Anyone who’s spent time at the Palace has probably met Brendan Barlow, either behind the bar or bedecked in sequins as he hosts Drag Bingo.
He grew up in Broken Hill, and despite a brief stint in the ‘big smoke’ that is Adelaide, says he wouldn’t change living in the Silver City for anything.
“I did my school and high school here and then moved to Adelaide for a few years, but missed here and wanted to come back,” Brendan said.
“I probably didn’t enjoy what Broken Hill had to offer as much before moving away, that taught me to appreciate what Broken Hill was and what it had to offer,” he said.
“I am glad I went away though because it helped me to become me.”
While in Adelaide Brendan worked in hospitality, at the Largs Pier Hotel which he said was a lovely place with lovely people.
It’s a bit of a shift from the rest of his family, who have a building business.
“My older sister and younger brother both work for my father among other things, but I leaned away from the building business and got into hospitality and now a bit of tourism with my drag shows,” Brendan said.
“I enjoy working with my hands and building things, but it’s not really the thing for me, I’m more arty,” he said.
“I studied art in high school and later realised that my face was a canvas and that’s where I should be putting my talents, and I’ve grown a fair bit doing make up in the last year and a half.”
As a drag queen, Brendan puts his artistic skills to good use, using make up brushes to decorate his ‘canvas’.
When in makeup, towering heels and glamorous dresses, he goes by Shelita Buffet, and hosts a variety of events from bingo to hens nights.
“I started when I was in Adelaide, just doing it for fun, and then the first Broken Heel festival I got dressed up and that was great, and it was good I had the support of my friends as well,” Brendan said.
“Then in the last couple of years it’s sort of been more of a profession,” he said.
Performing wasn’t the first thought on Brendan’s mind, but when fellow drag queen Philmah Box came up from Melbourne a few years ago and asked him and the local drag community to perform at Silverton for Channel 10’s morning show, he was persuaded to give it a go.
“I didn’t want to do it because I hadn’t performed before but I said fine, I’ll do it, and it escalated from there quite quickly,” Brendan said.
“From the tourism perspective I’ve seen what it can do for the town as well,” he said.
“Now as Shelita I’ve been to Melbourne, I did the Dubbo Pride March last year and they want me back this year, I’ve performed at Venue 63 in Adelaide, it’s great to make those connections in different places and work with other people.”
He also paid tribute to one of the local drag community’s iconic members, the late Andrew Bevan.
Brendan said that without Andrew blazing that trail and making people feel more comfortable within themselves, he would have had a harder time doing drag.
“I was a bit cautious initially, knowing people and not knowing how they’d react to it, but I learnt just to have fun with it and not really worry about it,” he said.
“Drag gives me the freedom to be the person that I am inside and not care about anyone else’s opinions.
“It’s got the whole glamour aspect as well that you can’t achieve as a boy.”
Nowadays Brendan and fellow performer Chris will pop out for dinner after a show, which he said can get some funny reactions.
“I’ve really been growing as a person in that regard, growing that confidence,” he said.
“Me and Chris will go out to dinner after a show, just pop out to Alfresco’s and have dinner which is always good fun, you walk in and everyone turns and looks at you.”
Brendan also has plans of his own, and has purchased the West End Brewery building, with plans to turn it into a function centre and cafe.
He said that seeing his dad with his own business growing up made him want to create something himself.
“Working in hospitality is a great thing, but I’ve got that drive to want to have my own project, my own place to do whatever I want with,” Brendan said.
“It’s been a long process but I’ve got the support of my family in this, and my dad’s backed me a lot in terms of the support I need to establish a business,” he said.
“The cafe has been an idea for a long time, since my early days in hospitality, I’ve managed a fair few places before but owning something makes it more real.”
For those fearing a new business might mean the end of Drag Bingo nights, don’t worry, Brendan won’t be hanging up his frocks.
“I’ll keep doing shows at the Palace, but I might implement some shows and things at my place, I’ve got some ideas and it’s all giving me something to drive towards.”