“Good evening Fele”. I nodded politely to ‘Lady’ Fele Mann, President of the Darwin Philippine community association, as we arrived at their annual beauty pageant and charity fund-raiser along with a squirming army of local politicians. “Good evening, Mr Mann”, I said, acknowledging Fele’s husband. “Prince Roman, actually” he replied, smiling tightly.
That was my first social blunder of the night, though not the last.
I’d forgotten momentarily that the paunchy balding Scot I’d first met as a sometime client named Ron Mann, had transformed himself into Dr Sir Prince Roman, patriarch of the Universal Family religion he’d founded in 1995. Ron/Roman is the power behind the throne of the Filipino Club Darwin, though billed only as its Treasurer and Assistant Secretary. His biography in last night’s beauty pageant “souvenir program” records some of his more dazzling honours and achievements:
… Honoured for his community service by the Most Noble Order of Rizal in 2002 as Knight Grand Commander, in company with his favourite Philippines Superstar Vilma Santos, and raised to Knight Grand Cross in 2003. … Sir Roman is properly His Royal Highness, Prince Roman II, Grand Duke of Lithuania and, as mandated by his stepmother Princess Paulina who died in 1993, he continues to seek global recognition of family titles. …
When I first met Ron, he was suing the local Northern Territory News for defamation for suggesting there was something distinctly dodgy about the children’s modelling and talent agency he was then running. I don’t remember if I ever heard the outcome of the litigation.
I should have known I was in for a unique night when Rebecca told me a week or so ago that she’d decided to enter the Miss Philippines Australia NT 2004 contest. Beck had a rocky start to the evening herself, when her recently-estranged boyfriend Nestor arrived with another girl on his arm. Brave trouper that she is, Rebecca smiled through the tears and still managed to put on the performance of her 15 year old life.
Before that, though, we all had to endure 3 hours of excruciating musical entertainment, kicked off by another balding paunchy Aussie bloke with a Filipina wife. He billed himself as “Neil Diamonte”, and performed versions of several Neil Diamond songs that were even more appalling than the originals. The night went downhill from there. Filipino-Australian community culture has lots of warm and wonderful qualities, but taste and restraint usually aren’t among them. In fairness, though, it was better than the last time I was forced to attend several years ago, when the headline act was a group of Sydney-based transsexual drag queens.
The entertainment this time included assorted local amateur dance groups and a bunch of sweaty blokes doing martial arts, not to mention a bracket of pop anthems bellowed by the daughter of “Neil Diamonte”, a stunning (if dubiously talented) young woman who won the Miss Philippines Australia NT title a few years ago.
I looked forward to the delayed start of the beauty contest itself as a blessed release from musical torture. As it turned out, my anticipation was sadly misplaced. Each change of costume by the contestants was covered by a medley of shouted, out-of-tune pop ballads performed by the emcees, “celebrity singer” Rod Dingle and “Queen of Filipino Entertainers in Australia” Lillian De Los Reyes.
All the young women in the beauty contest acquited themselves well and made their families proud, especially Rebecca Parish. Even Jessica Peris, 14 year old daughter of Nova Peris, former hockey and athletics star and Australian of the Year, whose possession of any Filipino blood at all came as a considerable surprise to most audience members. Nova took the opportunity to promote her newly-published autobiography, and did a creditable job for someone three-quarters pissed. But I mustn’t be bitchy.
The end of the evening made all the suffering worthwhile. Rebecca won!!!! Miss Philippines Australia NT 2004. Crowned with a tiara, ceremonially draped in a sash and silk cape, beaming with tears of joy and pride. Could this gorgeous, gracious, talented young woman be the the tiny chubby baby we adopted at age of 6 weeks all those years ago? It was one of those moments when your heart swells with love so much that your chest can hardly contain it. Beck even regally endured Nestor’s congratulatory hug, bravely resisting the temptation to knee him in the nuts.
The entire night was a mixture of love, delight, boredom, agony, sadness and hurt. Not unlike the box of chocolates of life itself in a way. In fact my own life increasingly strikes me as Forrest-Gumpish, with this blog the bus-stop where I sit and bore passers-by with rambling homilies about it.