(Part 7 of Australian Sojourn – April-May 2019)
One rainy Saturday afternoon a couple of weeks ago I drove down to Guruk's Shelly Beach to watch the ocean waves. On the way I stopped and bought a copy of The Sydney Morning Herald and a packet of the iconic Australian snack, Twisties (cheese-flavored, of course!).
Watermark album as I contemplatively watched the sea through the rain-splattered windscreen, I turned to the newspaper beside me. What I thought was The Sydney Morning Herald turned out to be The Newcastle Herald. Oh, well, I thought with slight annoyance, I'll take a look at what it has to offer.
As it turned out, I ended up being really grateful about the mistake I'd made. Why? Because this particular issue of The Newcastle Herald contained a wonderful piece by Phoebe Moloney about Indigenous drag queen Jojo Zaho and the man who embodies her, John Ridgeway. Indeed, I appreciate Moloney's article so much that I share it today as part of my Australian Sojourn – April-May 2019 series. (Note: To start at the beginning of this series, click here.)
Showtime for City's Queen
By Phoebe Moloney
May 4, 2019
Jojo Zaho was born out of an act of defiance.
Four years ago John Ridgeway, now 28, walked down Dubbo's main street wearing a dress he had made out of Indigenous and gay pride flags as part of the town's first ever pride parade.
Mr Ridgeway, who has returned to live in Cardiff after growing up in Kurri Kurri, said the act was in response to a councilor who had said homosexuality had no part in Indigenous culture during a meeting. A belief, Mr Ridgeway said, he had "never encountered before" in his own family.
"It wasn't until I was in the parade that I realized what I was doing was bigger than getting back at a council member," he said.
"Looking at the Indigenous kids on the side of the march pointing at me and my costume, that was the moment I was like, okay, I didn't have this representation growing up. If there's no one to fill that void then I've got to do my best to be the representation."
"My sister used to call me Josephine, because I dressed up as a child. And then her and my best friend started shortening it to Jojo."
Ridgeway's larger-than-life character has since graced the stage at Broken Hill's Broken Heel Festival, featured in Australian documentary Black Divaz and even hosted Cher's VIP pre-concert party in Newcastle.
Now Jojo has been selected as one of the seven finalists in Miss First Nation, Australia's annual search for the best Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander drag performer. The four-day pageant takes place in Melbourne next week as part of the Yirramboi Festival.
It's the second time Jojo Zaho has been selected for the honour and, this time, Mr Ridgeway believes Jojo has the goods to win.
"It's redemption," Mr Rideway said. "I feel a lot more confident this time around and I have taken a bit of a stand."
Mr Ridgeway has chosen to use his final performance at the event to highlight Indigenous deaths in police custody and the disproportionately high rates of suicide among Aboriginal children.
"When you are in drag, you're making a statement whether you like it or not," he said. "But it's an amazing platform to send a positive message without having to verbally shout about it.
"I want to remind people white Australia has a dark history, and hopefully a black future.
"We've come so far but we have a long way to go until we'll all be in a place we're happy with. We need to build a better Australia together, rather than against one another."
Jojo's catchphrase? "Let your faboriginality shine through."
– Phoebe Moloney
May 4, 2019
May 4, 2019
Australia's First Naturalists
Related Off-site Link:
Meet Indigenous Drag Queen Extraordinaire, Jojo Zaho – Triple J (March 2, 2018).
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
• Australian Sojourn, March 2015 – Part 4: The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
• Michelangelo Signorile on the Rebellious Purpose of Queer Pride
• Liberating Paris: The Meaning of Liberation in
Jennie Livingston's Paris Is Burning
• Australian Sojourn, April-May 2019 – Part 1: Guruk
• Australian Sojourn, April-May 2019 – Part 2: On Sacred Ground
• Australian Sojourn, April-May 2019 – Part 3: In the Land of the Kamilaroi
• Australian Sojourn, April-May 2019 – Part 4: Meeting a Living Legend
• Australian Sojourn, April-May 2019 – Part 5: Flower Moon Rising
• Australian Sojourn, April-May 2019 – Part 6: A Walk Along Lighthouse Beach