoming more accepting of diversity?
Slowly but surely. There are quite a few Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander performers and artists out there in the scene and they’re making quite a name for themselves, not just in the drag industry.
How did the Nova Gina look evolve?
It took about five years. Her signature makeup feels inspired by spectacular artists such as Grace Jones, Divine and the amazing Drag Queen DJ, Nina Flowers.
You’re performing during the Mardi Gras Festival this year with many other Indigenous artists under the collective Koori Gras. What does Koori Gras mean?
Koori is a term that means you are recognised and accepted by community as coming from the state of New South Wales. It’s similar to the term for Aboriginals coming from Queensland who are known as Murris, and from Perth where the people are known is Nungah.
What can we expect from Nova’s Koori Gras performances?
Sass, cheek and class! Nova’s best quality is that she’s easy going and friendly – and able to take the piss out of herself! Nova won’t be performing at any after-parties this year. However, there will be an amazing after party, Blackout, at the Landsdowne Hotel for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ community, family, friends, lovers and supporters. All are welcome.
Drag seems to be exploding in the Indigenous community at the moment. Why is that?
I think it’s because it’s new and unique. People don’t expect it on mainstream stages and gay bars, and people are becoming more accepting of the coloured girls being on stage, which is a fantastic way to breaking down negative stereotypes and broaden perceptions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
How did your family and community respond when you came out?
Coming out to my family, friends and community was a difficult process, I won’t lie. I felt the homophobia directly and indirectly and sometimes, in a weird and fucked-up way, believed that I deserved it. Until my mid- to late-twenties I didn’t understand that that kind of behaviour should never be tolerated or accepted as normal. Nova Gina helped change all that for me.
What can Nova do that Dallas can’t?
She can get away with a lot more than Dallas can! For instance, Nova is a lot flirtier than Dallas. Sometimes a little slutty but she never goes too far!
Can you remember your earliest experiments with drag and performance?One of my favourite childhood memories is with my sister, Kathleen. We lived our childhoods and teenage years in a small beachside town called Crescent Head. Most days we spend at the beach, fishing, swimming and just enjoying doing nothing. On our way home our grandparents would buy us chips, lollies, chewing gum and soft drinks. My grandfather would gut and scale the fish for our supper and Kathleen and I would use the fish scales to make false fingernails. She’d glue them on with chewing gum, then paint them. Very resourceful, even at that age.
Do you think broader Australia is finally beginning to acknowledge its black history?
I think the mainstream has a way to go as far as Aboriginal acknowledgement, rights and legal matters are concerned. Just like war monuments and churches are for Western society, so are lands and sites of significance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. As far as politics benefiting the Indigenous communities throughout Australia goes, it’s really non-existent. Shit needs to be acknowledged and addressed properly. Housing, black deaths in custody, health, the over-representations of Indigenous peoples in prisons, the shocking and alarming suicide rate of Indigenous people, and many more issues.
Who are your heroes?
I would consider my flatmate Stevie a hero, who has been by my side since my diagnosis and I love to fucking bits. Also, my mum, Doreen. She brought up six children on her own after my father committed suicide when I was only three years old. She is also a survivor of the Stolen Generation, too.
Funniest drag name of all time?
My favourite drag name of all time has to go to Lady Gargles. And, apparently, if you were lucky, she swallowed! She’s a fellow Kempsey Drag SiSTAR.
There might be an Australian version of Drag Race; would Nova be up for that?
I don’t think I’d throw my hands up in the air if given an opportunity to do it. I’d fail in the making costumes challenges. I have no idea how to use a sewing machine. It sounds like a lot of work!