It’s huge, heavy and very familiar. Called Nicky In A Twist, the costume is a maelstrom of purple sequined tubes, complete with a towering head-dress and a skirt wider than Moon River. It’s familiar, because I saw it on parade in 1993 on one of my first visits to Sydney as a babyfag.
Ten years later and I’m trying it on, although there are concerns that the boots won’t fit. Ron Muncaster hands me the slippers and they slide on miraculously. You shall go to the ball, says Muncaster.
Muncaster is a living Mardi Gras legend. His name may not be familiar to the general public, but anyone who’s seen the parade (or the broadcasts) any time over the last 23 years will recognise those costumes. Lucille Balls -“ a nightclub-worth of multi-coloured glitter balls swinging above and through an enormous dress. Old Mother Time (or the Clock Frock) -“ a massive time/headpiece shimmering with mirrors. Masses of white feathers, black pheasant feathers and the occasional lash of leather. Muncaster tells me he’d rather buy a bucket of sequins than a sandwich. I think he’s serious.
For the 2003 parade Muncaster is presenting 32 of his award-winning Mardi Gras costumes, and he put out a call for lesbians, gays, children, tranys and all to wear them. The float will feature the costumes and the Sydney Flags, madly providing an extra layer of colour and movement.
A colleague had volunteered to wear a costume and came back from a fitting wide-eyed and buzzing -“ and it wasn’t from you-know-what. Soon I found myself at a fitting and was then invited to Muncaster’s lounge room for an interview, and a trip down memory laneway.
The first two marches we watched, [because] we weren’t really involved in politics, Muncaster says, with his equine-dog Levi watching on. I think it was 1980 and Peter Tully and Bruce Belcher and a few others were all having a drink at the Flinders and the parade came down the road -¦ And there was one float with a couple of drag queens on it and all these banners and things so Peter Tully said, -˜We can do something with this. We’ll dress it up next year.’
There was only five of us. Four of them are dead. I suppose that’s why they call me a living treasure, among other things.
Since then Muncaster and his late partner Jacques Straetmans helped transform the parade, winning countless Mardi Gras costume awards along the way. (Muncaster also founded the Jacqui Award for best costume in his partner’s memory.)
Muncaster’s costumes have since been exhibited at the National Gallery and the National Museum of Australia in Canberra, and the Powerhouse Museum and the Australian Museum in Sydney, although his outfits weren’t always so revered.
In the old days, in the 70s on Oxford Street, everybody used to dress up -¦ I got arrested once, walking home from the Shift. I was dressed as the Easter Bunny. I had two silver ears on my leather cap, a chain harness, jacket, my buns out and black crosses on my buns. I’d been as Hot Cross Buns to a fancy dress party at the Midnight Shift -¦ This police car came up and stopped and a woman policeman got out. She said, -˜You look disgusting. I’m going to arrest you for indecency.’
The charges were eventually dismissed, the policewoman transferred and Muncaster marched another day. I’m told that as a participant in this year’s float, we’re expected to march even if it pours, as it’s never stopped him before. Muncaster tells me he once marched up Oxford Street hugging the back of Straetmans, because the wind threatened to blow away six ambitiously large flags from his partner’s back. Muncaster has trudged through six inches of flooding water and seen one cardboard head-dress completely disintegrate just after the costume parade judging. (The costume won.)
Hopefully this year will be sunny and calm. I can barely move in my costume, the head-dress is too tight and it’s going to strain every non-muscle in my gym-na? body. But I look so ridiculously fabulous, I can’t wait.