Australia and New Zealand 3 – Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras

Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (2)

The Mardi Gras Parade

The Mardi Gras Parade is a fantastic event by any standards, and enjoyable for people of any sexuality, provided partial nudity, G- strings, wild unleashings of inhibitions, random acts of love and lewd innuendo don’t offend. The parade gets underway at 7.45pm from the Liverpool and Elizabeth street corner of the city’s Hyde Park, and works its way up Oxford Street, continuing southeast through Taylor Square (the heart of the gay district) and along Flinders Street. The exuberant spectacle terminates at Moore Park, from where it’s just over a kilometre walk west along Moore Park Road and south down Driver Avenue to Fox Studios and the Fox Entertainment Precinct, where the massive party is held. The route is 1.6km long and the roads are blocked to traffic from late afternoon until after midnight. Needless to say, people start taking their places along the route from quite early in the day – milk crates (brought from home) are the accessories dujour, giving a height advantage that can only be matched by the drag queens in their ten-inch heels. (No single event, present or past, leaves more discarded milk crates in its wake than this one – note that they are banned on public transport on the day, though.) The most dramatic place to view the parade is Taylor Square, where the media tends to congregate. This is, however, the most crowded section, and the best vantage points are along less glamorous Flinders Street . The parade and its entrants represent all aspects of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, and include indigenous Australians and many other ethnic groups. While the NMG organization enjoys a huge amount of sponsorship from business, tourism bodies and the City of Sydney and other councils, no group in the parade can participate in order to promote their enterprises or products – though relevant non-profit community groups are welcome to publicize their causes by participating in the parade. Despite what you might think, the earnestness of these groups seldom makes for dull entries, as whole families, lesbian mothers, leather queens, flight attendants, marching girls and boys, policemen and women, local politicians, major celebrities and virtually anyone else who wants to enter, can lead their float to freedom for their own fifteen minutes of fame.

Before the start of the parade, the waiting crowd is whipped into a not-so-subtle frenzy over several hours by marshalls lining the route. Searchlights, flares, fireworks, strobes, dance music and elaborate lighting effects from all the clubs on Oxford Street, combined with a steady stream of cold beer and champagne, bring the night to a fever pitch of anticipation – a perfect build-up to the gleaming Harley Davidsons of the Dykes on Bikes, the not-to-be-messed-with mademoiselles who have heralded the start of the parade for many years. Vast floats, effigies and marching troupes follow in their wake – from dozens of drag Madonnas in cowgirl hats and clingy white pant-suits spilling from the longest stretch limos you’ve ever seen, to hundreds of Barbara Cartlands in pink-sequined evening gowns, Brokeback Mountain cowboys rounding up Mormons from the state of Utah (where the film was banned), mist-enshrouded boats carrying Thai princes and princesses, and six hundred or so bootscooters of all sexes, ages and sizes.

The Mardi Gras Party

The single biggest party in Australia takes place at the Fox Entertainment Precinct at 10pm, directly after the parade. Up to twenty thousand people attend – it’s meant to be for the queer community and their friends, but anyone can get a ticket nowadays if they get in early enough (see box); scalpers still loiter out front flogging tickets at exorbitant prices, but be warned that they have been known to sell counterfeits, and each ticket has to scan properly for entry. Whatever your sexuality, it’s a pretty decadent affair, and you need to be extremely broad-minded. Party preparation is almost as much fun as the party itself. Who you go with and what you wear matters: there’s the tribal grouping, the cocktails, the dressing and the make-up. Friends re-group at pre-party-parties all over the city and make their way to the Fox Entertainment Precinct – usually on foot (it’s impossible to get a taxi), which means that traffic literally stops as people clock the outfits and overall antics of the partygoers. The venue itself is more like a small, temporary city than a party, with two huge main pavilions – the Hordern and Royal Hall of Industries – playing host to top DJs from all over the world. There’s a variety of musical styles in other spaces, including a smaller, more heavy- duty hall called The Dome, the leather and fetish space of choice. There’s also usually a “girls only” area, and a range of bars and food stalls. Throughout the night the larger pavilions offer shows featuring big names – over the years, guest appearances have been made by Boy George, Chaka Khan, Jimmy Sommerville and Kylie Minogue – leading up to the grand finale some time before the 10am finish.

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