Northbridge is Perth’s entertainment hub. Cafés, clubs, and cultural centres buzz after work hours, with lights and music advertising the atmosphere in each one.
Unlike most suburbs, it doesn’t have just one ‘strip’ of activity; each street is a clash of different walks of life. I nodded to a huddle of bikies as I parked my motorcycle, cutting the engine to the song of a gypsy busker behind me. Walking down the block, I passed a small parade of dancing, singing monks, was casually greeted by youth in Victorian wear, sidestepped a child as he bolted for ice cream, and apologetically declined a Turk’s invitation to try their famous kebabs. Ducking across the road (where pedestrians have eternal right of way), I glanced up at neon letters spelling “Connections Nightclub”. Right on time.
Now, I’m not much of a club-goer, but I wasn’t here to dance. If I was, Connections Gay and Lesbian Nightclub and Lounge probably wouldn’t be my first choice. A peppy drag queen dressed as a watermelon ushered me past the bouncers and upstairs to the lounge – which tonight was not a lounge, but an art auction.
Half indoor, half rooftop, the level was alight with character. Lanterns and lamps lit every corner, highlighting the work of local painters and photographers. There was no set theme, meaning pieces varied from Japanese dragons and self-portraits to framed calligraphy and collaged torsos. My friend, one of the artists, squeezed me hello and set about introducing people. I’m not great with names, but faces were hard to forget. Bright smiles under drag makeup commented on my hair, and we talked about pop-culture fashion and the importance of embracing your true self.
In joining some gypsies on the terrace, I unknowingly sided in a heated debate about the relevance of graffiti. Excusing myself, I turned and bumped into a tall man with blue hair and a top hat. He pointed me to his friends, a group of steampunk outfits who smoked and talked sombrely about artistic expression. This was a conversation I was actually familiar with. As the only art student in my house, I realised I had been deprived of such discussion, and we delved into art history and creative processes.
The auction raised money for someone’s surgery, although I’m not quite sure whose. All the artists donated their pieces, and Connections had kindly offered its venue. Although I couldn’t afford to bid on anything, I could afford the gold-coin entry fee, and with everyone’s united efforts the person’s surgery is now hopefully within budget.
Heading back out to my bike, I reflected on the many faces of Northbridge. In one of the world’s most isolated cities, it is a pocket of culture and light. Different streets, different walks of life, mingling together and enjoying each others’ company. Politically, Australia is not known for accepting diversity, but is diversity itself not an outcome of acceptance? Whatever it is, Northbridge is no stranger to it.