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BearFest 2024 and a Look at the Wider Australian Bear Scene

Diniz Sanchez, Mr. Bear Lisbon 2023, recaps his experience at BearFest 2024 in Melbourne and gives us some insight in to the national Australian bear scene.

After having been to some Bear events in Europe, I had the opportunity to go (for my first time) to the far-away and amazing Australia, where besides kangaroos, koalas and other lesser known exotic animals, you can also find a big community of Bears!

I was honored by a sponsored invitation from VicBears – Melbourne, to attend their BearFest 2024, from 20th January to 4th February!

After a long journey that took me from Spain to Italy, then China and finally Australia, I reached Melbourne, capital of Victoria, the afternoon of 19th January, where I was welcomed by Jonny, Mister VicBear 2023.

After a night‘s rest (even though I was still quite jet-lagged) we went to our first event of BearFest: Bear Beach day at Altona Beach, which started around 11am and offered barbecue and drinks. It was lots of fun exchanging pleasantries with the local Bear community and their friends – I felt very welcomed!  We spent the day swimming; playing ball, sharing food, drinks, and ideas – all by the sea! A great start for BearFest!

The next day, Sunday 21st January, it was BearFest 2024 meets Midsumma Festival 2024 (its Summertime in the Southern Hemisphere): so the VicBears joined the rest of the LGBTQIA+ community at Melbourne’s opening of the Festival, the Midsumma Carnival at Alexandra Gardens, for a full day event! There were stands for all the local associations, several stages with musical concerts, Drag shows, dance competitions, DJ’s, food stalls, bars, and much much more.

While attending the event I had the pleasure to meet some current and previous sash holders from Australia, like the current Mister Australasia Bear 2023, Graeme, representing the  Brisbears, the bear club of Brisbane; and Damien, Mister Australasia Bear 2022 and the current president of VicBears, the Bear organisation in Melbourne and Victoria.

The VicBears, in addition to being organizers of BearFest also put on the Mister VicBear election (which takes place during BearFest), and the Mister Australasia Bear competition, which gathers all the Mister Bears from all Australian states, New Zealand and more. (That election happens later in the year, in June, during the Southern HiBearnation Festival.)

At the Midsumma Carnival I also had the chance to meet Nik, Mister South Australia Bear, representative of The Bear Men Of Adelaide, and the other candidates to the Mister VicBear competition.

For some context, in Australia, there are five main Bear associations/organizations, the VicBears, the Brisbears and The Bear Men of Adelaide (referred to above), plus Bears Perth (who unfortunately I was not able to visit this time), and the Harbour City Bears from Sydney, who are currently hosting Bear Essentials 28 until the 3rd of March which will culminate with the famous Mardi Gras March, an essential event for every LGBTQIA+ person in Sydney and all across Australia!

Anyway, after the Midsumma Carnival, we jump forward a couple of days to the next BearFest event: Bearaoke! On January 24th, from 6pm onwards, the legendary Laird Hotel – a historical all-male venue in Melbourne – welcomed all Bears and their friends who like to sing! And we ALL had a go at singing some tunes. It was a fun evening with have some amazing voices and performances! We really do have some great artists in our Bear community!

Thursday, 25th January was a big day too: the Australian Open tennis tournament was happening (14th to 28th January) and this day was “Pride Day”, so we got invited to be a part of it, which included: a TV interview, photo shoots and more. It was a wonderful Sports meets LGBTQIA+ cultural event. I wish that we could find things like this all over the world!

Later that same day we returned to The Laird, from 8pm onwards, for the UnderBear party, where Bears showed off their best assets in their sexiest attire!

The 26th arrived and it was the day we all had been waiting for: the Mister VicBears 2024 Competition! The election took place at a completely packed Laird, starting at 6pm and going on till late in the night. It was a tough but healthy competition among the six amazingly talented candidates; I am sure the four judges had some trouble getting a consensus. Cam, Joenas, Justin, Morgan, Nick and Scott, all did their best over the three rounds: Bear Wear, Bear Minimum and Bear Fantasy/Talent, and at the end (drumroll…) Joenas was declared the winner of the Mister VicBears 2024 title! Congratulations Joenas! And congratulations to all candidates. Great job!

Saturday the 27th was the HUNK Beach Party, also at The Laird, from 8pm onwards.

This was the official closing party for BearFest week. There was some great music by DJ’s Tonky and David Virgona, with the Disco Daddies and myself gogo-dancing.

The real closing to the event however, came one week later with the Midsumma Pride March at Saint Kilda, where all the local LGBTQIA+ associations and allies took to the streets and marched together! And of course the VicBears were no exception, representing Victoria’s Bear community in a full day event all over the city in Melbourne, with different parties and activities, on what was one of the hottest days of Melbourne’s Summer of 2024!

It was an amazing way to cap off my trip to Melbourne. Some other highlights of my trip included seeing Roger Unger’s Shape documentary at the Midsumma Queer Film Festival; speed dating with Morgan Fitzgerald; a ballroom class with “Queer as Foxtrot”; the “100 days to Eurovision” party at DT’s Bar and signing the wall at Eagle Leather Melbourne (they have a tradition that all sash holders who visit their shop do that!); and so much more!

For now my time in Melbourne is over but I will definitely back! Meanwhile I will continue my Australian adventure, visiting and participating in events proposed by The Bear Men of Adelaide, Brisbears (Brisbane) and Harbour City Bears (Sydney)!

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