I experienced ‘The Fairies’ Godmother’ at this year’s Sydney Mardi Gras, and the memory will stay with me forever.
Mardi Gras sold out! In the first time in the history of New Mardi Gras, the official party of all parties was sold out weeks in advance. Even the locals were surprised.
Perhaps it was the hype of it being the 30th anniversary of Mardi Gras that had the punters flocking. Perhaps it was the fact that after years of wooing, Olivia Newton-John was advertised as the headline act. Whatever the cause, tickets soon became as prized and precious as a Willy Wonka Golden Ticket!
The Sydney Mardi Gras itself is actually a month-long event. The three weeks preceding the parade host events building up to the big weekend. There is a Fair Day, a Pool Party, the popular outdoor Sol Y Luna Harbour Party, with its iconic view of Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge at sunset, as well as the Queer Screen Film Fest and several satellite performances and shows.
A word of warning: Attending Mardi Gras is an expensive affair; particularly if you are South African and have to spend seven Rand for every Australian Dollar. If you plan to attend lead-up events such as the Pool Party and Harbour Party as well as the actual Mardi Gras party and also one or two ‘recovery parties’ your bill could be as high as A$450 before drinks, transport and party favours – that’s R 3,300 before you actually arrive!
Even some Sydney-siders expressed dismay at the high ticket prices – particularly the main Mardi Gras party at A$150 – with students saying it was out of their reach. Despite this, the official party still sold out. And that meant that I too was ticketless.
Then word spread that a remaining final allocation of tickets would be released on the day prior to the party. These would be limited to one per person from outlets only. From the early hours of Friday 29 February hundreds of gay men and woman queued for hours outside Ticketek outlets waiting in the hope of laying their hands on one of the precious tickets.
I joined one of the queues at the city’s largest Ticketek outlet. Pushing-in was not tolerated, and the mood was tense. In the end only the first 30 or so people in the queue managed to get tickets – leaving over 200 in our group, including yours truly, disappointed.
Rumors were rife of tickets being sold on E-bay for A$500 or even as high as A$1000! In the end I purchased one for A$200 from a ticket scalper outside the party venue’s entrance. If you ever plan to attend the official Mardi Gras party, remember to book your tickets long in advance.
Thankfully, the parade itself was free and open to all.
The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade is a super-glamorous evening spectacle. And it’s long; stand and watch from the sidelines and a full two and a half hours will elapse between the time you see the lead Dykes on Bikes zoom by until the final end procession of parade volunteers.
The parade route starts at Hyde Park, proceeds up gay Oxford Street and turns right at Taylor Square into Flinders and down to the party venue at Fox Studio’s Moore Park. Many of the 150 floats were large and visually stunning; often boasting over 100 participants each.
Hosting a float at Mardi Gras is serious business and critical attention is paid to costume and choreography. Trucks with impressive sound and lighting rigs are hired. Often the choreographed routines are lavish production numbers that require the marchers to attend grueling rehearsals run by militant lesbians! They even place the choreography on YouTube so that the participants can practice at home.
The parade was enhanced by half-hourly fireworks along the route. Leading the parade was Margaret Cho (the American comedian, fashion designer and actress) as well as Craig Lee and Shane Brennan, a couple who survived a gay bashing late last year.
Nuns in rainbow-coloured habits, AussieBum swimsuit clad surf-lifesavers and Out-of-control Britneys were among the reported 10 000 participants that made up the parade which, in turn, was watched by approximately 350 000 spectators.
But, once the parade is over, it’s time for the real partying to begin.
The Mardi Gras party was huge. Over 18 000 revellers were spread over nine venues in the Fox Studios’ Moore Park grounds. The Horden Pavilion and The Royal Hall of Industries made up the main dance halls, while the other venues offered something for everyone.
The Royal Hall of Industries was a heaving mass of topless masculinity. I joined them wearing nothing but shoes and tiny hot-shorts – a practical outfit all things considered. A fantastic set by DJ Hex Hector was punctuated by several short stage acts.
At 2 am it was a mass ensemble drag act with more than 40 drags on stage. At 4 am iconic Aussie chanteuse Olivia Newton-John burst onto stage to sing her camp classic Xanadu: For a short four minutes the hordes of butch mainly middle-aged men dissolved into a captivated throng of girlishly adoring fans.
Olivia was dressed in a glittering red and silver sequenced outfit, looking remarkably unchanged from her ‘80s music videos, and she was flanked by dancers and drags on roller-skates – all very nostalgic disco!
The performance was polished, but Olivia’s microphone seemed a little soft and I struggled to hear her voice. She was also lost on some of the younger partygoers. Who was this older woman? Some joked that Kylie was sick so her mother went on instead! Ouch!
The party closed with a powerful surprise appearance by Cyndi Lauper. Dressed in an over-the-top period-inspired outfit (think Marie Antoinette meets Priscilla Queen of the Desert) she belted out two songs: first her new single Same Old Fucking Story and then her hit Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, before cream pie-ing herself and struggling off the stage assisted by her dancers. To my mind a classic end to an incredible event.
But not everyone agreed. Some claimed that the party was a little basic; the organisers choosing rather to turn a profit than make a splash. Yes, more lasers could have been included in the lighting rig and indeed a glitter storm would have added some sparkle as the party peaked. But was the party good without these added luxuries? Absolutely!
On leaving the party with a beautiful Italian man at around eight in the morning, I returned to the coat check to reclaim my jeans and T-shirt, now badly needed due to the increasing chill factor. To my horror I was presented with a soaking wet bundle of clothes and a pitiful apology. Apparently many of the checked clothes had been left outside during the early morning monsoon-style downpour.
Just before exiting the gates, wearing nothing but my pointless hot pants, I was stopped by a lesbian. “Where do you think you’re going dressed like that?” she exclaimed in a deliciously thick Australian accent, “You’ll catch your death of cold!”
I presented my wet clothes to her like a courtroom exhibit. “No worries!” she said, unbuttoning her blouse, “Here take this. It’ll give me an excuse to walk around in my bra!” And with that she gave me her dry cotton blouse (a lovely blue lesbian-style check). I could not thank her enough as she bounded off; her pendulous br