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Bringing drag to Marlborough

Wed 3 May 2006 In: Community

Bruce Munro Ellie Kat of Nelson; and Dawn Breaker, Mia Slapper, and Amandah La Whore, all of Wellington, to name a few. And don't forget the alter egos of Bruce and Carey themselves! These two are more than willing to transform themselves for the locals - Bruce as 'Darkie Crossland' and Carey as 'Randy Laura.' The shows attract everyone from beer-swilling rugby fanatics to the style fashionistas of Blenheim's wine-growing elite, with patrons ranging from 19 to 90 years of age. Gay MP Tim Barnett and local mayor Alistair Sowman have been in the audiences and the local press have faithfully covered event after event. When Bruce and Carey first moved to Blenheim in 2003, the locals were there to help them unload the removal truck and carry furniture upstairs. From that time on they've always felt welcome. It was as a ‘thank you' to locals for all their support that Bruce and Carey first decided to bring drag to the Grovetown. "The locals quickly fell in love with the live entertainment," says Bruce. As for any homophobic run-ins, these simply haven't eventuated. "With each show, the numbers of patrons has grown, as has the positive feedback," insists Bruce. At a stretch, he can recall a sole instance where a drunk patron let loose with an anti-gay diatribe, but they didn't take it personally. The lad was inebriated and not in control of his faculties so they ejected him. "This is our own home and we expect people to behave appropriately." What about the police? Have they ever called the boys in blue for protection? "Never!" exclaims Bruce. He says the police visited once as part of a regular check of licensed establishments. "The sergeant got out of his car, peered in the window, saw Carey in full drag with about 130 guests, got back in his car never to return." Or at least not in uniform, anyway. Being so open about their sexuality Bruce and Carey wish more of the local, but closeted, gay and lesbian community would 'come out' and visit. "They're certainly around, but not particularly visible… We've always thought there's no point pretending to be something you're not," offers Bruce. He strongly believes he and Carey have fitted in so well because people respect them for being honest to themselves and to the wider community. So while the straight world has readily embraced the couple and their business, they rarely host gay guests. It is hard, Bruce concedes, especially for young people to be themselves in Blenheim. Interestingly, Bruce observes that lesbian locals seem far more at ease with themselves than gay men. "There's no real gay community to speak of in the Blenheim area," which is a shame, as the two would love to make more gay friends. "It's odd... they know we're here." It's hard being owner-operators, though. Bruce and Carey rarely have holidays, and they each have one day off each week, but not on the same day. With only two other staff, Bruce and Carey are on-call 24/7. In their down time they're usually too tired for much more than watching television or going to the occasional movie. Two other permanent residents provide them with ongoing companionship - Jack the Jack Russell and Russell the Fox Terrier. "They love interacting with guests and get loads of attention." Bruce and Carey say they both have great relationships with their families. Bruce's family lives in Christchurch and since moving to Blenheim, Carey's family now divides their time between Rangiora and Australia. It's often those family members who provide opportunities for rare breaks away, stepping in to look after the hotel from time to time. Right now Bruce and Carey are looking forward to a rare one-week holiday, which they will spend in the Bay of Islands.Carey was brought up in Australia and hasn't seen much of the North Island, and is particularly excited about the trip. "Operating your own business does restrict your freedom," says Bruce, but on the positive side, they believe their relationship has strengthened due to their close working and living arrangements. As for the future, the couple have big plans for their business. Already, they have refurbished the ground floor, restoring the property to its 1950s grandeur. The guest rooms are next, and in the longer term, they plan to develop five or six log cabins and re-landscape the entire property. But like any business, they take things as they come. The financial rewards for Bruce and Carey are measured over years, not months, and the two are nowhere near retirement. They say their immediate satisfaction lies with being involved in their community and in the closeness of their life partnership. They've travelled extensively; Bruce lived in England for many years, and met Carey in Sydney. For them, there's no comparison between big city life and their lifestyle now. They thoroughly enjoyed Sydney, but as Bruce says, "You can't party for the rest of your life." Their emphasis is now on bringing a sense of diversity and entertainment to a quiet corner of New Zealand.     David K Parrish - 3rd May 2006

Credit: David K Parrish

First published: Wednesday, 3rd May 2006 - 12:00pm

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