Nominations Open For Cairns Tropical Pride’s Community Hero Awards

cairns community

Nominations have now opened for the Cairns Tropical Pride’s Community Hero Awards, recognising the region’s LGBTIQ volunteers of the year.

Cairns Tropical Pride is north Queensland’s largest LGBTIQ festival, celebrating the diverse people and places of the region each year, and this year’s festival will take place from October 12 to 14.


Each year, the festival awards a group of locals whose voluntary efforts have made their community a better place.

As well as awards for a significant community contribution, Indigenous leadership, Woman of the Year and Youth of the Year, the Pat O’Hara Lifetime Achievement Award will be handed out to recognise another Cairns local for their voluntary contributions to the LGBTIQ community over years, often decades.

The awards will be presented on Friday, October 12 during a special gala ball to launch this year’s festival at the Tanks Arts Centre.

Nominations are open for all of the awards until Saturday, September 1. To nominate and find out more about the Cairns Tropical Pride festival, visit the website.

Read about some of the previous winners of the Pat O’Hara Lifetime Achievement Award below:

Ted Kelk

For decades Ted Kelk was a closeted teacher at Parramatta Park School. However, after being diagnosed with HIV, Ted retired and came roaring out of the closet, determined to make a difference in the world, so younger LGBT+ people would never endure life as a threatened and bullied second class citizen as he had. And make a difference Ted did. Through his work in the Cairns Hospitality Industry Social Club he helped proved a social outlet for the local LGBT+ community and as founder and chief agitator of the Queensland Association for Gay Law Reform, he made a difference to the lives of LGBT+ people statewide, finally moving to Brisbane to fight for gay law reform. The Queensland Governor proclaimed the repeal of the state’s anti-gay laws on 19th January 1991 and Ted died two weeks later.

Pat O’Hara OAM

Pat O’Hara led a full and eventful life including being trapped in Czechoslovakia during WWII. In Cairns, she made her mark as a political activist and charity worker. A founding member of the local Women’s Electoral Lobby, she was instrumental in the establishment of the first local women’s refuge. Early to the fight for gay law reform, she, along with other straight friends, fronted local LGBT+ groups at a time when LGBT+ people could not safely do so. Pat worked tirelessly for the Queensland Association for Gay Law Reform with Ted Kelk. She died in 2009.

Rex Masters

Rex Masters retired to Cairns in the late 80’s. After Ted Kelk’s departure to Brisbane and the election of the Goss Labor Government, the Cairns LGBT+ community went through a period of upheaval. Many members felt disenfranchised and excluded. Takings from the weekly parties at Rusty’s were now dedicated to paying a wage to a community leader instead of community endeavours as before. Patronage of Rusty’s declined to the point the nights were discontinued. At this low point, Rex emerged as a driving force behind a reinvigorated LGBT+ community, negotiating a return to Rusty’s, opening a community cafe and raising local LGBT+ visibility with events like the Fantasy Balls at the Hilton. Rex took the then unprecedented step of advertising the balls on television in a thirty second commercial featuring Destiny. He was also a driving force behind the Gay Business Association and a keen advocate of the benefit of gay tourism to the region. He died after a long illness in 2010, a couple of days after Ian Byford was able to tell him he would receive the Lifetime Achievement Award during that year’s Pride celebrations.

Mark Mills

Mark Mills was a long time quiet achiever in the Cairns LGBT+ community, working in sexual health and at the needle exchange. He also served as President of the Queensland AIDS Council. In one of his most visible roles Mark organised and hosted the Dog Show at Cairns Tropical Pride Fair Day for a decade, the event which did most to establish PRIDE Fair Day.

Ian Byford

Honoured with both the Lifetime Achievement Award and the inaugural Pat O’Hara Award, Ian Byford is legendary for his volunteer efforts in our community. Retiring back to Cairns after working in Brisbane as a CSIRO scientist (where as a QuAC volunteer he nursed a dieing Ted Kelk) Ian immediately made himself available to any community organisation which required help. His book, Passing Glances: A History of Gay Cairns provides further information on many of the people mentioned in this post. Currently Ian serves as a Patron of Cairns Tropical Pride.

Bert Gerbrands

Bert Gerbrands is a legendary Cairns hospitality figure as manager of The Colonial Club in its heyday, manager of Warrama Aboriginal Living History Centre and finally as both founding and current General Manager of Turtle Cove Beach Resort. Over the decades Bert has been in the thick of many LGBT+ community endeavours and remains one of our communities most colourful characters.

Dr David Bradford

David Bradford came to Cairns during the peak years of the AIDS crisis after serving as Director of the Melbourne Communicable Diseases Centre. His work at Cairns Sexual Health proved invaluable to the LGBT+, Indigenous and general communities of Far North Queensland. At the same time his investment in Turtle Cove Beach Resort, then Australia’s leading, now its only, LGBT+ beach resort, lifted community visibility and gave us a world class venue to enjoy. David and his partner Michael Williams retired to Melbourne after contributing much to our community and are still regular visitors. Monash University recently published David’s memoir, Tell Me I’m Okay which includes much about his time in Cairns.

Destiny Rogers


Destiny was Cairns’ first regular drag show performer from 1987 and gained notoriety for performing crocodile shows by day and drag shows by night for much of the nineties. She received the award in recognition for always donating LGBT+ community shows over three decades, particularly as MC of the annual PRIDE Fair Day. She is currently Cairns Tropical Pride Festival Director.

Kevin Scott

Kevin Scott came to prominence in the community for his work at QuAC but his award recognised the huge contribution he made in community events as a founder of events like Cairns Tropical Pride, The Cairns Queer Film Festival, Out! parties and the Outloud Choir. When many of these events began, Kevin and fellow volunteers organised them on a wing and a prayer. Our community is so much the richer for people like Kevin who were willing to fight against all odds to start new and grand events for the community.

Nick Connor

Nick is mainly known for his work in health promotion but also is a staunch political advocate and came to the fore in our community when QuAC was defunded in one of the periodic episodes of government bastardry. He has served on the board of QuAC as North Queensland representative and also been a key figure in organisations like Cairns Tropical Pride and the LGBT Alliance. Nick’s ability as a moderator was on display in the 2017 PRIDE Fair Day Marriage Equality Community Forum and is slotted to moderate another forum at the 2018 event.

Bill Chappelle

Bill was a staunch advocate for both the gay and the positive communities. He volunteered as an event director for Cairns Tropical Pride, organising both a Fashion Gala and Tropical Gaze Art Exhibition. Unfortunately, Bill had to relinquish his organisation of Tropical Gaze shortly before the 2016 festival and died soon after of cancer.

Nae Weysenfeld

Nae has been an invaluable member of the LGBT+ community in Cairns for decades. An inveterate volunteer, she has given of herself to the LGBT+, Indigenous and Arts communities. She has proved an incredible ambassador for the LGBT+ community to those other communities and has served for many years on the Cairns Tropical Pride committee. Nae is a Patron of Cairns Tropical Pride.

(All photos and biographies courtesy of Cairns Tropical Pride)