The 2021 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade is taking on a different venue this year, COVID-19 restrictions have moved the iconic celebration from Oxford Street to the Sydney Cricket Ground.

With a superstar line-up of local and global performers, the March 6 party is set to be as big and as colourful as ever.

Stars including Melbourne-based singer G-Flip, Sydney’s Montaigne and international pop star and critically acclaimed singer-songwriter Rita Ora will take the stage.

A Welcome to Country will start at 6pm, curated by Ben Graetz and performed by Aunty Yvonne Weldon, singer-songwriter Scott Hunter, drag queen Nana Miss Koori, Koomurri dancers, Buuja Butterfly dancers and dancers from the National Aboriginal Islander Skills Development Association (NAISDA).

Multi-award winning First Nations duo Electric Fields, known for their merging of traditional culture and language with electronic music, will also perform at the event.

For Graham Simms, his drag persona Nana Miss Koori has been a journey more than 30 years in the making.

A well-respected icon within his community, Simms said his persona’s name was an homage to the Greek singer Nana Mouskouri, incorporating his identity into the name, splitting up the syllables and highlighting ‘Koori’.

Nana Miss Koori shared stories of her life at My Drag Story, a Mardi Gras event held at the NSW Teachers Federation in Surry Hills in late February.

Simms said he told audiences that growing up in a rural community on the south coast of NSW as a young boy within the Indigenous community, he felt isolated.

“I grew up between La Perouse Sydney and the south coast of on an Aboriginal mission in Nowra, not knowing anything about my sexuality but knowing I didn’t fit in with my older brothers or other males,” Simms told NIT.

“I found myself to be different to others, I wasn’t interested in football I went to pony club and remember being so fascinated by how my mother looked with colour on her eyelids and her big beehive style hair.”

“I would lock myself in her room and look for the colours and dress up, I felt like my drag started back when I was six.”

Representing his communities and Australia in both Newry and Athens International Pride, Simms believes in giving platforms to newcomers of all ages.

“I’ve got some amazing highlights, I’ve been able to represent my country at international pride events, curate performances and travel,” he said.

“I’m a strong believer in allowing people to be a performer, whether it’s drag, comedy or whatever, it wasn’t available to me growing up.

“I often think of the pioneers that paved the way for me, for me to do what I do, to fight for our mob for visibility and voice and I just try to encourage the queens coming through to be respectful, to be open to advice from those who have been around and been through it.”

Mardi Gras CEO Albert Kruger said Mardi Gras is proud to include LGBTQIA+ First Nations talent in the festival line-up each year and is looking to increase this representation.

“Including First Nations artists and events within our programming gives us a richness of stories and experiences to explore, as well as helps us highlight the issues faced by the community,” he said.

“Mardi Gras is a moment for us to come together and collectively call for a better, more equal and fairer world.”

“It’s a chance [so] we can celebrate our diversity, and doing so hand in hand with the Indigenous community is so important to us.”

Kruger spoke of the talent already making appearances as part of Mardi Gras.

“Already this year we’ve had some amazing Indigenous performers join us for the festival including, the hilarious Jay Wymarra for our queer comedy gala Laugh Out Proud, Nana Miss Koori and Rusty Nunnup (she/her) at My Trans Story,” he said.

“We have a partnership with Moogahlin Performing Arts who have programmed performers for Queer Nu Werk, and of course a highlight every year of our Iconic Mardi Gras Parade is the First Nations leading the procession with the Mardi Gras 78ers.”

By Darby Ingram