By day, Thomas Hunter is helping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people facing mental health issues, but by night he lets his hair down as Aylesha Tryed, bringing a sense of fun and drag queen culture to Hedland and the wider Pilbara.
Born in Hedland, Thomas is a Nyamal man who moved around in his childhood and early adulthood before returning to Hedland with his husband.
“I’ve basically been here, there and everywhere, but in between, always come back to Hedland,” he said.
“It’s just got a real sense of community. I have always said there’s something in the water that draws me back.”
Thomas, or Aylesha as he’s known on the stage, is one of two Indigenous drag queens in Western Australia. He uses his craft to not only shine a spotlight on the queer community but to give people a safe space to relax, laugh and have fun.
“Growing up, I didn’t have or see anyone who represented what I was on TV, so I wanted to be that platform and show the younger generations that you can be true to who you are,” he said.
“Hedland is predominantly a mining town, and so are many of the towns in the Pilbara, so when I go to these small places, it’s about giving people the opportunity to relax and have a good time. And it’s all without judgement.”
Thomas has worked in many industries, including mining and health care. Still, it is in his current role at IBN, which represents the Yinhawangka, Banyjima and Nyiyaparli people, that he truly shines.
“I never found my other roles as meaningful as being able to make a difference in someone’s life, big or small,” he said.
“Even just listening to people without judgement is a huge thing.
“Living out here in the Pilbara, we have services, but there is often a 10-week wait to get into them.
“I absolutely love, love, love my job,” Thomas says.
Whether helping people through vital, culturally appropriate health services or by creating a safe space for people to be themselves, meeting Thomas Hunter or Aylesha Tryed is sure to bring a smile to your face.