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March 06, 2000 07:27pm
Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras
Source: News Wire

Cold and light rain diminished the crowd from an anticipated 750,000 to 500 - 700,000, but people were still packed up to ten deep in Sydney on March 5 for the 23rd Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras. Led off by the traditional Dykes on Bikes contingent the traditional 45 minutes late, the first of some 200 floats was the Mardi Gras' organizers, representing a rainbow Noah's Ark with some rather unusual dancing animals including a Tasmanian Tiger, 101 Dalmatians, Toto from the Wizard of Oz, and a 300-strong Bears of Australia contingent. There were some 7,000 marchers all told.

One of the most warmly received floats was that of the Black, White and Pink group calling for Aboriginal Reconciliation and reminding all that the site of the parade is the land of the Iora people. The float had a large pink boomerang with the legend, "Our community our Queen." A group of several hundred marchers included dozens of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in traditional body paint.

More diversity was represented by the 100-strong Asian Marching Boys contingent. Another float was covered with a rainbow of linked "rings of friendship" anticipating the 2000 Olympic Games and 2002 Gay Games in Sydney; other athletes in Speedos pretended to swim laps along the parade route. NSW Police, Australian Trade Unions, Gay and Lesbian Business Association, the Australian Lesbian Medical Association (with a float of surgical green and a heart centerpiece), and Outback Friends and Families of Queers were represented. The Klueless Klutch Klan promoted accessorizing and the late bisexual singer Dusty Springfield was memorialized along with Princess Diana. Police providing security for the event were joined by Roman centurions. Drag entertainer Dame Edna Everage (currently performing on Broadway) and artist Jeffrey Smart were among Aussies honored with floats.

There were political gibes in customary Mardi Gras style. After Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal Edward Clancy and Anglican Archbishop Harry Goodhew issued a joint statement condemning the parade as "gross exhibitionism" "promoting a homosexual lifestyle" and calling on the city to boycott the parade, they were represented by a Pope and an Archbishop who led the drag nuns of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence with a banner reading "God Loves Men in Drag." A float transporting The Bloody Marys -- a group costumed as tampons -- jeered the national Government's plans for a new tax on tampons effective July 1. A small contingent from West Australia offered an entry advising that, "Getting Your Dick Court is painful," referring to their premier and their unenviable status as the state with the worst laws in the country for gays and lesbians.

International stars present for the occasion included UK actors Sir Ian McKellan and Ewan McGregor, the latter decked out in leather, eyeliner and dyed black air, while the stars of UK TV's "Men Behaving Badly" Neil Morrissey and Martin Clunes posed with the drag queens. Local lights participating included DJ Molly Meldrum, comic Gerry Connelly, chef Bernard King, NSW Member of Parliament Clover Moore, and Australian Democrats deputy leader Senator Natasha Stott Despoja.

The parade only begins the evening for serious party-goers, who went by the thousands to the official dance afterwards at Fox Studios despite the steep admission cost of A$98 each. Five huge dance areas, plus food and entertainment spaces, throbbed with music. The after-parties and recovery parties ran well into March 7 (and in some cases, probably March 8). It was easy to see how some marchers had collected enough water bottles from dance parties to make costumes from them.

The Tourism Council Australia estimated that the parade drew 12,000 tourists who spend at four times the rate of average visitors to inject A$41-million into the economy of the state of New South Wales, making it "one of the biggest and most lucrative tourism events in Australia." One estimate placed the event's value for the nation at more than $A153-million. This year's event was telecast both live on pay-per-view cable (Austar, Foxtel and Optus) and tape-delayed on free-to-the-viewer TV (Ten network), as well as on the Web in both narrowband and broadband formats.

Yet the Mardi Gras itself is in financial straits, despite significant corporate sponsorships including phone company Telstra and soft-drink manufacturer Pepsico Inc. The festival's budget is up to $5-million. The group is considering arranging paid seating at some viewing points next year to help defray costs.

Reports ranged from four to seven arrests made, but there were no serious incidents. However, one crime was rampant: stealing of plastic milk crates to stand on for viewing the parade or sit on when feet grow weary. Yes, it is a crime, although many locals save them up for months ahead of time (all public transportation into Sydney banned them because of potential for accidents when they collapse, especially from the favored double-decker configuration). Spoilsport milk companies actually carried out a dawn raid on the morning of the parade, reportedly seizing tens of thousands of their crates. One enterprising fellow had collected a truckful of some 500 crates he was trying to sell before being caught and ticketed by police.

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