It’s strange to think of Mary G, the Black Queen of the Kimberley, as lonely. But being a comedian, drag queen, singer, musician, broadcaster, manager, and head of a charity can be solitary work.
Every Wednesday night Mark Bin Bakar, Mary G’s alter ego – or maybe it’s the other way round – presents The Mary G Show on the National Indigenous Radio Service, dialling in from his home studio in Broome.
And when he’s not performing in concerts spreading good lifestyle messages to Aboriginal communities, he works out of his home office running Mary G Enterprises and its philanthropic arm, The Mary G Foundation.
On his business card (one side Mark, one side Mary G) Bin Bakar, who also has an honorary doctorate, lists some of his awards: National Indigenous Person of the Year 07/08, WA Australian of the Year 08, A High Commendation for Human Rights Medal HREOC 08, Amnesty Australia Human Rights Medal 07. And then probably the title he’s most proud of – Tribe: Kitja. Descended from his mother, Phyllis’s side, he’s from the Lunga clan of the Kitja people of the East Kimberley.
Taken from her family to a Catholic orphanage in Broome, her spirit informs Mary Geddarrdyu, a funny, saucy, very rude, but also slightly naive, Kimberley Stolen Generation woman, who has also starred in SBS and NITV TV programs.
“Mary G’s the aunty who will give you a backhand if you don’t listen to mum and dad,” Bin Bakar says. “Everyone’s got them, doesn’t matter what culture you are.” The character was created one night on radio when he started taking the “mickey out of myself, flirting with myself and it worked. I fell in love”.
When people wanted to see what Mary G looked like he found costumes based on the pindan reds and sea blues of Broome, and the “biggest size bra I could possibly buy”.
A songwriter and musician, he had always played in bands, including Footprince and Section 54, so he “wasn’t that stage shy”.
“One of the skills I seem to naturally have is the ability to turn nothing into something,” he says. “Because I have quick wit anyway naturally it helps a hell of a lot… and forward thinking … I can bounce off people really quickly and turn things into innuendos, misinterpret things.”
Bin Bakar did his apprenticeship as a boiler maker in Perth in the 1980s but gravitated towards his passion – helping his fellow Aboriginal musicians as a founding director of West Australian Aboriginal Media Association and then establishing Ab Music, a centre and school for Aboriginal musicians. More recently he has been involved in Noongar Radio.
“I had the vision of Ab Music becoming a rehearsal space and an agency for artists and then setting up a school, to educate our musicians to understand the theory of music, to improve their skills, and development,” Bin Bakar says.
One of The Mary G Foundation’s projects has been the stage show, Life Cycle, with Mervyn Mulardy, a full initiated Karajarri man, performing as Yatangal, and including traditional dancing, language, culture and multimedia. There are plans to tour it to Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne.
Bin Bakar is also passionate about Australia coming to terms with its history.
“I’m isolated at times … but … I’ve been lucky because (my wife) Tania’s supported me the whole way through. I’ve been lucky that Mary G gives back to me what I give to the community and vice versa.”