Saturday night’s 24th Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras parade was one of the prettiest parades in years, said parade director Mark Barraket.

Bar a few minor incidents, the parade proceeded without hitch, kept up the pace and finished earlier than expected.

The sound, light and colour all made for a fantastic spectacle, Barraket enthused. We’ve had nothing but positive feedback about this parade so far, and given the fantastic range of floats, that’s not surprising. Usually the community whinge and bitch, but I’ve heard nothing but good things.

For some time, there has been a disagreement regarding crowd numbers, with some naysayers claiming that, even in its most popular years, the route held 100,000 spectators at the most.

However, Barraket said that given his long association with Mardi Gras, he estimated crowd numbers at around 550,000. A police media spokesperson told the Star that the official count for the evening was provided by the parade committee. The Sydney Morning Herald quoted Mardi Gras president Julie Regan as estimating a record crowd of 550,000 to 600,000 watched the parade. If you consider the number of people on roofs, in clubs and other elevated spots on the route, it inflates the figures beyond those on the streets alone, Barraket said.

Stand-out floats included the lead float, which featured St Mary’s Cathedral and its cast of angels, cardinals, Spice Girls and its rainbow archbishop. We were really proud of the parade and the fact that it was very political, Barraket said. In a way, we were returning to our political roots and indicating to politicians and religious leaders that enough is enough.

Barraket agreed that the wider community might have had some concerns about the vilification of the church in various floats, but he told the Star that the parade committee had touched base with various church groups before the parade. I understand concerns raised by some people, but Mardi Gras did consult with Christian groups before the parade, he said. The Uniting Church, Acceptance and the Metropolitan Comm-unity Church did have some concerns, but all were largely supportive of the concept.

While Kylie was a popular choice on many floats, there was a nice mix of gay pride hits ranging from Gold by Spandau Ballet for Gay Games and the Mardi Gras Marching Group’s Physical, to Gayvia-tion’s club remix of Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines and Tampa-phobia’s Love Boat.

Pyrotechnics featured right along the route and where fireworks were absent, follow spots and laser lights filled the void. Venues paid a set fee of $2,000 for Mardi Gras to provide choreographed pyrotechnics which were, in turn, supplied and coordinated by Foti Brothers, the company most famous for New Year’s Eve extravaganzas on Sydney Harbour.

For the first time, the HIV/AIDS section was split to show both a remembrance section and a celebrating life section. Showing a remembrance section before the parade worked really well, Barraket said. It stirred a range of emotions -¦ What I’ve heard so far is that people would like to see it again.

Only eight people were arrested during the parade, with police praising the crowd’s behaviour. Three people were arrested for assault, two for possessing drugs and one for supplying prohibited drugs, with other arrests made for malicious damage, stealing and breach of the peace.

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