While this year’s Mardi Gras parade is expected to include plenty of Brokeback Mountain-inspired cowboy outfits, Mardi Gras organisers have decided to take a different tack with the lead float. Instead, they are heading out to sea.

The parade’s lead float is Mardi Gras’ traditional platform for making a political statement and this year’s theme is Ship of Fools. It is a comment on 10 years of gay life under the Howard Liberal government.

The Ship of Fools float will feature characters dressed as John Howard at the helm as Captain Cook, with Janette Howard as his first mate, and other coalition members also on board. In the seas around the ship will be a contingent of mermaids and mermen.

Adding a Peter Pan theme is a character called Peter Pansy, while the Lost Boys of Neverland will be portrayed as the 40-strong Lust Boys of Leather Land. A crocodyke will add an element of foreboding danger as she swims alongside the ship, waiting for the captain to fall overboard so she can devour him.

The parade creative director is Graeme Browning, better known as his drag alter ego Mitzi Macintosh. Browning says he felt a responsibility to ensure this year’s float made a strong political statement.

One thing I was always aware of with this role was the mantle I had to carry with the political aspects of Mardi Gras, Browning says.

I think the political aspect is what Mardi Gras came from, is based on and will always be a part of. Whether it is a serious comment or a comical look at something, that is the tradition of Mardi Gras, and of Australia.

The idea behind the float is that there are two tiers to society. There is the political element that makes the decisions and rulings that affect our everyday life. That is our Ship of Fools

On board, apart from John and Janette, are other political characters like Barnaby Joyce, Bill Heffernan and all the figures who have taken a stance against the gay community.

The Peter Pan theme, Browning says, is where the most important message lies.

The statement we are making is -˜the clock is ticking’ and the message is, -˜John Howard, your time is up’, he says. It is also off the sides of the boat where the mermaids and mermen are being washed away. They symbolise gay society today, and the choppier the waters get, more the possibility that we could drown.

The concept for the lead float was devised by Browning with co-designer Justin Green in early December, and it has taken eight weeks to turn their plans into a reality. The finished float will feature 80 people on, around and behind the ship.

Once it comes thundering up Oxford Street, it should look fabulous, Browning says.

He will not be on the float, but instead hosting the Mardi Gras members VIP area at Taylor Square. I will be ditching Mitzi after that and then heading to the party, he says. It will be time to celebrate.

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