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Sunday 12 April 2015

Heroes to have its swansong

Posted in: Events, Our Communities
By Jacqui Stanford - 12th February 2015

This Sunday will mark the end of a pretty special era, when lesbians gather at the park Bob Harvey once infamously dedicated to them, for the final Heroes Out West.

After eight years of live acts, picnicking and laughs in the heart of Henderson, the event’s driving force Cissy Rock has decided Heroes Out West has done its dash.

Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse (left) with Cissy Rock (right). Picture thanks to Andrea.

Rock feels like it’s achieved what it set out to.

“Eight years ago it felt very hard to be a lesbian out west. And we decided to create this bigger picture of who we are, to celebrate and make visible, and not just to other lesbians – but to our children, to the people who taught our children, to our colleagues, to actually say ‘we live out here and we’re actually really proud of who we are, we don’t just gather on K’ Rd, but in the heart of Henderson’.

“And I think that that message is really clear now. We’ve got the lesbian museum out in New Lynn and wherever I seem to go there seems to be a big flock of West Auckland lesbians. So in a way, we’ve done part of that work.”

The incomparable Edwina Thorne. Picture: Cissy Rock.
Rock says it’s also an infrastructure-heavy event, which of course comes at a cost, though she has tried hard to keep ticket prices down and make it accessible – even asking women who want to come but can’t afford the full price to let her know. She learnt about event management by just sinking her teeth in and putting an event on, later realising a different venue may have been better. “If it rains, I’m stuffed. If it’s too hot, I’m stuffed.”

What has kept it going has been obviously Rock herself, the hard work of many volunteers, some who even chipped in to cover costs when it didn’t break even. “We’ve had heaps of volunteers and couldn’t have done it without them,” Rock says.

A crucial factor has also been ‘trumpet diva’ Edwina Thorne, who has brought together countless varied and talented female musicians and performers over the years.

“One year a whole lot of people didn’t turn up and she played the whole concert,” Rock recalls.

Thorne then started putting the show together herself. Rock says her offsider’s had a wonderful knack for pulling groups of women together as acts for Heroes Out West, many of whom will play on Sunday. “There are women who haven’t performed for ages that you’re never, ever going to see perform in this line-up again.”

It will of course go out with a bang. This year’s headliner is the brilliant Emma Paki. Courtnay Low is coming all the way from New Plymouth – other acts are coming from Hastings and the South Island. There are too many to name but Edwina Thorne has all the details on the Heroes Out West Facebook page.

What stands out with Heroes Out West is that there are no male performers. Male friends and family members are welcome to come along, but all those who take the stage are women.

The crowd dancing to Annie Crummer last year. Picture thanks to Andrea.

The acts do get paid, a smidgen, but with funding down this year one of the acts – a ukulele band - even put on a fundraiser themselves for Heroes Out West, chipping in more than $200. “Because they wanted Heroes Out West to go ahead. That’s a pretty amazing feeling,” Rock says.

She has loved seeing some of the younger performers develop over the years.

Also among her favourite memories is of Edwina Thorne herself.

“Even though I’m not sure I am supposed to say it out loud, when she performed and she took off her trousers!”

There was also the time then Waitakere Mayor Bob Harvey dedicating Falls Park to the lesbians. “I didn’t realise how important that was going to be in the years to come, when I actually had to go and say ‘we have to have this park!’”

An incredibly special moment was when celebrated lesbian musician Mahinarangi Tocker arrived at Falls Park and said “I saw my name on the poster saying that I was playing so I thought I’d better turn up.” It ended up being one of her final concerts. She died in 2008.

Yes, with a group of lesbians gathered in a park, there have been many romances over the years. “We’ve had some marriages, of people who met at Heroes Out West,” Rock says. “Yes, we’ve had some break-ups. We’ve had some people not being able to turn up. I myself have been through three girlfriends in that eight years,” Rock says. “And every single one of them has had to work at Heroes Out West!”

But the party isn’t completely over. Rock, always up to something, hopes in 2016 she will be presenting an event with the tag line ‘brought to you by the same creators as Heroes Out West’. She is thinking something along the lines of lesbian burlesque, in a ‘taking the piss’ sense, rather than the traditional hyper-sexualised version. “Something new. Something a bit more streamlined, that allows us to put more resources into the performers rather than into the infrastructure.”

Rock says it’s really good to have a variety of events in Auckland Pride Festival. “I wouldn’t say no to there being more lesbian events. I like Heroes Out West because the real focus is on women, but the audience is really mixed so that all my friends can come,” she says.

“What I’d really like to see is more events happening in our suburbs. More visibility of the rainbow community, from Helensville to Franklin. And smaller events, like a little picnic, or an afternoon tea, or a poetry reading, to be given as much weight as a big parade to the converted.”

Volunteers have been crucial to the success of Heroes Out West. Picture: Cissy Rock.

For now, she just hopes there will be a good turnout for the Heroes swansong.

“I want people who have never been to come and experience. And people who’ve always come to be there and end the story. It’s just about ending the book, I guess.”

But for Rock, the enduring spirit of the annual Falls Park gathering will be the volunteer effort. “It feels like it’s a real event of love. So if you want to experience that love, you better get along to Heroes Out West.”

The final Heroes Out West is at Falls Park in Henderson this Sunday from 4PM. Tickets are $20 from the Women’s Bookshop in Ponsonby, or $25 at the gate on the day.

Jacqui Stanford - 12th February 2015

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