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Starlady Nungarai – The Real Queen of the Desert


Starlady Nungarai, is a renowned and well-loved ‘translady’ whose weapons of choice in the ubiquitous and wearisome battle to break down barriers between Aboriginal kids and community workers are hair dye, curling wands, straightening irons and makeup.

All my life, I’ve been told to turn it down. That if I’d just tried to fit it in, everything would be OK. However, as a youth, I discovered in the face of overwhelming prejudice and persecution, an incredible strength through being fiercely fabulous.

I am Starlady Nungari, The Real Queen of the Desert. Aboriginal communities might be the last place where you would expect a radical queer super-heroine to find her place in the world.
Today, I am truly honored to share with you my surprising story of finding acceptance, a place where I was given the space to thrive, where the power of friendships overcame cultural and social divides.
Like many young queer people, in my youth, I was forced to flee regional Australia to find a safe-haven in the inner city. I sought and found refuge in Melbourne, where I immersed myself in a world of vibrant and diverse subcultures. Yet, the systematic discrimination and continuous harassment that I faced on a daily level outside of these spaces continued.
In 1996, I found myself before the Victorian Victims Compensation Tribunal, seeking justice, after being violently assaulted by homophobic bigots. The presiding magistrate looked me up and down and with his head held high, he proclaimed his judgment: And said “if Joe Blow saw you walking down the street dressed like that, he’d say that you deserved it.”

Whilst creativity is a powerful force, there are deep systemic failures, impacting upon Aboriginal youth that one program alone cannot solve.
Yet, I passionately believe that we have a responsibility to invest in young people from remote Aboriginal communities so that they may reach their full potential.

When I first came into awareness of my transgender identity, I felt incredibly isolated. The city, where I assumed the vast majority of trans people lived, felt a long way away.

I realized I was mistaken when I met one Northern Territory Sistagirl. She kindly invited me to accompany her on a Sistagirl retreat. Yet, I was hesitant.

I questioned whether it was appropriate for a non-Indigenous person to attend a program that was clearly for Aboriginal people.

She turned to me and said, “Starlady, it doesn’t matter about the color of your skin, what matter is that you are family.”

She paved the way for me to become one of the first non-Indigenous transgender participants and kindly introduced me to the wider Sistagirl community.

Their generosity forged a relationship that has been part of a movement that has changed the landscape of transgender politics in Australia.

Together we formed a small community group “Sisters & Brothers NT”, that has traveled across this country advocating for sexual orientation and gender diversity rights
from a cross-cultural perspective.

Our cultures are not exclusive. There is also an interconnectedness. And we have learned that together, we are stronger.

I want to acknowledge all the Aboriginal communities that have offered me a unique and celebrated place within their societies. Through love and acceptance, I’ve had the opportunity to thrive.

I want to remind you all that it is time to turn up your volumes. Creativity can be a powerful tool for healing, transformation, and self-empowerment.

You don’t need to live like me nor look like me. But it is vital that you are true to yourself. I am not saying that the path ahead will be easy.

But I am saying that through transforming yourself, you have the power to influence the world around you for we are all connected.

It is not about whom shines the brightest but rather that we all shine brightly together. I look forward to co-creating a more fabulous world with you all.


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