Firefighters steal show from muscle-bound marchers and drag queens
Large crowds gathered along Oxford Street ahead of the 42nd parade, which was scheduled to begin at 7.30pm with the traditional roar of the Dykes on Bikes revving their motorcycles, followed by the First Nations float.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported last week that hotel bookings were down by 10 per cent as a result of COVID-19 and associated travel bans.
Yet participants did not appear concerned about the virus that has sickened tens of thousands of people around the world and killed more than 2800.
Volunteer firefighters from the NSW Rural Fire Service were among thousands of participants on more than 180 floats waiting to commence the long march up Oxford Street.
The police, paramedics, military and lifesavers were represented among entries from the Liberal, Labor and Greens parties as well as Sydney lord mayor Clover Moore and independent MP Alex Greenwich.
Sam Smith, Dua Lipa and Kesha were among the headline acts scheduled to perform at the after-party following the parade.
Dressed in hot pants and glitter, members of the Sydney Rangers Football Club had their bags searched by police as they waited for the parade to begin.
“They were pretty relaxed about it,” Rob Nice said. “They just had a quick look.”
Nearby, scientists from the CSIRO were preparing their “Biodiversity” float, which Alex Caputo, a biochemist, said was designed to represent biological as well as workplace diversity.
Caputo said marching in the parade was an “ecstatic” experience, adding: “It’s hard to describe the feeling. It’s such a rush. It’s over before you know it.”
But politics is as integral to the parade, which began in 1978 as a protest against discrimination, as the muscle-bound marching boys and extravagantly dressed drag queens.
This year’s Mardi Gras was themed “What Matters!”, which organisers said was designed to evoke the event’s history of protest by drawing attention to issues ranging from climate change to the plight of LGBTQI people in the Asia-Pacific region.
The federal government’s controversial religious freedom bill has also attracted concern among some people who fear it will lead to discrimination against LGBTQI people.
Jane Marsden, who will be marching as part of “A Cock in a Sock in a Shock Jock” float, which is taking aim at radio shock jock Alan Jones, said she believed the bill was an attempt to counter the rights won under marriage equality laws.
“It is designed for conservative right-wing Christians with tools to exclude LGBTI people from healthcare and education,” she said. “That’s why it’s a worry.”
Among the political parties, community organisations and government bureaucracies marching in the parade were participants representing some of the country’s biggest corporations.
Companies such as Qantas, W Hotels, L’Oreal, Woolworths, Vodafone and Carlton & United Breweries, as well as principal sponsor ANZ have entries in the Oxford Street parade.
But Debbie Haski-Leventhal, a professor at Macquarie Business School, said Australia’s largest companies had discovered that supporting LGBTQI rights benefited their businesses.
“There is a record-high number of businesses supporting the Mardi Gras this year, as many corporations now realise that an increasing number of consumers and employees care about purpose, impact, diversity and inclusion,” she said.
Andrew Taylor is a Senior Reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.