Community celebration is back on track after the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade made an impressive return to form on Saturday night.

Some 450,000 people watched the parade as it made its way along a shortened route on Oxford and Flinders Streets.

Lesbian Play School mums Vicki Harding and Jackie Braw and their daughter Brenna led the procession, which included a strong family theme and messages of freedom, passion and joy.

Among other highlights were a parody of Charles and Camilla’s wedding, complete with Princess Diana’s ghost, tributes to Little Britain‘s homosexualist Daffyd and an Adam and Steve, Ada and Eve marching group featuring a giant John Howard-headed snake.

Howard also appeared as a groom in a gay wedding -“ to George Bush.

This year’s parade, the 28th, was something of a litmus test for Mardi Gras after the financial collapse of 2002 and a rain-soaked event last year.

This year it was necessary for Mardi Gras to be better than what it has been and to certainly be taking a step up, and fortunately that’s exactly what it did, parade creative director, Graeme Browning, told Sydney Star Observer.

Browning paid tribute to the standard of the floats, particularly those put together by community groups.

The quality of the floats was incredible this year, and that certainly shows the effort that’s been put in by the community to make the parade as good as it can be, he said.

Regular favourites the Dykes on Bikes, PFLAG, the Rainbow Babies and the Harbour City Bears were well-represented, and large turn-outs on the ACON, Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby and Community Action Against Homophobia entries gave the crowd something to think about.

The lead entry, a marching group featuring the flags of countries where homosexuality remains illegal, was also more politics than party.

After the parade, around 19,000 revellers continued the celebrations at the Mardi Gras party at Fox Studios.

Party-goers saw performances from British singer Nicki French and Australian star Darren Hayes, as well as a masquerade-themed turn from Tina Arena and a party-closing drag extravaganza.

New Mardi Gras co-chair, Steph Sands, said the party was one of the most memorable of recent years.

I thought it was one of the most fantastic parties that we’ve seen in a long time, she told the Star.

It completely exceeded my expectations.

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