I’ve known Big Brother’s Tully Smyth for close on seven years.
We’ve both managed to grow out of bad haircuts, braces, and totally tragic fashion choices over the years. It was therefore a strange sensation to watch Tully – and her love life – become fodder for national conversation after her stint in the 2013 Big Brother house.
To me, Tully’s sexual orientation was never a topic of consideration. Tully was always just Tully: bright, loud, beautiful and hilarious. But with the 2016 Mardi Gras on Saturday, I thought of my pal and her rise to fame as one of Australia’s best known lesbians.
Tully first attended the parade in her late teens with her first ever girlfriend, and all these years later, I can now appreciate how brave that was.
In the years since, Tully has been a stalwart supporter of the annual march, boasting some of the most lavish costumes and fabulously over-the-top GiRLTHING floats. I sat down to talk with Tully about her favourite memories, and what the Mardi Gras means to her.
MM: Hi Tully, thanks for chatting with us. Let’s start from the beginning – when was your first Mardi Gras?
TS: My first Mardi Gras was in 2008. I remember this well as it also marks the anniversary of the first time I was forced to pop a squat and pee in public. (It was such a momentous occasion for someone who usually prefers their bathrooms marble; my girlfriend at the time decided to photograph it.)
I hadn’t exactly come out yet – in fact, I never really “came out” – but I’d been seeing Stef for a while and she had been the one to convince me to go check the parade out.
MM: Wow, that’s brave. Were you dressed up? Or trying to blend into the crowd?
TS: Looking back now, I’d dressed rather conservatively. Jeans, some weird crochet top and a grey cardigan. Where did I think I was going? Tea with grandma?
I did however have my “you don’t know me” tongue ring which I used to think made people think there was this other dark, mysterious side to me (there wasn’t!).
MM. How did you feel?
TS: I remember feeling shy…hiding behind my girlfriend, holding her hand as we made our way through the crowds. I remember being blown away by the vibe, the amount of people out in the street supporting the gays and lesbians. I also remember being gobsmacked by the floats and the brave people on top of them.
I was a new gay, a “baby dyke”, and I still wasn’t 100% comfortable with who I was. All I knew was that I loved my girlfriend more than I’d ever loved anybody before and if there were this many people around who were okay with that, then maybe it would all work out okay for me too.
MM: So brave! And an amazing experience to have in a new relationship. How many times have you marched in the parade since?
TS: I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of the GiRLTHING Mardi Gras float five times. There is always a general theme for the Mardi Gras festival and we try to pick a sub-theme that fits inside this, but mainly we just want to dress up with as many colours and props as possible.
I missed out on last year’s parade because I was away in Bali which was slightly devastating.