Midsumma History

From 1988 to Today

Since 1988, Midsumma Festival has been Victoria's premier gay and lesbian arts and culture festival, presenting an annual community celebration and encouraging the development of innovative artistic content and a unique cultural experience. We believe that maintaining a history of Midsumma is just one of the ways that we can recognise the efforts of those people and organisations which have been, and continue to be, an integral part of Midsumma's history.

About mid-December the cicadas start singing, the shorts and thongs appear and you have to stop wearing leather in the afternoon. That's when you know it's Summer in Melbourne. During most of the 1980s, this meant it was time to start saving up for Mardi Gras, but in 1988 some of our local community leaders decided they were sick of Sydney taking all our money and talent - it was time we had a festival of our own. And the rest is history - the history of the Midsumma Festival.

The online History Book has been compiled from contributions solicited from past and present Board members and volunteers of Midsumma throughout its history. Midsumma has made no attempt to verify the accuracy of the information provided by the contributors - each account is an independent story. Any views or opinions expressed are those of the authors and are not endorsed by Midsumma. Because of Midsumma's rich history, it is inevitable that, at different times and in different places, people have different recollections of events. There is no one official history of Midsumma - each and every story is, in part, our history. If you disagree with any account of events in the History Book, we invite you to submit your own. There is also lots more history, not only of Midsumma but of all of Australia's queer history, at the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives.

Since being launched by the Gay Business Association in 1988, Midsumma has grown to become Victoria's premier GLBTIQ arts and culture festival.

Check out Midsumma Milestones for an overview of the key events that helped shape Midsumma Festival, especially in the early days, or click on a year of interest below. You may also like to check out the Midsumma Annual Reports.

MIDSUMMA YEAR-BY-YEAR: 21ST CENTURY

2019 Midsumma Festival ProgramThe 2019 festival attracted 284,089 attendees representing an overall attendance increase of 7% and an increase of over 15% on returning attendance for its arts and culture program. Of them 33% were new audiences that had not attended Midsumma Festival previously. Out of 179 shows and events 11% were sold-out or at capacity. We talked directly to event producers about making their venues and events accessible and we achieved a larger portion overall (15%) of events that were Auslan interpreted, audio described or captioned. 100% of Midsumma presented or co-presented events were Auslan interpreted or audio described where applicable. 40% of the 179 events were free of entry or booking fees. Midsumma's Major Project: BODY in partnership with Arts House and featuring satellite events at Arts Centre Melbourne and Incinerator Gallery highlighted that individuals should have sovereignty over their own bodies. Consent Festival at the Melba Spiegeltent included themes such as Consent in Relationships, In Workplaces, In Health and In Art with sessions including panel discussions, yoga, life drawing and workshops delivered by circus performers and thought leaders.
John Caldwell was Chair this year and Karen Bryant was the CEO.
Cover image features artists and performers Jane Doe, Amao Leota Lu and Wade Tuck, photography by Alexis Desaulniers-Lea and artwork by Matto Lucas.
2019 Program Flip Guide | 2019 Festival Planner | 2019 Plain Text Guide

The 2018 festival saw 40% more events than the previous year and an incredible 75% increase in audience numbers - more meaningful engagement with the community resulted in people seeing three events on average throughout the festival. The inaugural Midsumma Futures program was completed - a nine-month development and mentoring program for early-career artists and culture-makers. At the end of this financial year Midsumma launched the inaugural Midsumma Pathways, a mentoring program for LGBTQIA+ artists living with disability. These mentoring programs will grow and develop the talent pool of future artists to ensure queer arts in Melbourne will be in strong, capable hands for generations to come.
John Caldwell was Chair this year and Karen Bryant was the CEO.
Cover image by Alexis Desaulniers-Lea.
2018 Annual Report | 2018 Program Flip Guide | 2018 Festival Planner | 2018 Plain Text Guide2018 Midsumma Festival Audience Analysis

In 2017 Midsumma celebrated 30 years of championing diversity, cultivating queer perspectives and creating experiences that flip the status quo. This year's festival was an outstanding program of 132 events across 82 venues and was punctuated by three signature outdoor events: Midsumma Carnival, Midsumma Pride March and a new-art party at Testing Grounds, Midsumma Horizon. 2017 saw the reintroduction of Festival Hubs, with Arts Centre Melbourne (including the Official Festival Barre and dedicated programming on the Fairfax Studio theatre), Gasworks Arts Park and Hares and Hyenas (aka Hare Hole).

John Caldwell was Chair this year and Karen Bryant was the CEO.
Festival artwork by street artist, Vexta.

Annual Report | Program Flip Guide | Accessible Guide

Our iconic Major Events Carnival & T Dance and Pride March, were joined by the 2016 National Water Polo League Pride Cup, the first mainstream Pride Cup event in Australia's history. In another first, the federal opposition leader, Bill Shorten, marched at Pride March, alongside the Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews.

The program offering of 141 events across 85 venues was well attended and well received, with general agreement that the standard of events was excellent.

John Caldwell moved into the role of Chair this year and Tennille Moisel was Festival Director.

Annual Report | Printed Guide

The 27th Midsumma Festival was true to its theme: Making Connections – connecting the diverse gender and sexuality 'DGS' community with our partners, the media and the broader Victorian community. After extensive community engagement and for the first time in its history, Midsumma has a clear vision: inspiring inclusion colourfully. By showcasing and nurturing talent in a fun and flamboyant way, we encourage the inclusion of all people.

In March 2015, we appointed our first Festival Director, Tennille Moisel. Pride March Victoria was dissolved into Midsumma - we now have financial and operational control of Pride March and will seek to develop this event. We have dumped some letters! Again following extensive community consultation, we have decided not to use LGBTI anymore. We are instead focussed on diverse gender and sexuality or DGS to express who we exist for.

Aaron Hockly was the Chair this year and Tennille Moisel the interim Festival Manager.

Annual Report | Printed Guide | Midwinta Program

2014 saw the appointment of the two inaugural Festival Champions: Louisa Wall, the MP who led New Zealand's move to marriage equality, and Jason Ball, an Australian Rules footballer who led a major anti-homophobia campaign in 2012. These are honorary positions highlighting people who have made a significant contribution to reducing homophobia.

In 2014, Carnival moved back to its "spiritual home", Alexandra Gardens, and T Dance became a free event. These changes, along with sunny, but not too hot, conditions caused many people to believe this to be the biggest and best Carnival ever. Overall, this Midsumma was artistically an outstanding success - with general consensus that the quality of events was the highest ever!

Aaron Hockly was the Chair this year and Monique Thorpe the Festival Manager.

Annual Report | Printed Guide

Midsumma took back the management of Midsumma, after several years of the Adam Lowe Group having delivered the festival (under direction from the Board). Highlights from the year included welcoming NAB as a supporter, the development of a three-year strategic plan to help guide the Board in making decisions, and the commissioning and production of Gaybies at the MTC Southbank Theatre.

Lisa Watts was the Chair this year and Monique Thorpe the Festival Manager. After the festival completed, Lisa Watts stepped down as Chair after five years in the leadership role and we welcomed Aaron Hockly as the new Chair.

Annual Report | Printed Guide

2012 Midsumma Program GuideMidsumma continued the working relationship with the Adam Lowe Group in 2012. The festival was not only an artistic success, but also broke even financially. Some of the highlights were: Midsumma-curated Queer City Premier Visual Arts; After 'Homosexual', The Legacy of Gay Liberation by writer and activist Dennis Altman; UNANSWERED, a dance ensemble by Paul Malek; Girls do Gertrude!, an ode to Gertrude Stein; Leggings Are Not Pants, suggesting that there are no boundaries to gender identity, but there are to lycra!; Word is Out: Hares & Hyenas' 20th Birthday Season.

Lisa Watts was the Chair this year. Operational and production elements were managed by the ALG group, with Adam Lowe as the General Manager.

Annual Report | Printed Guide

Midsumma continued the working relationship with the Adam Lowe Group in 2011, and achieved a profit of just under $9,000 for the year. With our partners IBM we were successful in winning the ABAF Victoria state award for partnerships. This year the signature event, Carnival, moved from Alexandra Gardens to Birrarung Marr. Bringing James Findlay on board for PR and marketing helped deliver arguably the most successful festival from an attendance and awareness level. James' direction in presenting a TV series on Channel 31 showcased many performers and events of the festival. The use of the icy-pole image in a campaign with our Sponsor Yarra Trams was brilliant, and extremely well received as Yarra Trams proudly displayed the Midsumma message all around metropolitan Melbourne. 2011 was the first year in which we collaborated with Telstra, with Telstra bloggers reviewing festival events. Major Event 'The Book of Spells - A Love Story', by Canadian storytellers Jan Andrews and Jennifer Cayley, was produced by Midsumma and supported by Canada Council for the Arts. 'Prodigal', created by Dean Bryant and Matthew Frank, was a critical success with the season completely sold out and extended.

Lisa Watts was the Chair this year. Operational and production elements were managed by the ALG group, with Adam Lowe as the General Manager.

Annual Report | Printed Guide

Midsumma continued the working relationship with the Adam Lowe Group in 2010, and achieved a net profit for the year. Some of the artistic highlights included the Pink Shorts, queer short plays program; the explosive Nex-us contemporary dance performance at Gasworks, devised and curated by Gerard Veltre and Phunktional; and Courtney Act & Trevor Ashley in 'Gentlemen Prefer Blokes'.

Lisa Watts was the Chair this year. Operational and production elements were managed by the ALG group, with Adam Lowe as the General Manager.

Annual Report | Printed Guide

Online registration was introduced for the first time for stallholders at Carnival and for Community Event Producers, reducing the workload of the staff and increasing the level of information provided to audiences. Midsumma also extended the online ticketing platform to make it available for all events, making it easier for audiences to plan and purchase tickets, and giving Midsumma data about sales of shows. The Festival Hub concept worked well, with hubs at: Chapel off Chapel, Gasworks, The Glasshouse, The Butterfly Club and the Northcote Town Hall.

Lisa Watts was the Chair this year, and Adam Lowe the General Manager. After conclusion of the 2009 festival, Midsumma established a working relationship with the Adam Lowe Group to manage the future operational and production elements of the festival including all administration.

Annual Report | Printed Guide

Coinciding with Midsumma Festival, the 1st Asia Pacific Outgames was held in Melbourne from 30 January to 3 February 2008 under licence from GLISA Asia Pacific (Gay and Lesbian International Sport Association). This was a multi-sport tournament, including sports: Badminton, Dancesport, Hockey, Lawn Bowls, Rowing, Run, Squash, Swimming, Ten Pin Bowling, Tennis, Volleyball and Water Polo. It also featured Rainbow Conversations, a two-day GLBTI human rights conference featuring the most remarkable and diverse group of activists, academics and community leaders ever gathered in Melbourne.

Midsumma provided a wide selection of parties, arts and cultural events for a diverse audience to attend. Carnival moved back to the Alexandra Gardens after two years in Treasury Gardens, and became the opening event of the festival after the Federation Square opening event needed to be cut as it was unsustainable to run both Carnival and the Federation Square opening event. The interactive art party "pARTy" was a crazily successful creation and the season of new 10 minute plays, Pink Shorts, was inspiring. The concept of designated Hubs for events was introduced to give audiences a clear sense of where to go, and help contain the large program to a smaller number of spaces, with the hubs being at: Chapel off Chapel, Gasworks, The Artery, The Glasshouse and The Butterfly Club.

Lisa Watts was the Chair this year, and Jarrod Hughes the General Manager.

Annual Report | Printed Guide

The Festival's 'book-end' events, Opening Night and Carnival, were of exceptional calibre this year. Program highlights across the festival included iOTA and the Beauty Queens (Opening Night), The Tonight Show with Wes Snelling at BMW Edge (Opening Night), the solo exhibition of one of Australia's most innovative and influential queer artists Juan Davila at the National Gallery of Victoria, the Union House Theatre co-production of Rage Boy at the Malthouse Theatre, Novel Conversations IV, We Built This Rainbow City at ArtPlay and the Over & Out seniors photographic exhibition at Gasworks. This year we also saw Gasworks Arts Park and The Butterfly Club become Festival Hubs.

Glyn Cryer was the Chair this year, and Jarrod Hughes the General Manager.

Annual Report | Printed Guide

Midsumma showed an operating loss of $8,936. Performing Arts highlights in 2006 included the sell-out seasons of Seriously, The Pet Shop Boys Reinterpreted at Chapel off Chapel and My Life as a Dyke at La Mama. Midsumma's spoken word and writing program, including Novel Conversations, the short story competitions and writing workshops, again demonstrated the vibrancy of Melbourne's interest in queer writing. The visual arts program, which this year included Liquid Aesthetics at Black Box and Girls on the Floor at Loop, again presented Midsumma audiences with evocative and thought-provoking work, whilst the Living Queer community cultural development project gave six new artists the chance to create evocative work of their own. Summa Cruise and T-Dance offered unique party experiences for those whose art is made on the dance floor.

Glyn Cryer was Chair this year, Sheah Sutton was the General Manager and Brenton Geyer the Festival Administrator.

Annual Report | Printed Guide

Midsumma showed a surplus for the financial year of $12,893. The second Opening Night at Federation Square was sensational including club cabaret, the sensation of Summa Diva II and the offer of whirlwind romance at Fastlove. Midsumma's Visual Arts program excelled with a showcase of challenging and exciting works across the municipal councils of Moreland and Yarra, sensational public works in the centre of the City of Melbourne and Queerstreet leading us on a meandering tour of Melbourne's most exciting inner city public spaces. The Spoken Word Program included the second year of Novel Conversations at Fitzroy's Night Cat and the short story competition at the Glasshouse Hotel. Melbourne Conversations at the Melbourne Town Hall was a thought provoking trip down memory lane. A highlight was Noel Tovey in Little Black Bastard. Chapel off Chapel hosted the Midsumma Festival's Cab Sav where cabaret legends Luke Gallagar, Kay Sera and Adrian Kirk presented a smorgasbord of music and comedy over 4 nights while the Summa Cruise made two voyages on the bay.

Glyn Cryer was Chair this year, Sheah Sutton was the General Manager and Brenton Geyer the Festival Administrator

Annual Report | Printed Guide

Midsumma showed a surplus for the financial year of $20,429. An inaugural Opening Night party was presented at Federation Square and new performing arts initiatives included Out in Suburbia (Kingston Arts Centre), No, Really. I'm straight! (Michael Linder) and The Drag Kings of Aotearoa, New Zealand. Midsumma's Visual Arts program showcased a range of challenging, innovative and inspiring works across the Cities of Melbourne, Moreland and Yarra, including Queerstreet and Chicks Arty Flicks at Loop. The Spoken Word Program included a sellout Novel Conversations, the short story competition at the Glasshouse Hotel and Chic Happens at the Builders Arms Hotel. International Guests, Staceyann Chin & Doria Roberts were an outstanding success at Melbourne's Athenaeum Theatre and, a Midsumma first, also toured to Sydney Mardi Gras. A 4-day Drag King Festival culminated at Hi Fi Bar. A new addition to our party calendar was the Summa Cruise. Midsumma joined with the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby to present Summa Vows 2004, which set a Guiness Book World Record for the largest gay and lesbian mass commitment ceremony in the world.

Kris Darmody was Chair this year, Brenton Geyer the Festival Administrator and Ros Abercombie the Festival Assistant.

Annual Report | Printed Guide

Midsumma showed a surplus for the financial year of A$15,021. This year our Signature Events included Midsumma's Pool Party and ALSO's Red Raw, Pride March and a new-look Carnival in the Alexandra Gardens with an appearance by the legendary US Comic, Joan Rivers. In addition there was also a wide array of art, culture and community events - starting with the Opening Night at Chapel Off Chapel. Other highlights included DT's Golden Stiletto Rally, the Australian Gay and Lesbian Archives presentation with Dr Gertrude Glossip, the Visual Arts Queer Street and the extraordinary work of Peal Gillies at 200 Gertrude St. Our Black Box program once again provided a platform for the development of local emerging gay and lesbian theatre workers and hundreds of people attended the St Dorothy's Day Mass at St Agnes Church, Glenhuntly.

Leigh Johns was President this year and Brenton Geyer the Festival Administrator.

Annual Report | Printed Guide

New initiatives included large format billboards around the City, 'Occupy' at the Fitzroy Town Hall, 4 Play @ BlackBox, Movies under the Stars, The Fitzroy Bazaar, visiting New Zealand MP Georgina Beyer, the now annual Midsumma Reunion and a range of sporting events such as the Midsumma Fun Run. For the first time, Midsumma gained Arts Victoria support. Despite a more challenging sponsorship and funding environment, Midsumma continued to attract and retain financial supporters including major sponsors: Ford, Telstra and United Airlines, and a strengthening of support from local governments: City of Melbourne, City of Yarra, Stonnington City Council, City of Port Phillip and City of Moreland. New funding ideas paid dividends with the successful auctioning of a Ford Ka on e-bay and our community based raffle.

Nigel Higgins was President this year and Brenton Geyer the Projects Manager.

Annual Report | Printed Guide

Midsumma achieved outstanding success in community participation, cultural expression and financial responsibility. From the Victorian Arts Centre, the new Melbourne Museum, to laneways in the City, the backyards of Preston, the front beach at Lorne and to an arcade in Bendigo, the Festival reached out to an ever widening audience. There was also a corresponding effort to develop the quality of our events at world class standards. A further commitment to office infrastructure was made with two full time staff employed plus a part time business manager. The first Midwinta mini-festival successfully debuted as our lead up to the Sydney 2002 Gay Games. Successful new events included the Pool Party, Cabaret Awards Night and further refinement of the Tea Dance. The support of our Principal sponsor The Market Hotel, a local gay owned and operated business ensured that we could financially put this festival together. We welcomed on board new major sponsors Ford and Telstra. The Festivals strengthened its partnership with the City of Melbourne, Stonnington City Council, City of Yarra, and City of Moreland.

Nigel Higgins was President this year, Brenton Geyer was Projects Manager, Rebecca Anthony Festival Assistant and Lee Matthews part-time Business Manager.

Annual Report | Printed Guide

There was a renewed focus on sport in the leadup to the 2002 Sydney Gay Games. Sunday 30 January marked the first Pride March in the world in the new millenium, with music re-established along the route - provided by JOY 94.9 and the march endpoint being moved from St Kilda foreshore to Catani Gardens, followed by a party at the Palace. Midsumma ran its own parties: the Street Party in Commercial Rd, the new Pool Party at Fitzroy Pool, the Red Raw Recovery at The Market and the huge Tea Dance under the big top at Carnival. Midsumma included events at the Zoo, Planetarium and the new Aquarium. The third New Q Exhibition was presented, at the Linden Gallery.

Tracey Wall was President this year.

Annual Report | Printed Guide

MIDSUMMA YEAR-BY-YEAR: 20TH CENTURY

Midsumma's inaugural public art program, 'Queer Street' was held around Melbourne's streets, and the Victorian Arts Centre spire was lit in pink. Mass Hang, the first community art show, debuted at Carnival and the NewQ Exhibition moved to the Linden Gallery, St Kilda. At the Victorian Arts Centre, a spectacular night of music was had with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Judi Connelli in cabaret. The first battle of the bands project (entitled BANNED) saw Melbourne's queer rockers play it out at this year's Festival Club. Club Swing's (City of Melbourne sponsored) Razor Baby was a spectacular dance performance. Ruby Lounge showcased the best of Midsumma artistes in splendour and style and the Festival Club offered emerging artistes a platform for short works. Literature continued to be a strength of the festival thanks mainly to the partnership with Hares and Hyenas Bookshops. The four major 'signature events' within the festival returned: Street Party in Commercial Road Prahran; ALSO's Red Raw fundraising Dance Party at the Docklands; the PRIDE march in St Kilda; and our finale-Carnival held at the Alexandra Gardens.

Tracey Wall was President this year, though Lee Matthews wrote the President's report.

Annual Report | Printed Guide

Midsumma extended over one month, Queer artists exhibited at NGV and Queer performers took over the Universal Theatre.

The inaugural New Q Exhibition of visual arts was held at the National Gallery of Victoria. The festival opened with the Fur Ball Gala at the Forum Theatre, the Australian Gaymes were staged and the Street Party was held in Commercial Road. The multitude of events included Pride March and Ride at Luna Park, ALSO's Red Raw Dance Party and the closing event, Carnival at the Alexandra Gardens.

Peter Edmondes was President this year.

Annual Report | Printed Guide

The inaugural Midsumma / VAC Gala Fundraiser, Fur Ball, a high camp cabaret was held at the newly-restored Forum Theatre. 60,000 shindiged at the Brunswick Street Party; 7,000 rejoiced at Red Raw; 22,000 paraded at Pride, with a full house at Ride; and 100,000 caroused at the Carnival. 1997 saw the return of 'Software', a short works performing arts program.

Claire Beckwith was President this year.

Annual Report | Printed Guide

After four talented gay presidents, the eighth festival was headed by a lesbian. In the tradition of similar queer celebrations around the world, Melbourne staged the first Pride march in Fitzroy Street, which spilled into Ride at Luna Park. The 4-weekend festival included four signature events: the opening Brunswick Street Party, Red Raw, the inaugural Pride and Ride and the closing Carnival at Alexandra Gardens.

Claire Beckwith was President this year.

Annual Report | Printed Guide

The opening party in Brunswick Street instantly turned into one of the festival's main attractions. The enormously popular Carnival outgrew the Albert Park Reserve site and descended on the Alexandra Gardens.

Brenton Geyer was President this year.

Annual Report | Printed Guide

Midsumma ran for three weeks. Sponsors were VAC/GMHC, ALSO, BrotherSister, MSO, JoyFM, 3CR, Bent TV, Hares & Hyenas and many others. The program presented Software VI, Gladboat, a travel forum and Leather Pride.

We're currently trying to locate a copy of the 1994 Midsumma Festival guide.

Annual Report

In the year of the Queer, the festival grew considerably and found its own St Kilda address. Melbourne Queer Film and Video Festival matured into a self-contained event. No AIDS-themed show appeared on the program.

Brenton Geyer was Chair/Coordinator this year.

Annual Report | Printed Guide

Two far-reaching innovations were made in 1992, the fourth festival: the lesbian community joined forces, and Picnic in the Park evolved into the Carnival, and exceeding all expectations, became the festival's premier event.

We're currently trying to locate a copy of the 1992 Midsumma Festival guide

Annual Report

Extended from ten to fourteen days of festivities, Midsumma consolidates its commitment to film, the performing and visual arts and literature. It receives Australia Council funding.

The festival was not without controversy though, with the ALSO Foundation organising events on the same dates as key Midsumma fundraising events, which caused key funding capital, and the main opportunity to fund the 1992 Festival, to dry up - a blow from which the Festival was lucky to recover.

Annual Report | Printed Guide

The second festival broadened to meet the diverse interests of political, religious and business groups and received sponsorship from the Victorian Ministry for the Arts. A Lesbian festival was running concurrently. We're currently trying to locate a copy of the 1990 Midsumma Festival guide.

The 1990 Midsumma Chairperson was Ron Field.

Annual Report

The inaugural festival ran over ten days and almost as many nights. Street Party, Sports carnival, Theatre, Cabaret and film festivals. A G&L studies conference; a history walk...there was something for everybody. There was even an awards night. The festival closed with Red Raw - a party in West Melbourne.

Having fun was only one of the goals. Communication, launching new groups, raising our profile in the wider world, even health education were touted as the festival's goals. All that was missing was the parade. Keen to avoid comparisons with the northern event, this had to wait till Pride March arrived in 1996.

The inaugural Midsumma Chairperson was Danny Vadasz.
We're currently trying to locate a copy of the 1989 Midsumma Festival guide.

Annual Report

Annual Reports

At the end of each festival a report is typically generated. Here are the reports, or summaries, from our archives.

Annual Reports

Midsumma Year Round

Want to know what else we do (apart from run a fantastic arts festival each year, of course)! Check out our mentorship programs and year-round activities.

Midsumma Year Round