THE big gay celebration that stops Sydney swept through the city on Saturday night with a parade of floats almost six kilometres long spreading this year’s Mardi Gras theme of passion.
The statistics are impressive – 10,000 participants divided between 145 floats watched by an estimated 200,000 spectators as the Parade made its way through the Darlinghurst district.
Vehicles featured included 300 bikes, two planes, a boat and even a gold tank driven by a camp caricature of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un swatting away homophobic zombies.
It was a night of firsts with the lead float dedicated to the first Australians and marking the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Ride which highlighted Indigenous discrimination.
Meanwhile, the Australia Defence Force’s (ADF) entry included the force’s most senior members yet, as the Star Observer exclusively revealed last month.
While waiting for the march to commence, Air Force warrant officer Mark Pentreath said all ADF personnel should be proud of their sexuality.
“There’s certainly been a cultural change across the organisation [which is] far more accepting of all different groups and certainly our men and women here are very proud of their background, their uniform and serving Australia,” he said.
While everyone loves a man or women in uniform, when asked which service’s garb would be the crowd favourite Navy warrant officer Martin Holzberger quickly pinned his own colours to the mast: “Without a doubt, the navy has the best uniform and we have some exceptionally good looking men and women.”
In a last minute addition to the Parade, the spouses of all three warrant officers also walked the route.
The biggest-ever contingent of NSW police officers also took part – to mark 25 years of gay and lesbian liaison officers and a century of women in the police – amid calls for the force to formally apologise for the arrest of hundreds of protesters at the first Mardi Gras in 1978.
Basking in the afterglow of last year’s Sydney-held Bingham Cup 2014 tournament, LGBTI inclusion in sport was a central theme with AFL’s Mike Pike, rugby union’s Matt Toomua and cricket’s Alex Blackwell joined by openly-gay Olympians Matthew Mitcham and Daniel Kowalski.
Meanwhile, Bingham Cup champions the Sydney Convicts invited their rivals the Melbourne Chargers to join them for Mardi Gras.
The Parade also saw a welcome return for celebrated costume designer Ron Muncaster, a memorial to drag artist Beyoncé G-Spot, a rainbow “gay380” from Qantas that featured Australian international drag star Courtney Act, dancing heroes of healthcare from the Gay and Lesbian Association of Doctors and Dentists, a group dressed as Russian Orthodox clergy expressing their support for bearded Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst and contingents from community organisations such as ACON, Twenty10, NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby and Pride in Diversity.
Trans* rights were a focus with American author and actress Calpernia Addams teaming up with the Carmen Rupe Memorial Trust and Amnesty International to spruik a message of bodily autonomy.
One of the most anticipated floats was that of the Irish dancing queens led by Irish drag star Panti Bliss.
Bliss told the Star Observer she had been to prides worldwide but nothing compared to Sydney.
She also took a swipe at Fred Nile.
“Don’t you have a guy who prays for rain here every year? Clearly it’s not working this year,” said Bliss, looking at the clear blue skies above.
“I feel a little sorry for him, imagine spending your life praying for rain for the gays.”
Big names were also in abundance.
Former NSW Governor and long-time supporter of the state’s LGBTI community Marie Bashir was anointed Chief of Parade.
While, RuPaul’s Drag Race season seven winner Bianca Del Rio was part of the Airbnb float.
Politicians marching included City of Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, Leader of the NSW upper house and Liberal MP Don Harwin, Sydney state independent MP Alex Greenwich, Coogee state Liberal MP Bruce Notley-Smith, Balmain state Greens MP Jamie Parker, upper house Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi and Shadow NSW Transport Minister Penny Sharpe as well as Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson.
SBS broadcasters Sam Pang and Julia Zemiro were atop a Eurovision float while Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, national Greens leader Christine Milne, Shadow Tourism Minister and Grayndler federal Labor MP Anthony Albanese, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce and ex-David Jones chief executive Paul Zahra looked on from the sides.
Mardi Gras’ Michael Rolik, completing his last season as chief executive, said: “The combined efforts of everyone involved delivered a real stand out Parade.
“The attention to detail and enthusiasm of all the Parade participants ensured there was a sea of smiling faces from the crowd.”
As the last float glided by, a posse of broom-wielding drag queens swept up Oxford St.
Despite their efforts the twinkle from this year’s Parade will last for some months to come.
Perhaps, even, until this time next year.