Tia Craig Walters of New Zealand is Mr. Australasia Bear 2024

The VicBears put on their annual HiBearnation event from June 7 to 16. For ten days bears throughout Australia, New Zealand and from around the world gathered in Melbourne to have one last bash before the winter chill sets in Down Under.

The highlight of the event, of course, was the election of Mr. Australasia 2024, the region’s highest honor for bears. Mr. Bear winners from throughout Australia and New Zealand gathered to compete and determine who the ultimate titleholder would be.

This year’s winner, Tia Craig Walters of New Zealand won. Learn about his journey below and what he hopes to accomplish as the new Mr. Australasia.

Tia Craig Walters, Mr. Australasia Bear 2024

BWM: For those of us not from Australia, can you tell us what the Mr. Australasia Bear contest is and represents?

Tia Craig Walters (TCW): Mr. Australasia Bear represents both Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand. Mr. Bear title holders from different states in Australia and the Mr. Bear New Zealand all come together to compete for Mr. Australasia Bear during The Southern Hibearnation Event Hosted by the Vic Bears at their home den The Laird, in Melbourne, Australia.

The competition has been running since 1997, and has been an event where the Bear communities from around Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand can come and celebrate the world of bears!!

BWM: How was this competition different from the Mr. Bear New Zealand competition?

 TCW: Mr. Australasia Bear competition was very busy and scheduled since the competition was part of the Vic Bears Southern Hibearnation events. It was 10 days with 11 events. It was a wild time. From day one to the night of the competition, it was just full of fun, laughter and engagement with the bears and fellow competitors.

It was a lot different to Mr. Bear New Zealand, but the tensions and nerves for me were very similar. The main differences were just in how the competitions were run. Mr. Bear Australasia was so elevated in a way that was higher than what I had expected.

The Vic Bears have done such an amazing job with how the week was run, the events, and their love and dedication to hosting was 10’s! – the best I have seen so far. And let me not forget the sponsors for the week. Amazing to have such a great support from them: Eagle Leather, The Laird, Lumber Punks, Thorne Harbour Health, UBQ Melbourne, Wet on Wellington, Brick Lane Brewing, Stomping Ground Brewing, and Meatsmith.

Tia with prior Mr. Australasia titleholders

BWM: How significant is it for you as a New Zealander to win this specific competition?

TCW: It is so heartwarming, humbling and very emotional to be able to bring the title home after 7 years.

Also being the first Māori to compete and win Mr. Bear New Zealand – and to be the second Māori to hold the title from Mr. Australasia Bear is a beautiful blessing.

Māori we are the indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand. To showcase the diversity in our bear community is a stance which I’m so proud to be a part of.

BWM: Will you go on to compete for any other titles?

TCW: Yes, it doesn’t stop here, I’ll be going on to compete in the Mr. Bear International Competition in Thailand 2025 which I am super excited for.

BWM: Tell us about the other contestants. I believe every last one of them were featured in Bear World Magazine. How close did the experience bring you.

TCW: The Mr. Bear Class of 2024 was such a diverse group. Four out of the six were people of colour, all representing equality, diversity and our true authentic selves.

Diversity didn’t just stop at culture and skin colour either – Thomas, Mr. Harbour City Bear 2023 is hard of hearing and Mitch, Mr. Bear QLD 2023 is blind and a spectacular DJ! The other contestants were: Joenas, Mr. Vic Bear 2024, Stewart, Mr. Bear Perth 2023, and Nic, Mr. Bear SA 2023

We formed such a close bond from the first day of Southern HiBearnation with the love and support we gave each other. It became a brotherhood.

(L-R) Mitch, Mr. Bear QLD 2023, Tia, Joenas, Mr. Vic Bear 2024 (in front), Thomas, Mr. Harbour City Bear 2023 (back), Nic, Mr. Bear SA 2023 and Stewart, Mr. Bear Perth 2023

BWM: Can you tell us about Southern Hibernation – any highlights you’d like to share or details about some events and the organizers?

TCM: OMG well Southern HiBearnation is a must do event no matter where you are in the world. I highly recommend adding it to your to do list.

There are 10 days 11 events including the Opening Party and the amazing UnderBear party mid-week. I also had my first experience in a Speed Mating event – which is like speed dating but with the purpose of making friends to help those who may suffer from social anxiety to be able to come out and be in a safe space to meet new people.

There was axe throwing, but I didn’t throw this time due to not wanting to risk injuring my shoulder before the competition, but it looked like a lot of fun.

There was ‘Meet the Contestants’ where we all got to share a little bit about ourselves alongside the lovely and beautiful Beared Queen Holi Dae Knight who made our night go so smoothly with bit of a banter, but we all loved it!!

The Mr. Australasia Bear Competition on Friday was a highlight of course – from start to finish it was a close and hard competition to be a part of but we had a great crowd and doing it along my new chosen family was such a unforgettable moment. Dean the hostess with the mostest was everything anmore! Honestly the Vic Bears – and the Volunteers did such an amazing job.

And finally, there was the Hunk Party where we dressed according to the toon town theme and lived our best lives.

BWM: What do you hope to accomplish as Mr. Australasia?

TCW: I want to be able to be a face for people who may not have the courage to speak, to be able to bring more safe spaces and events to my communities.

I want to showcase diversity and equality for all and make those who may not feel they are welcomed to know that they always will be.

I want to help others know its ok not to be ok and to give them the strength to speak up and ask for help and bring confidence to those who are not confident in themselves, their bodies, or who they are.

BWM: Anything else you’d like to share?

TCW: Be your true authentic self, live your life the way you want to live it.

And remember… Confidence Never Walks Backwards.

Be sure to keep up with Tia Craig Walters, Mr. Australasia Bear 2024 by following him on Instagram and TikTok.

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John Hernandez

John Hernandez is the Editor in Chief of Bear World Magazine. In addition to bear culture, he specializes in entertainment writing with a special focus on horror and genre films. He resides in New York City with his husband.