By Mike Hitch
It turns out the Mardi Gras Parade will be having an extra pup in their line-up. In honour of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (SGLMG), the world’s largest fibre-glass Guide Dog will be making an official debut at the parade.
Standing over four meters tall and weighing nearly 700kg, Gulliver, the fibre-glass Labrador who has toured Australia for years promoting Guide Dog services, will be getting a “makeover” at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) for its big day in the parade.
Gulliver will be adorned with a giant fluorescent cape that has tactile elements, allowing people with blindness or low vision the opportunity to experience Gulliver’s adornments through touch – with the very fitting theme of “Feel the Love” to bring the float together.
With help on Gulliver’s costume from Artist Educator at the MCA, Nicole Barakat, Gulliver is sure to be a good boy in the eyes of every single parade goer.
Principal Access Adviser at Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, Jennifer Moon said that the idea of “feeling the love” extends to the inclusion of all within the LGBTQI community, noting the importance of representing different forms of communication, celebration and pride.
“We asked the question – how does someone with low vision or blindness experience the visual spectacular that is the Mardi Gras? How do they ‘Feel the Love?”’ she said.
“Is it through hearing the excited roar of the crowd, smelling last-minute hairspray touch-ups, running their hands over sequin encrusted costumes, or knowing that everyone there is celebrating their freedom and independence to lead the life they choose?
“‘Feeling the love’, or feeling a sense of pride, inclusion and access extends also to those in the LGBTIQA+ community living with low vision or blindness. We want to ensure our clients have the opportunity to participate in iconic events like the Mardi Gras and encourage inclusion and access for all.”
The group that Gulliver is marching with, Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, will be a group of 60 members who are blind or have low vision, as well as friends, family, the staff of Guide Dogs and the MCA, and cabaret sensation, Dolly Diamond.
As well as the Feel the Love float, Guide Dogs and MCA will be offering audio description services to vision-impacted clients sitting within the parade’s official accessible viewing area, allowing vision-impaired attendees to experience the spectacle and its surrounds by describing it in detail.
Samples of Gulliver’s tactile costume will also be handed out in the viewing area so spectators can touch and experience the costume for themselves – providing a full sensory experience of the Mardi Gras parade.
MCA Access Manager, Susannah Thorne, said that the collaboration was just as much a work of art as it was a community project.
‘The MCA is excited to extend our collaboration in support of people who are blind or have low vision from the LGBTIQA+ community. Artist Nicole Barakat has led a community project… connecting diverse audiences with contemporary art,” she said.
Gulliver made a big impression – in the grass – at Mardi Gras Fair Day, standing as a sentinel outside Doggywood. Attendees met some cute Guide Dogs-in-training and saw a Guide Dog demonstration.
For more on what’s happening this Mardi Gras, click here