Among the many floats in the Mardi Gras parade there are always several that really capture the wit and imagination of the queer community. A prime example this year is the Sydney Spokes cycling club float, “Swooped.”
The springtime random dive-bombing from magpies on unsuspecting pedestrians and cyclists is a uniquely Australian experience.
In their float description, the Spokes team draw an analogy between the heightened aggression and unprovoked attacks by magpies on humans during nesting season and similar aggressive, unprovoked attacks from LGBTIQ- phobic people on members of our community.
In both cases, the aggressor is lashing out due to a perceived, unsubstantiated threat.
Thankfully, as the Sydney Spokes float proves, we can handle such things with a sense of humour.
Greg Rogan, President of the club, came up with the concept and design.
“It took three versions before I came up with a design that would work,” says Rogan.
The trick was to find an affordable way to make the magpies so that they looked convincing and would be light and manoeuvrable.
“I actually went to a kite shop to get material and ideas on how to make it. So it’s all made with fibre glass and kite fabric… stiro foam and coreflute – and dream-catcher rings, would you believe – for the body,” explains Rogan.
Club members used the Mardi Gras workshop to make the birds with various people chipping in over four Saturday sessions.
There are five magpies mounted on long poles carried by club members who will chase and swoop 11 fellow cyclists on bikes and perhaps threaten some of the crowd, too.
Rogan admits it’s going to be a very long, slow walk/ride up Oxford Street.
“We’ve had a bit of a dress rehearsal with them already and I can see we’re going to be bloody tired by the end of it.”
The Sydney Spokes is one of the LGBTIQ communities longest running social groups. It was founded in 1986, originally with four men but gradually attracting female riders and always open and to everyone.
“We’re an LGBTI straight-friendly club. So all are welcome,” says Rogan.
This is not a lycra clad, up at dawn pack, riding in peloton formation along the expressway.
The agenda at Sydney Spokes is to meet people, get some fresh air and exercise, explore the many amazing cycleways in Sydney, and, most importantly, discover fantastic new cafes.
“Our rides are not limited to any one area, we ride all over Sydney,” says Rogan. Occasionally rides are organised for areas outside of Sydney including Kiama, Newcastle, Orange, Melbourne and even overseas.
There’s a ride calendar on their website where you can register for any ride. Newcomers are allowed two complimentary trial rides before being required to join.
Each ride is graded and described in detail, including: route terrain and points of interest, transport details for start and finish locations, recommended bike type, grade of difficulty, estimated duration, and any specific requirements or notes e.g. “bring a camera in case we see a whale”.
Safety, comfort and enjoyment are always paramount, says Rogan.
“Our principle is ‘never leave anyone behind’, that’s why we have our sweeps there to make sure we’re all together and we always keep an eye on each other.”
If you’re going to the parade, look out for Float 153. Oh, and you might want to wear plastic ice-cream tub on your head!