Tuesday, July 23, 2013

12 express 09 - 22 FEB 2011 09 - 22 FEB 2011 express 13
everyone stopped and watched. They were a
real spectacle.
“Then we had Captain Condom, which was
hilarious. We put him up in a harness and he was
flown around the room handing out condom
packs. We didn’t rehearse the act and we didn’t
know how it was going to go and he didn’t
realise that he was going to be in pain!”
Rex says that although they had to hire private
security guards for the event, there weren’t any
incidents that required muscle… well, not that
kind of muscle.
“One of the things that’s always amazed me is
that they were these huge events with no aggro,
as you would find at other dance parties. It was
a very, very safe place.”
Looking back on 27 January 1991 at a lunch
on Auckland’s waterfront, Rex, Andrew and
the committee celebrated 20 years of gay
expression and celebration in our biggest city.
There were plenty of laughs, glasses of wine
and a lot of stories. Some of these stories were
about those in the committee who are no longer
with us – John Draper, Sean McDonough and
Neil Trubhovich. Rex remembers Neil fondly.
“He was a photographer by trade and also a
bodybuilder. Neil mentored a lot of the young
guys who got into bodybuilding and was very
inspiring for these people.
“Neil had found out he had HIV around the time
of the first Hero party, but he did a lot of stuff
towards both the first and second Hero parties.
I remember after the second Hero party, which
was this extraordinary event down at Princes
Wharf, Neil saying he’d sat up above the party
watching everyone. He said he was happy but
found himself in tears because he knew he
wouldn’t be around next time. To hear that…”
Rex’s sentence trails off and I decide not to
push him to finish it. The wishes of that teacher
all those years ago had, in a way, come true – 10
years after my scolding and 20 years after
Hero’s start, I’d learned a lot about where this
poignant time in GLBT history had begun.
At the end of our interview, Rex talked about the
things that made him proudest when looking
“Here in New Zealand we don’t have a huge
community and it is quite a job pulling something
like Hero together; for that I’m proud. But back
then there was a real need to have community
visibility – now you can go to the television or
the internet to get all the affirmations about gay
pride you need. Hero was one of the things that
really got that started.”
“But the thing I’m most proud about when I
think about organising Hero is that so many
young people come up to me and say that
Hero was important to them in terms of them
coming out and feeling good about who they
are as gay people. For me, that’s a great enough
achievement in itself.” | Hannah JV
My first Hero celebration was the last that
would ever be. It was a wet and cold evening
and I, being a school-hating but Britneyloving
17-year-old, decided to wear my junior
high school uniform to the parade – shirt tied
up, tartan kilt hiked up and hair in pigtails. A
teacher from my school spotted me that night
and I was hauled into his office on Monday
morning. We never touched on the fact that
both he and I were at the Hero Parade or what
that meant – he was much more concerned
with telling me to “have some respect” and
“learn some of your history”.
Little did this teacher know, but 10 years later
I would be learning history, but it was’t school
history. Instead, I learned a bit about GLBT
history by attending the 20-year anniversary
of the very first Hero party and meeting those
who organised that first big shebang on 27
January 1991.
I was invited to cover the event by Andrew
Rumbles, express’ book reviewer who runs
Dymocks booksellers in Ponsonby. These days
Andrew spends his time buried in books – and his
most recent late night was caused by an errant
alarm call out at the book store – but 20 years ago
Andrew was a 24-year-old taking in what little the
gay community had to offer.
“There wasn’t a lot of community back then,” he
says. “There were saunas, there were two gay
bars – Alfie’s and Staircase. Other than the odd
group like the tramping group, the only way that
you knew there was any kind of community was
by going out and getting drunk at bars”
It was around this time that Andrew came into
contact with Rex Halliday, who was working at
the New Zealand AIDS Foundation (NZAF) in
the prevention division. Rex had been running
a campaign about safe sex and the dangers of
AIDS but had decided to do something positive
for the community.
“My thought was that we needed to have a
celebration of being gay to counteract these
negative messages,” says Rex. “There was
research to show that successful compliance to
safe sex was very much tied up with self-esteem
and community identity. Our community didn’t
have any kind of strong identity at the time –
there weren’t a great deal of places for us to
congregate, so finding or creating a space like this
was part of my agenda.
“I had the idea that a festival would be great, but
we’d have to start off small with something like a
party. However, I was loathe to host a typical gay
circuit party because they are a celebration of
drugs and sex.
“I wanted to put on a community celebration –
something that would actually make people feel
that being gay is an incredibly good thing. There
was almost nothing that said that in our culture
back then. I thought it was all very well for us
to put out these negative messages about HIV/
AIDS, but we needed to emphasise that it’s okay
to be gay. So we
decided to run a
party and have
50 per cent of the
profit go to HIV/
AIDS prevention
and the other
50 per cent to
So a committee of interested people was put
together – these people were charged with
organising the party, drumming up interest so
people would come along… and finding a name.
Andrew says, “We tossed around names like
Sleaze and all that sort of stuff but none of
them were really on message in terms of what
we were trying to create. But then Don Badman
came up with the name Hero. It didn’t stick at
first, but then Rex thought about it a lot and
came back to the committee the following
meeting with his argument.
Rex says, “Initially none of us thought ‘Hero’ was
‘gay enough’. Heroes at the time were action
movie guys and that was not what we were going
for. But I thought about it on the way home and
thought that ‘Hero’ is in actual fact a very powerful
word. Being a gay person is such a heroic act.
How many people have to face coming out and
standing proud as their true self while others seek
to judge them? If that’s not heroic, what is?”
Andrew says, “Hero was exactly on message for
what we wanted to do. His argument for calling
it that really made us feel like it was a word we
could really hang our beliefs onto.”
From there came the organisation of the party.
Rex worked on a Hero newspaper, committee
members such as Bruce Petry – now an
architect – had building skills they could bring
to the table, whilst John Draper, a local artist,
made the now-iconic poster.
Rex says that to this day he is still amazed by
the extraordinary people working on the project.
“John Draper did a lot of the visioning of what we
could do with the space, which ended up being
this huge rail warehouse in Parnell. John was
so enthused about the whole thing - he had all
these grand ideas of what we could do and you
couldn’t help but be
swept up in it.”
From there came
the hype. The Hero
paper came out in
December and the
organising team put
postcards around
all of the venues.
Andrew laughs, “With all this promotion, we
knew we had to make it great from the get
go! No one had really put in this sort of effort
before so people knew something different was
happening. This really drove us to make sure we
delivered something amazing.”
Rex says the team hyped it up by talking about
it a lot – outside of the Hero Paper and the flyer
drops the group did radio interviews and spread
the word amongst friends. “We even tried to get
into the mainstream media, he says. “That didn’t
go down so well, because back then papers like
the Herald wouldn’t use the word ‘gay’ to mean
homosexual.” He laughs, “So yes, we had some
real trouble there.”
Andrew says the party was bankrolled by
the NZAF, which was forthcoming with
cash eventually – once they had a couple of
guarantees. “The NZAF had agreed to lend us
the money to fund the party, but Rex and I had
to sign personal guarantees that if the money
wasn’t paid back through the party it would be
on our heads. That’s a lot of money for someone
my age at the time – I didn’t even have a car!
Maybe now I wouldn’t sign my life away like that,
but I think at the time that something like Hero
had to happen for the good of the community.
I’m pleased that it did happen, because it
carried on into the future so well.”
For the party, the team utilised the steam engine
left in the shed and also converted large reels
that were stored there into dance podiums.
“Everything was done on the cheap,” says
Andrew. “That first year we just didn’t have the
money to do this extravagantly.
“The thing we did with the first Hero is that
we knew what we could do – we knew what
festivals worldwide were capable of but we
also knew what we were capable of. We started
small and put together a party and then Hero
just blew up from there.”
And blow up it did, but not straight away. Ticket
sales were slow leading up to the event, leaving
Andrew fretting right up until an hour before
doors opened. “Like most things in Auckland,
people leave everything to the last minute,”
laughs Andrew. “Kevin Hague [now an MP for
the Green Party] and I were standing upstairs
in this old office wondering if anyone was going
to turn up, but then we looked out the window
and there was a line out the door and all the way
along the road – you couldn’t see the end of it!”
Rex, however, was cool as a cucumber. “For
some reason I was really confident about the
night – I wasn’t worried about not selling enough
tickets at all. I said to people who were worried,
‘This isn’t just Auckland and we’re dealing with
gay boys. They wait until the bitter end to buy
their tickets, just in case they get swept up by
someone and taken to San Francisco that night’.
Hey, it could happen!”
The number of attendees is sketchy – Andrew
says 2000 were there, Rex thinks 1500 – but
what can’t be argued was the enormity of
the event.
“It was huge,” says Andrew. “To see the teeming
masses dancing and enjoying themselves was
just great. We had these amazing performances
from body builders and a Madonna tribute – and
the best part was that during the performances,
hero at year zero expresstoday.co.nz
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Memories of the first Hero
“20 years ago? Oh my God! It seems like, well, 20
years ago! But seriously, we were all heroes and
the whole thing was a blast. Congrats on your
successes and careers. Well done.” Paul Safe
“On the night I remember Nick Marsh dressed
as Captain Condom being suspended from the
gantry crane, then the gantry moving across the
packed dance floor with me on the ground at
the end of a long rope (attached to Nick) on one
side, tossing condom packs to the crowd, and
someone else on the end of another long rope
(also attached to Nick) on the other side of the
dance floor. We were both dressed as penises.
We had modified bike helmets as the heads, and
big long pink sack/sock things as the shafts. My
counterpart wore the outfit but shy retiring me
didn’t want to be dressed as a complete dick
so went for the so much cooler dickhead only
option.” Justin McNab
“This reunion brought back many good memories
of how much we achieved with the first HERO – H
for the Rugby Post, the bastion of New Zealand,
HE for the male in us, HER for the fact that we
are integrated with our feminine energy and O
because we are whole and complete; we are
heroes. (With thanks to Rex Halliday for this!)”
Charles Otter
Thanks to Flickr’s Archmage01 for additional imagery.
Hero in the making where Auckland’s first GLBT festival began
Organisers of the first Hero, left to right: Steve Lovett, Nick Marsh, Don Badman, Andrew Rumbles,
Andrew Douglas, Rex Halliday, Jack Atherton, Scott Johnston, Bruce Kilmister, Bruce Petry
“I wanted to put on a community
celebration – something that would
actually make people feel that being
gay is an incredibly good thing.”

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