From: yup

March 05, 2006
Dykes on bikes kick off Mardi Gras / AFP

Bikers are always crowd favourites

The cowboys from the bush were there. So were the Desperate Fishwives.

And there was no mistaking the Friends of Trigger-Happy Dick Cheney.Sydney’s most famous parade came out in spectacular fashion again to restore the old doll to its former glory.

Despite concerns that the event had lost its relevance, as many as 500,000 onlookers lined Oxford St for the occasion.

Describing the parade, now in its 28th year, as “a great Aussie tradition”, New Mardi Gras chairman Marcus Bourget said he was proud the event had regained its feet.

“We’ve run a fairly sophisticated marketing campaign this year, which has led to gradual growth internationally,” he said. This year, there were 130 floats – well up on recent years.

The number of floats dipped to just 80 following the financial disaster of 2002, when the Mardi Gras incurred debts of $700,000 and was placed in receivership.

New Mardi Gras came to the rescue, and during the past four years has attempted to attract tourists back.

The first Mardi Gras took place on June 24, 1978. It was an impromptu after-party in the streets following a gay-rights rally, but when a city council ranger tried to interrupt proceedings, things turned nasty.

There were 53 arrests and allegations of police assault.

Over the years, the Mardi Gras expanded to encompass a month-long arts festival, but in 2002, the old Mardi Gras organisation was declared bankrupt.

New Mardi Gras was formed and a more frugal festival carried on the banner, slashing costs in 2004 and last year.

Nowadays, it’s not just the gay and lesbian community that is determined to make Mardi Gras a success again. Local businesses realise the importance of the event, which is a huge money-spinner.

Visitors to Sydney for last year’s Mardi Gras contributed an estimated $46 million to the State’s economy.

Marcus Bourget said about 6000 international visitors, the majority from Britain and the US, attended this year’s event.

Among them were Los Angeles retirees Phyllis Drucker, 67, and her husband, Art, 69.

“We came all the way from America to see this,” Mrs Drucker said. “We were told it’s the best in the world, and we’re going to have a ball.”

Spectators began lining Oxford St from 2pm yesterday, preparing for a night of dancing their way across the city.

Celinda Bell, 27, from Tasmania, stood in line for five hours to get a bird’s-eye view.

“We just wanted to see what this was all about. This is my first parade,” Bell said.

Bourget said the parade was much more than a party, helping to raise awareness and money for many important organisations, including the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation.

“For all its glitz and glamour, you’ll see people taking a stand against discrimination,” he said.

A certain Hollywood film ensured Sydney’s streets were awash with cowboys – and not just in the parade itself, but among the feathered and sequinned party-goers.

Also making their mark in the parade as it wound its way down Oxford St and into Flinders St were the Desperate Fishwives, the Kate Moss Line Dancers and Daffyd, the only gay in the village, from the TV series Little Britain.

On a more serious note, “Love Between the Flags” highlighted the need for racial harmony and cultural acceptance following last year’s Cronulla riots.

Creative director Graham Browning said the theme of the parade, “I believe”, aimed to reflect political and social issues.

As always, there was a strong political edge, with John Howard, George Bush and Dick Cheney lookalikes highlighting issues such as gay marriage and the Iraq war.

For the 10th year, the NSW Police made its mark, with a record 45 members of the force marching along Oxford St and into Flinders St.

Lending their support to Sydney’s ultimate costume party were music guru Molly Meldrum, model and author Tara Moss and 2005 Australian Idol winner Kate DeAraugo.

Ian “Dicko” Dickson, who donned plenty of sparkles, said: “This is the first time I’ve been to the Mardi Gras. I feel like a 13-year-old girl on her first date. I’m very excited.”

Emergency services were bracing for a busy 48 hours as the weekend of celebrations continued well into tonight.

Health authorities warned of the dangers of illicit drugs, following an alarming spike in poisonings caused by GHB.

Mardi Gras parade chief Deborah Cheetham, an internationally renowned soprano, rejected suggestions the parade was passe.

“Maybe we’re just in that period of transition. It’s not tired,” said Cheetham, who led the parade with her partner and 14-year-old daughter. “There will always be a need for Mardi Gras.”

Organisers said the festival was making long-range plans for its 30th anniversary, in 2008