06 March 2019 Posted By : Ben Collins

The Kimberley Queen who escaped persecution in Indonesia to find sanctuary in Broome

Escaping persecution as a gay man in Indonesia several years ago, the reigning Kimberley Queen has instead found a supportive community in the northern Western Australia town of Broome.

Growing up in Yogyakarta, a city regarded as progressive by Indonesian standards, Dimas Adiputra had to hide his sexuality.

"You can actually get — not stoned to death — but you can go to jail under the name of morality," Mr Adiputra said.

The country has seen a growing number of by-laws targeting LGBT people, and in 2015 Indonesia's Council of Islamic Scholars issued a fatwa recommending the Government allow the death penalty for gay and lesbian "activities".

As a practising Muslim, Mr Adiputra was deeply conflicted by his sexuality.

"I tried to oppress myself. You really wish that you were not gay because your religion tells you, 'You're going to go to hell'," he said.

It was in this climate of persecution that Mr Adiputra first visited Australia and discovered a country where he did not have to hide who he was.

But while he revelled in his new-found freedom, life in Sydney and Melbourne also left him incomplete.

"My really good friend, she is a chef, she cooked me a beautiful Asian dish," Mr Adiputra said.

"And I had the meal in a park in Melbourne, and I cried because I missed home."

Where Asia meets Australia

In search of freedom from oppression in a setting closer to home, a friend suggested Mr Adiputra try visiting Broome.

Despite reservations about what life may be like for a gay Indonesian man in regional Australia, Mr Adiputra had his heart set on Broome when he discovered the town's Cable Beach was named for a telegraph cable that linked Australia to Indonesia and the world.

"I remember when I finished reading the article I was, like, 'This is it, this is the place, the balance that I've been looking for'," he said.

Dimas Adiputra applying make-up

Photo: Dimas Adiputra has been empowered by drag performance. (ABC Kimberley: Ben Collins)

He arrived in 2016, a year after Broome's LGBT community started celebrating Mardi Gras on the same weekend as Sydney's Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

Now in just its fifth year, the Broome Mardi Gras has become one of the town's biggest events, according to organiser Lucy Falcocchio.

"We're probably expecting around 1,500 people just for the dance party, the cabaret is sold out at capacity, 300 for a sit-down meal and show," Ms Falcocchio said.

"It's amazing how many people fly into Broome to come and celebrate."

Mr Adiputra could not believe his luck at finding an Australian town with an Asian influence and a thriving LGBT community.

"I feel like they kind of adopted me as part of their community, as part of the big family in Broome," he said.

Dimas Adiputra dancing with Adam Wells

Photo: Dimas Adiputra dancing with his 'drag mother' Adam Wells at a rehearsal for a Broome Mardi Gras cabaret. (ABC Kimberley: Ben Collins)

Drag power

It was in Broome that Mr Adiputra discovered his love for drag performance.

Veteran Broome drag queen Adam Wells — or Suzi Jakuzi when performing — formed an immediate connection with Mr Adiputra when they met at the Broome Mardi Gras two years ago.

He introduced Mr Adiputra to the art of drag and the empowerment that it can deliver.

"I would think that it would give Dimas what it gives me, and that's a sense of comfort, and also a sense of power as well," Mr Wells said.

"I think it gives him the total freedom to be the person that he actually is, he's not pretending anymore."

Together they created Som Ting Wong, Mr Adiputra's drag persona.

"What are the chances?" Mr Adiputra asks.

"An Indonesian gay man flew to Australia, came to Broome, put make-up on, put a wig on, put a dress on, and became the Kimberley Queen.

"There must be Som Ting Wong."

Broome drag queen Som Ting Wong.

Photo: As Kimberley Queen Som Ting Wong, Dimas Adiputra has found a platform to be the person he wants to be. (ABC Kimberley: Ben Collins)

But it is more than just fun for Mr Adiputra, as it highlights the happiness he has found in an Australian town that has embraced who he is.

"Being Kimberley Queen is giving me a platform to be the person I want to be," he said.

He will defend his crown at this year's Broome Mardi Gras, but win or lose he has his heart set on another title as he is working on becoming a permanent Australian resident.

"This is a place that I can be myself, a place that I can wake up in the morning and just smile," he said.

"I am in a happy place, this is my happy place."

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