The Waterloo Forever Variety Show brought together the creative energies of public housing tenants, their supporters and community at Improv Theatre Sydney’s performance space on November 4.
The event brought awareness to the long-standing resistance to the New South Wales government’s plans to demolish 759 Waterloo South public housing homes, evict 1000 public housing tenants and privatise the land.
Organised by Action for Public Housing, the event showcased drag artists, comedians, musicians and local First Nations performers, many having lived in Waterloo estate for decades.
Cassandra, a Waterloo resident, drag performer and activist force of nature, hosted the show. She highlighted Waterloo’s working-class roots and the community solidarity and resistance that successive state governments have been desperate to break.
Public housing residents kicked off the show, with rap artist Carolyn Ieena setting the scene with her video Housing, and rap duo Bred and Butta having a laugh with (and at) “eshay” culture.
Drag artist Kalopazia mesmerised the crowd with her glow-in-the-dark contraptions, embedded in her tastefully camp large wig.
Comedian Marcel Blanch de Wilt entertained the crowd with jokes and wit, and Star Gayze wowed the audience with their trailblazing drag.
Satirist PlumCherry pointed out the hypocrisy, disconnect and pretentious paternalism of the current government’s approach to Waterloo, in the guise of the clipboard and pencil-pushing character, Geraldine Braxton-Smith:
“How do you do fellow battlers?
I am from the ambivalent society of South Sydney Central
Wait…the BENEVOLENT society of South Sydney Central
And I am here to explain to you less fortunate…
About the true benevolence of the Waterloo project…
Now we had a good stakeholder consultation
Your rich uncle
And he reckons that Redfern needs one thing and one thing only
More upper middle-class people…
Wait. You’re hung up on waiting six or so years until you have a stable home again?
Darlings, have you not considered your civic duty?
There’s a housing crisis
Which is why we getting the right people to shoulder the burden — those directly affected by it
And why would you want to live here?
This den of vice, drugs, violence…
Much better that you follow our directive and live away from it all…”
With a gentle, defiant strum of their ukulele, Jim Fishwick entertained with wit and musical hijinks. Afterwards, you could hear a pin drop as Raymond Parnell brought to life the struggles that First Nations Waterloo residents go through.
Waterloo poet Lorna Munro, recently returned from the Palestine Writes Literature Festival in the United States, noted that “many Palestinian poets I met went back home to Gaza after the Festival and are trying to survive the bombs and war”.
She delivered a poem for Palestine: “Face me towards the sea, forever let my bones be the signpost, for each dawn, breaking even, all that was owed on stolen lands … show them how we survived, show them how we thrived here, long before we were separated by force, tell them that they own their matriarch’s stories.”
Munro finished her poem with, “from the river to the sea, nobody’s free, until we’re all free”, to loud applause.
Drag performer Lyla Joy cavorted her way through to the audience’s hearts.
The final performer, Aunty Marlene Cummings, one of the founders of Australia’s Black Panther Party, sang her blues song “Pemulwuy” — joined by her son and local talent Leroy Cummins — to great acclaim.
The evening ended with a celebration of the ongoing spirit of resistance in Waterloo and an appeal to all who want justice to stand with Waterloo residents in their fight.
Waterloo then, Waterloo now, Waterloo Forever!