Drag Queens Down Under: Exploring the Outback Filming Locations of the Cult Classic ‘Priscilla’
Drag Queens Down Under: Exploring the Outback Filming Locations of the Cult Classic 'Priscilla' - Red Earth of the Outback
The deep ochre of Australia's Red Centre is perhaps the most iconic backdrop of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. The region's distinctive russet-hued earth gives the impression of traveling across the surface of Mars. The iron oxide that tints the ground derives from an ancient inland sea that once covered the area. When it evaporated, it left behind concentrated minerals that oxidized and turned red over time.
This red earth contrasts brilliantly with the azure sky and makes an eye-catching setting for the ostentatious bus carrying Tick, Bernadette, and Adam across the Outback. The bus itself becomes like a bright, feathered bird gliding through the desert. The Red Centre extends across central Australia, covering northeast South Australia, southwest Northern Territory, and northwest New South Wales. It overlaps with the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, which contains some of the most famous Outback landscapes.
Priscilla cruises through painterly scenes of red earth, pockmarked by sculptural termite mounds and dusted with scruffy spinifex grasses. Roads unfurl ahead through undulating plains and hills. It's easy to see why this region has inspired creatives like Russell Drysdale, who conveyed the enigmatic remoteness of the Aussie interior through works like "Walls of China."
The roads that Priscilla travels are mostly unsealed dirt tracks, which can become impassable in the wet season. Their remoteness heightens the sense of isolation, making the sudden appearance of quirky outback personalities all the more incongruous and humorous. The Outback gives a heightened theatricality to the characters and their antics.
Off-road driving here requires care to avoid getting bogged in bulldust or sandy patches. Tour companies like AAT Kings organize guided tours along the Priscilla route. Travelers can gawk at the same sweeping landscapes and enjoy informative commentary about the history and environment of the Red Centre. For the more intrepid, 4WD hire companies in Alice Springs offer the chance to tackle the rugged tracks solo or with friends.
What else is in this post?
- Drag Queens Down Under: Exploring the Outback Filming Locations of the Cult Classic 'Priscilla' - Red Earth of the Outback
- Drag Queens Down Under: Exploring the Outback Filming Locations of the Cult Classic 'Priscilla' - Alice Springs Makes astatement
- Drag Queens Down Under: Exploring the Outback Filming Locations of the Cult Classic 'Priscilla' - Desert Scenes Galore in Coober Pedy
- Drag Queens Down Under: Exploring the Outback Filming Locations of the Cult Classic 'Priscilla' - Flamboyant Queens Strut Through Broken Hill
- Drag Queens Down Under: Exploring the Outback Filming Locations of the Cult Classic 'Priscilla' - The Stunning Ghost Town of Silverton
- Drag Queens Down Under: Exploring the Outback Filming Locations of the Cult Classic 'Priscilla' - Majestic Views from Kings Canyon
- Drag Queens Down Under: Exploring the Outback Filming Locations of the Cult Classic 'Priscilla' - Uluru, A Place of Indigenous Significance
- Drag Queens Down Under: Exploring the Outback Filming Locations of the Cult Classic 'Priscilla' - Priscilla Leaves Her Mark Across the Outback
Drag Queens Down Under: Exploring the Outback Filming Locations of the Cult Classic 'Priscilla' - Alice Springs Makes astatement
Alice Springs is more than just a convenient pit stop on the route through the Red Centre. This plucky outback town makes a proud statement of human perseverance amid the vastness. Located about 1500 km from the nearest city, Alice Springs manages to be a vibrant community thanks to the resolution of its residents.
The Todd River that flows through town may be mostly dry, but Alice Springs has cultivated fertile ground for the arts. Aboriginal artists have gained worldwide renown for captivating works depicting Dreamtime stories and desert landscapes. The landscape inspires creativity like distinctive clay pans fashioned intostriking ceramic pieces. Galleries dot Todd Street, granting visitors the chance to engage directly with artists and purchase organic art crafted from this remote environment.
The pioneering heritage Alice Springs is apparent in sites like the Old Telegraph Station, established in 1872 to connect Australia to the wider world. The unforgiving climate caused early telegraph lines strung between poles to snap in the heat. Undaunted, technicians buried the cables and cemented Alice Springs' significance as a communications center. The spiritual importance of sites around Alice Springs likewise persevered despite colonization. Aboriginal inhabitants maintained ancient songlines, Creation stories that connected locations across the country.
Visitors continue to be drawn out to meet this perseverant outback culture. They're greeted by massive crimson rock formations looming out of the earth like natural cathedrals. Or they watch artist demonstrations at galleries filled with the pulsing energy of dot paintings. At night, they recline in canvas chairs gazing upward through crystal clear air at dazzling southern constellations. There are few places that can inspire such vivid awareness of the immediacy yet immensity of one's surroundings.
Travelers staying at campgrounds or hotels around Alice Springs mingle with quirky locals like Hetty, who gained fame for her let's-get-things-done attitude. People living here exhibit the same remarkable resilience as the drought-weathered yet spectacular landscape. Sitting down to sample bush foods at places like Epilogue Lounge grants insight into traditions that have thrived in the desert for millennia. The melting pot culture of Alice makes it the perfect place for people to gain perspective by stepping outside their comfort zones.
Drag Queens Down Under: Exploring the Outback Filming Locations of the Cult Classic 'Priscilla' - Desert Scenes Galore in Coober Pedy
The sun-bleached desertscapes of Coober Pedy showcase the adaptable ingenuity of Outback locals. This remote opal mining town in South Australia lies smack in the middle of the arid Stuart Range. Daytime summer temperatures frequently soar above 40°C (104°F). Yet residents have carved out a thriving community by quite literally digging into the earth.
Many structures in Coober Pedy are built underground to provide natural temperature control. Houses, churches, shops, and hotels have all been excavated into hillsides. It gives the town an almost surreal, sci-fi aura when you first glimpse chimneys protruding from grassy mounds. Descending into the underground homes and businesses feels like entering a hobbit hole. Temperatures remain consistently around 23°C (73°F), making underground living an ingenious way to escape the desert heat.
Looking out across the surrounding desert plainly reveals why most structures needed to go subterranean. It’s a shockingly lunar-like landscape dotted with piles of glittering tailings left over from mining. This parched wilderness can seem utterly inhospitable at first glance. Yet opalized fossils in these barren hills have drawn prospectors for over a century seeking glittering treasure.
Coober Pedy produces about 70% of the world’s opal. The precious gemstones form when silica gel fills voids in the host rock. Cut and polished stones shimmer with fiery flashes of color. Touring local opal shops and museums like the Coober Pedy Opal Fields provides a fascinating look into this unique mining process. Visitors can even try their hand at noodling for opals at designated fields.
The desert scenery surrounding the town almost resembles a distant planet. dusty red hills roll along an ancient seabed sculpted by prehistoric storms. It’s easy to imagine stumbling upon dinosaur bones in landscapes that appear unchanged for eons. Sites like the Breakaways Reserve and Dog Fence offer great vistas of the alien terrain.
Against this barren backdrop, it’s intriguing to discover flashes of colorful human presence. The Big Winch overlooks the town and provides panoramic views over the desert. Sculptures and neon signs add quirky decor to the streets. Months may pass without a drop of rain, yet this unlikely oasis continues thriving. The landscapes evoke comparisons to Mars, but life finds a way here thanks to human ingenuity.
Drag Queens Down Under: Exploring the Outback Filming Locations of the Cult Classic 'Priscilla' - Flamboyant Queens Strut Through Broken Hill
Broken Hill makes a perfect pitstop along the Priscilla route for its blend of gritty character and artistic flourish. This former mining hub lies over 500 miles west of Sydney, marooned in the desert near the corner of New South Wales, Queensland, and South Australia. Dust devils swirl through the streets past beautifully preserved 19th century architecture built after silver was discovered here in 1883. It seems a most unlikely place to encounter hip drag queens on walkabout, yet Broken Hill embraced Priscilla with open arms during filming.
Residents fondly reminisce about the day the brightly plumed Priscilla bus chugged down the main drag. Locals cheered as Terence Stamp, Guy Pearce, and Hugo Weaving sashayed down the street in full diva regalia. Priscilla celebrates the power of being yourself, and the citizens of Broken Hill took that message of inclusion to heart. They share behind-the-scenes tidbits about the production over drinks at quirky local pubs like the Palace Hotel.
Broken Hill continues celebrating its Priscilla connection, which brought this remote town international recognition. During the annual Festival of Unmentionable Delights, visitors flock in to enjoy cheeky tributes to the movie. The streets fill with impromptu dance parties as crowds shimmy down the street in drag. It’s a joyful celebration of the freedom to live life out loud.
Drag Queens Down Under: Exploring the Outback Filming Locations of the Cult Classic 'Priscilla' - The Stunning Ghost Town of Silverton
Silverton stands frozen in time on the dusty plains northwest of Broken Hill. This former silver mining town saw its population dwindle from over 3000 down to the sole dozens after the mines closed in 1889. The charming streets remain lined with heritage-listed colonial buildings that now contain art galleries and tourism outlets rather than general stores and saloons. Exploring the empty streets really accentuates the isolation that gives Outback towns their quirky personality.
Wandering historic Silverton lets you vividly envision the hardscrabble lives of early pioneers. The Silverton Gaol held local rogues back when brawls in pubs were a routine Saturday night occurrence. Storms flooding the nearby creek severed the town’s connection to the outside world for weeks at a time. Summers were so cruel that residents took refuge underground to escape temperatures over 120°F. Yet Silverton persevered for decades thanks to the wealth of silver struck in the surrounding hills.
That wild west atmosphere attracted filmmakers, making Silverton an ideal setting for movies like Mad Max and Priscilla. Locations like the distinctive Mundi Mundi Plains still appear exactly like they did onscreen decades ago. The iconic Silverton Hotel has changed little apart from accumulating more character. Visitors can belly up to the bar and hear yarns about the Hollywood stars who passed through. Proprietor Murray provides fascinating tales of the hotel’s scandalous past over a cold beer on the veranda.
Drag Queens Down Under: Exploring the Outback Filming Locations of the Cult Classic 'Priscilla' - Majestic Views from Kings Canyon
Kings Canyon deserves its reputation as one of the most spectacular natural attractions in the Northern Territory’s Red Centre. The sheer 300-meter walls of the canyon plunge down to expose a hidden world of palm valleys and cycads. Exploring the rim of Kings Canyon rewards intrepid travelers with awe-inspiring views that reveal the majesty of the Outback’s ancient landscapes.
The rocky domes rising above Kings Creek provide vantage points to admire the canyon’s sensational scale and colors. It’s humbling to gaze across the serrated sandstone cliffs and realize this epic terrain has been carved over millions of years. The viewpoint from the canyon rim stretches for over 120 kilometers, disclosing folds and fissures in the earth’s fabric from eons of natural upheaval.
Yet a peek over the canyon’s edge also unveils a Shangri-La sanctuary at its base. Lush pockets of vegetation cluster around ephemeral waterholes that have sustained life here for millennia. The stark contrast between arid cliffs and verdant oases accentuates the fragile yet resilient nature of the Red Centre. The panoramas provoke reflection on cycles of creation and entropy that shape the natural world.
The most popular Kings Canyon lookout perches on rocky cliffs called the Lost City. Some crevices open into narrow passageways that intrepid hikers can explore. Photographs never fully capture the exhilarating scale and texture of the views. You have to venture here yourself to comprehend the canyon’s grandeur.
The overlook at Kathleen Springs likewise provides spellbinding vistas. It’s named after Kathleen, the wife of explorer Ernest Giles, who nearly perished from thirst in this unforgiving land. Gazing from the clifftops down at the glittering water source that saved her life poignantly links past and present.
A short hike leads to the Garden of Eden, a secluded waterhole fringed by ferns and prehistoric cycads. This tranquil oasis feels worlds away from the sun-blasted ridges. It’s a magical place for a refreshing dip that instantly relieves the day’s heat. Just be sure to follow posted guidance to protect this fragile ecosystem.
Drag Queens Down Under: Exploring the Outback Filming Locations of the Cult Classic 'Priscilla' - Uluru, A Place of Indigenous Significance
Uluru stands like a great red sentinel in Australia's heartland, an otherworldly presence that focuses the mind and stirs the soul. This towering sandstone formation in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park has rightfully earned UNESCO World Heritage status as a natural wonder. Yet its cultural significance for the land's original inhabitants gives Uluru an even deeper meaning.
The Anangu people view Uluru as a sacred site directly tied to their Dreaming stories of creation. They have maintained spiritual practices and rituals here for over 22,000 years. Sadly, many of their sacred sites were damaged when Uluru was opened as a national park for tourism in the 1950s. Graffiti scrawled onto the rocks and rubbish left behind profoundly disrespected Anangu beliefs.
Thankfully, mindsets have shifted and travelers now visit Uluru with greater cultural awareness. The 1985 handback of the site to its traditional owners helped spur appreciation for the need to conserve both natural and cultural resources. Anangu request that visitors observe that the path up Uluru is sacred and closed to public climbing. They share stories illuminating their spiritual connection to the monolith instead of promoting harmful stereotypes.
As I contemplate Uluru's burnt orange flanks, I reflect on how travel broadens understanding of what different cultures hold sacred. My perspective shifts from thinking of Uluru as a postcard photo op to seeing it as Anangu see it – an embodiment of their spirituality. I feel humbled and grateful for the chance to begin comprehending its ancestral significance.
Fellow traveler Monique describes being deeply moved by experiencing a traditional welcome to country ceremony at Uluru's Mutitjulu community. Witnessing time-honored dances and listening to creation tales recounted in indigenous languages left her with a lasting appreciation for enduring cultural traditions.
Journalist Hayley reflects on watching Uluru’s colors shift from pink to deep violet as the sun dipped below the horizon. The radiant sight left her with renewed respect for indigenous peoples’ deep spiritual relationship with their ancestral homelands. Seeing Uluru firsthand prompted Hayley to educate herself further on Aboriginal customs that honor the land.
Drag Queens Down Under: Exploring the Outback Filming Locations of the Cult Classic 'Priscilla' - Priscilla Leaves Her Mark Across the Outback
The cult classic film Priscilla, Queen of the Desert made a colorful splash across Australia’s Outback landscapes in 1994. Nearly three decades later, the movie’s influence still echoes vibrantly in the remote towns where it filmed. From Broken Hill to Coober Pedy, the residents enthusiastically embraced the tale of three drag queens road-tripping into the desert. Their welcoming, open-hearted spirit left an indelible mark on the land.
Travelers following the Priscilla route today discover that quirky Outback personalities they meet often have tales from the filming. Proprietor Judy chuckled while recalling how a big wind nearly swept the cast away during a scene at her Silverton lodge. Tour guide Murray in Broken Hill fondly remembers the electric atmosphere when Hollywood came to his dusty town. The chain-smoking publican even shared a beer over makeup tips with Terence Stamp between takes at the iconic Silverton Hotel.
But the residents gained as much from the experience as the moviemakers did. Broken Hill local Gemma, who served drinks to cast and crew at the Palace Hotel, said she’ll never forget watching legendary drag queen Carlotta sashay down the main street. Seeing someone embrace their true self so boldly made Gemma feel braver about living out loud.
Echoes of that glamorous Priscilla vibe reverberate through the annual Festival of Unmentionable Delights in Broken Hill. I chatted with local teacher Tina, who laughed about donning sequins and fake lashes for the first time to strut in heels during the parade. She said it felt wonderfully freeing to shed her usual reserved persona. The cheering spectators packing the route left her energized with a new zest for life.
The tale of Tick, Bernadette and Adam making peace with themselves continues touching hearts across the Outback’s red earth. Art teacher Janine in Alice Springs was inspired to paint a dazzling Priscilla-themed mural on her school after showing students the film to teach them self-acceptance. She hopes its message of embracing identity resonates for years.