Imagine: you’re at the University of Wollongong’s UniBar on a Friday night; you’re seated with a crowd that is warm, welcoming, and oh so very queer; the space is electric — anticipation high for the performances you know are to come — and backstage, Drag Queens, Kings, and Things are getting dressed, doing their makeup, and fixing their wigs. Maybe frantically transferring their music onto a USB at the last second.
For the next hour, you and the crowd will whistle, hoot, cheer, and scream “YASSS!” at the top of your lungs, voices hoarse for the rest of the night. But you can’t help it – the Drag performers are undeniably deserving.
This is what a bi-monthly Friday night has looked like at UniBar for more than two years – home to Wollongong’s beloved event, Dragatondra. The event has been a pillar of the Wollongong queer community, with 15 shows under its snatched belt.
This is the legacy of Lauren Order, who hosted her last Dragatondra on the October 13. If you missed out on ‘Dragatondra: Revelations’, the night can be encapsulated as a beautiful tribute to the woman of the hour: Lauren Order.
“This final one is entirely for me. It has achieved what it has needed to for the community, and for the queer community, and Wollongong, and I think drag as a whole,” Lauren explained prior to the show.
And while it may have been for herself, the 16-act show had goosebumps running up and down the audiences’ arms.
While there were tears in the crowd, the overall feeling in the room was one of pride. Everyone spoke highly of the Queen, and you could tell that they were genuinely proud of her.
One audience member and AFAB (assigned female at birth) Queen, Olivia Jones, echoed this sentiment.
“Lauren is very – in particular – so sincere. The most sincere, kind, beautiful person,” they said.
The event was a consistent beacon for the Wollongong queer community, where friends, lovers, and family could gather to express themselves however they desired.
Although a sad time for avid participants and fans of Lauren, let’s look at the life Dragatondra has led thus far.
Dragatondra was created by the event’s host, Lauren Order, after she noticed a lack of Drag shows in the Illawarra.
“There was such a need at that time for queer spaces and for people to be able to express themselves safely. There was almost nothing that existed,” Lauren Order said.
Lauren moved to Sydney from South Africa at 15 years old, where she lived until moving to Wollongong for her law degree. Growing up in Africa, Lauren hadn’t encountered the concept of Drag. The idea of openly expressing your sexuality was eye opening for the soon-to-be Queen.
“It was completely outside of my worldview with what I grew up with,” Lauren recalled.
“South Africa is still quite dangerous to be openly and visibly queer.”
Because Lauren experienced Drag at a much older age than her friends, she didn’t have the same freedom to explore her own identity in a safe environment. This motivated Lauren to create an event where Drag performers could truly be themselves safely on campus.
“It became a stage where Drag performers could also have the opportunity to exist authentically themselves, in the same way that the audience could. There weren’t ever any restrictions or parameters,” Lauren explained.
Olivia loves that the shows are held at the UniBar.
“I think that Dragatondra’s really important cause it has a lot of that reach for younger queer kids or younger queer student(s),” Olivia said.
Toby Sinn is a Drag King who Lauren encouraged to try Drag for himself. Toby has attended every instalment of Dragatondra and has started to book gigs for himself since January.
“The whole reason why I started was because I got on the stage. Because Lauren was like hey, just give it a shot. Just try it,” Toby explained.
“I literally owe it to Lauren.”
But Wollongong’s Drag scene wasn’t always this popular. Roxee Horror has been doing Drag since 2016, hosting Tupperware events and auditioning for shows around the Illawarra. In early 2017, she performed on stage as Roxee Horror for the first time.
“When I started down here, there were three Queens including myself that worked at these regular once-a-month gigs I was doing at Unity,” said Roxee Horror.
With the small nature of the community, Roxee was elated when Lauren approached her with questions about starting Drag. After back-and-forth messaging and a coffee date, a beautiful friendship blossomed between the two Queens.
“I believe I was the first to paint Lauren Order up in Drag when she started,” Roxee explained to me.
“I was there at the birth of Lauren Order. It’s really amazing to see her grow and how she’s grown into what she’s doing now.”
But it’s not just the host who has grown: the number of Drag Queens has evolved from three to over 35 in only three and a half years. Roxee believes Lauren’s event played a huge part in that.
“I definitely think it’s changed the scene for the better. Lauren really gave so many Queens a chance and a spotlight and a stage – that they may not have had that chance without Dragatondra,” Roxee said.
The audience grew in the initial instalments of Dragatondra. Slowly but surely, attendees became familiars, and crowd peers became friends. The show’s intermissions were always filled with chatter and mingling, paying more attention to each other than the drinks in their hands.
“That’s (the audience) what made it different, and also made Dragatondra what it is, is all the people that came and supported the event,” Lauren Order explicated.
And the participants feel the exact same way.
“I’ve made so many friends and so many connections now, because I’ve seen them at that event reoccurring,” said Mr Sinn.
These friendships have held true as more shows and competitions pop up across the Illawarra.
“There’ll always be an audience at Dragatondra that’s very similar to the audience that goes to other things like ‘Just the Tip’, or ‘Down South’. Everyone supports everyone’s Drag. It’s really beautiful,” Olivia said.
Moving out? What happens now.
If you’re upset that you missed out on Dragatondra or that you won’t get your Drag fix anymore – do not fret. We’ve been assured Drag won’t be leaving the UniBar anytime soon.
“I will say – keep your eyes peeled because it will be coming back in a bit of a different formation. We’re not losing Drag in the Uni,” said Roxee.
Toby Sinn even explained that Lauren Order’s Drag son, Lawrence of Australia, may take over the show. The two have worked together on quite a few events, and Lawrence has the same passion for nurturing the queer community in Wollongong.
“I think that absolutely Dragatondra — or even if it gets a name change, whatever it becomes — I think it will be in good hands,” Toby said.
When I asked Lauren if she had any parting words for the community, she said something that encapsulates the nature of Dragatondra as a whole.
“The voice you have and the authenticity of who you are is your power.”