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Becoming Pomara Fifth: giving back through drag

By Sarah Carroll and Madeleine Thomas

Spectrum, Sydney Morning Herald 

Indigenous, gay, cancer-survivor, bullying victim, drag queen: Brad Kennedy seems to tick the boxes of someone many would consider to be marginalized.But, sitting in the dimly lit Diva Bar at Stonewall Hotel, wearing a sequined jumpsuit and a voluminous black wig, Brad’s alter ego, Pomara Fifth, screams anything but victim mentality.

Three times a week Brad spends two hours in front of the mirror transforming himself into Pomara Fifth. No one in the audience would guess that by day, Pomara, 24, is a nursing student at Liverpool Hospital. At night, the “six-foot-five, drag queen that’s built like a soft water buffalo,” has arrived.

Beneath sparkling eyelashes, both Brad and Pomara’s ambitions ground themselves in the hope of giving back to those experiencing similar hardships.

Brad Kennedy (left) transforms into Pomara Fifth (right) for a night on Oxford Street (Photo Illustration: Sarah Carroll)

“How did I get into drag? Oh god. I was born a homo, that was clear… the other day we were going through old photos and there was a photo of me in a pair of my mum’s heels standing at her vanity when I would have been maybe four, so I think since then pretty much,” Brad said.

Stories of Brad’s childhood suggest that he always had Pomara’s flare within him, including the simple, yet charming backstory behind his stage name. Growing up at number five Pomara Close, Brad had a home that provided an environment in which his exuberance thrived.

Alongside a strong family unit of four sisters with an Aboriginal and Maori background, Brad’s self-experimentation let him learn that confidence is everything.

“I grew up with a very open family. We sort of have a drag queen attitude. We’re very blunt, straightforward … so I think that sort of opened it up. My Mum especially gave me the room to do what I wanted to do and explore different avenues.”

However, growing up in the Western suburbs of Sydney, Brad also went through some turbulent childhood experiences.

“I was openly gay from about year seven, so I got a lot of that hate and not a lot of acceptance… some kids, they did horrendous things. I’ve been tried to be set on fire, I’ve been spat on, I’ve been beaten up multiple times, I’ve been tried to be pushed in front of cars,” he said.

“It happens, and nowadays it’s still happening, and I think that’s why I do what I do … it’s reaching out and letting people out there know that this shit isn’t tolerated. I’m there to offer a helping hand, because I’ve been through it.”

Fast-forward ten years, and tonight Pomara is hosting the male strip night at Stonewall Hotel, but can still recall her first night out four years ago on Oxford Street’s popular nightclub destination, ARQ.

“We went to ARQ and I remember seeing a [drag] show there … I remember just walking in and being like, that’s what I want to do. A couple of months after that I dabbled in buying wigs and girls clothes and trying to do makeup and all that stuff. Like every new queen I came out looking like a horrendous dog! I looked awful…but that’s sort of how I started.”

Since then, Pomara has performed at an abundance of Sydney venues and events, including the Lyric Theatre, Stonewall Hotel, and on the Netflix float at this years’ Mardi Gras parade.

Leading an impressive dual life, Brad is also trying to juggle a Diploma of Nursing at Liverpool Hospital while pursuing full-time drag.

From having a brain tumor “the size of an orange” at age two, to measles, asthma and allergies, Brad’s interest in the medical world stems from his personal tumultuous medical history.

“I’m one of those people that if I get something, I don’t just get it, I get it. And I will be on the brink of death,” he said.

“I was in hospital growing up quite a lot and I was like, I can do this. I wanted to give back to people like me, because I knew what it was like.”

The nursing world is a sure contrast to the glamour of the drag world, where being in the public eye keeps Brad striving to do more.

“As a drag queen, there’s just more of a finesse. It’s like, you know when you go out and chuck on a new dress or you’ll get a new set of lashes or do your makeup really well and you’re like, ‘oh shit I’m looking fine.’ You have that extra confidence and sassiness about you? Well that’s what it’s like for me.”

When asked if he has encountered much intolerance as a gay drag queen, Brad smiles, instead citing proof that the public is accepting of his unconventional identity.

“I can go down to my local shops in full drag and nobody will really care. And if they do, I don’t notice.”

Brad has found that, rather than judgement or harassment, the biggest hindrance on the drag community are Sydney’s lockout laws, implemented when he started drag back in 2014.

“A lot of us queens – and when I say a lot I mean a lot– have lost jobs. Lockout laws are hindering us in such a way that clubs are running out of money and no one wants to buy them,” Brad said.

“Just last year, I lost my job down at the Midnight Shift [Hotel]. I was there basically from when I started…I mean, look at King’s Cross now, there’s nothing. It’s going to be all apartments. So that, where drag probably originated from for Australia, is going to shut down completely and no longer exist.”

Despite this, Brad still has high hopes for the future, not just for himself, but for Sydney’s community as a whole.

“There is a lot of support and a lot of people behind the gay community, and not just behind the gay community – behind acceptance and equal rights and equal love … for everyone,” Brad said.

As Sydney’s acceptance of the drag community grows, Brad and his alter-ego plan to keep doing what they do best.

“I don’t look down in the future and think, yeah I’m going to be a 50-year-old drag queen, but I do look at queens on the strip, present and past, that are absolutely amazing icons. I look at that, and go that’s what I want to do, hell yeah.”