Shirl at Sunrise

June Bennett and the camels appeared on Sunrise on Monday. PICTURE Nardia Keenan

Channel Seven’s Sunrise show about regional destinations was filmed at the Palace Hotel on Monday, and June Bennett was as keen to see what the cat dragged in as her tough character, Shirl.

The show started at 5.30 am, when Sam, the weatherman, proclaimed to the crew and three or four stragglers on the footpath, “Welcome to Broken Hill. Here we are. Where’s the people?”

June was cross and yelled out, “We’re not in the cities now. We don’t have to get up that early. We can get to one place in five minutes.”

In the early 1990s, June wasn’t told what the film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, was about but was given her script to learn Shirl’s lines. She noticed that she would be performing with a Bernadette.

“I saw there were three female names there, and I thought ‘Oh, there’s three women I’m going to be in the scene with,’ not knowing they’re men!”

June began her day of filming at 6.30 am in make-up, with instructions to make her look unlike her elegant former roles in Repertory Harmonic productions, including the leading lady in Hello Dolly.

A suitable costume couldn’t be found for her character of Shirl, a regular pub drinker, so June created the distinctive costume which was to make her famous.

“Because I was bigger than I am now, I wanted to cover myself up, so I wore my husband’s work shirt, just a plain, beige shirt, and I wore his white singlet, meaning like for a camisole,” she said.

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The Director was sitting at a table right at the back and watching on a computer, and he called out, “Take off your shirt.”

June replied, “Oh, no.”

“Yes,” said the Director

“Oh, no,” said June.

“Yes,” said the Director.

“So I had to take it off, and then it’s exposed this white singlet,” said June.

“I’ve got a black bra on because I didn’t know.

“I hadn’t shaved under my arms because it was wintertime.”

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So when June raised her arm with her drink in the bar scene, she didn’t like how she looked at all.

“And then what topped it off was when I come across Guy Pearce dressed as a female in very little, and I’m thinking ‘What sort of a movie is this?’”

At 9 am, June took a break from her disagreeable reflection by walking to Buckworth’s Solicitors to see her friend, Wendy, who was accustomed to seeing June sing in a big picture hat at the Civic Centre.

Wendy was in the lane and saw a blemish on the landscape in a man’s white singlet and a black bra. She called out, “Is that you, June?”

“Look what they’ve done to me,” replied disconsolate June.

June’s unfortunate ensemble has elevated her to cult status.

She said that a giant model of Shirl, replete in a white singlet and black bra, is paraded at the Mardi Gras, and another one, which is too big to fit into the Palace, is covered up out the south in a mining building.

“I have drag queen followers on Facebook, and I’ve had gay men come down to have a photo taken and for me to sign their singlets,” said June.

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“They love Shirl.”

June loves wearing colourful outfits, particularly in purple, turquoise and yellow, as well as bling and her stiletto heel earrings.

She believes that Shirl’s sense of fashion has improved, and June has given the original singlet to the Palace Hotel.

“It’s autographed, and that’s where it’s going to stay,” said June.

“I will not be wearing it ever again.

“Shirl. Has. Moved. On.”

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