After months of uncertainty the twenty-fifth annual Mardi Gras parade last Saturday night went off without a hitch -“ some say better than ever.

With 140 entries it was a smaller, tighter parade that surprised and delighted Mardi Gras veterans by starting on time and finishing by ten o’clock.

Michael Woodhouse, Mardi Gras co-chair, praised the parade as one of outstanding quality.

Most people I spoke to were pleased that the parade was shorter, punchy and of outstanding quality, Wood-house told the Star.

I was certainly very proud of the mix of humour and messages, of community and politics that marched up Oxford Street on Saturday night, he said.

Police and organisers estimated that 250,000 people watched the parade wind its way up Oxford and Flinders Streets to Fox Studios. Although this was considerably less than last year’s claim of 750,000, organisers now believe that last year’s figures were a dramatic over-estimate.

The parade was led by Ian Roberts in a silver Volvo convertible. The former rugby star was followed by the Generation Youth float and a troupe wearing the elaborate, carnival-esque costumes of Mardi Gras veteran Ron Muncaster, which have featured in the parade for the last 23 years.

The Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, whose float also ran at the front of the parade, produced a typical Mardi Gras mix of politics and glamour. A gang of gay men and lesbians holding political slogans were followed by the ravishing co-convenor of the Lobby, Somali Ghosh, bearing almost all atop a gigantic pink ball gown.

Arab, Asian, Maori, and Irish entries were among the diverse cultural groups represented on the night. The needs of disabled lesbians and gay men were highlighted by a group in electric wheelchairs who zigzagged up the parade route to loud cheers of support.

NSW Deputy Premier Andrew Refshauge, Federal Democrats leader Andrew Bartlett and local Bligh independent MP Clover Moore were among the host of political notables and wannabes who joined the parade.

The night was also marked by quirky, wicked camp humour. The Nicole’s Nose group and the Vulva Owners and Divers Association (featuring a giant papier-m??ulva on wheels being fingered and licked by attendants) were two wacky highlights.

But the stand-out float was Madam Saddam and her Weapons of Mass Seduction followed by a bevy of gun- toting white-turbaned drag kings, and a mass of John Howards being sodomised by missiles.

A dozen floats and walking groups focussed their message on opposition to a war on Iraq. Many other floats made reference to it among other issues. Some individuals added anti-war stickers to their costumes or placards.

The Socialist Alliance entry, wearing t-shirts reading No War in Iraq, was greeted with applause for the length of the parade, with the crowd lining the route joining in with them in their chant of No war, no way. As the group passed the official viewing stands, drag queen comperes roused the crowds to their feet in support.

Enola Gay spokesperson Paul Van Reyk said Saturday’s parade sent a strong message to the Howard government.

The message from the GLBT communities is clear -“ no war, no way, not in our name, Van Reyk said.

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