Sun, Mar 07, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Sydney welcomes back a rejuvenated Mardi Gras parade

DPA , SYDNEY

A shower of rain won't put a damper on Sydney's back-out-of-the-closet annual gay and lesbian Mardi Gras parade.

Neither will it scupper an attempt at a world record for the most people in one place dancing to the Village People's disco classic "YMCA," chief organizer Michael Woodhouse said yesterday.

It's the 26th anniversary edition of the world's favorite out-and-proud protest march, following two lean years in which terrorism fears and global recession thinned the ranks of both participants and spectators.

Woodhouse said this year's full-strength parade reflected a revival in the fortunes of the month-long Mardi Gras festival and a reprise in its attractiveness to overseas visitors.

"We've got more than 130 floats featuring more than 6,000 participants," he said. "These people have travelled to Sydney from all over Australia and we're going to show them that Sydney knows how to do a parade -- a little bit of water won't dampen our spirits."

He promised traditional favorites like the hard-bodied Melbourne Marching Boys in their skimpy swimming costumes and the Dykes on Bikes at the pointy end of the parade on their high-powered motorcycles.

The procession will be led by Monica Hingston and her lesbian partner, also a former nun. Hingston is protesting the refusal of her cousin, Cardinal George Pell, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, to bless her decades-long same-sex union.

Reflecting better times is the appointment of a creative director for the parade and a sell-out for the traditionally riotous post-parade party.

Takings from the all-night bash at Fox Studios will clear debts that have hobbled organizers for the past two years.

"Making that last payment will mean that we'll be in a situation where we don't have those extra one-off costs and liabilities," Woodhouse said. "It means that we can start experimenting and changing and taking new risks."

Organizers are hoping that 350,000 people will ignore weather forecasts of heavy rain to cheer on the marchers.

Newly appointed parade creative director Anthony Babicci appealed for a return to a sequin-festooned recent past where revellers vied with each other to have the most outrageous float and the most over-the-top costumes.

"We want people to go all out, be extravagant like the old days," Babicci said. "I don't want just banners and jeans."

Tipped to take top honors in the parade is a tribute to Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin, who shocked his millions of fans earlier this year by feeding a snapping crocodile with his month-old son tucked under his arm.

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