And so another year of Australia’s largest gay and lesbian cultural festival comes to a close. Here, SX reader Jonathan Turner offers his reflection on the 2011 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras experience
According to ‘Say Something’, Kabi's [of Ethel Yarwood Enterprises] clever sloganeering concept that made up this year's Mardi Gras, "the prize for conformity is making everyone happy, except for yourself", and, "in the future, everyone will be famous for 15Mb". John Lennon once said that the Beatles were more famous than Jesus, and he got into a heap of trouble for that. Well, with the closure of the 34rd Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival, we are now officially older than Jesus, since we are reliably told that he died when he was only 33.
Another wonderful Mardi Gras season has come and gone like the promenade of an exuberant, noisy mate in shoes two sizes too small. Listen: every year certain people whinge and complain – usually the same snide people who contribute nothing but spite. But as with each Mardi Gras, there are incredible highlights – some expected, many entirely random.
So in a bid to even up the score and for no real reason at all, here are some of my favourite bits from the 2011 Mardi Gras.
At Fair Day, there was a genial bloke wandering around dressed up as a base-camp Captain Bligh, while two self-proclaimed straight flatmates kissed each other smack on the lips for photographer John McRae. Tellingly, they froze in the pose for quite some time, well, in any case for a lot longer than was entirely necessary. Joyce Maynge was perfectly manic in her ramshackle show – Tattered Tights to Bright Lights – at The Supper Club in the Oxford Hotel (it included prize-winning Mayngey meat trays, ‘From The Paddock to the Plate’). Lily Tomlin's daffy humour and observational comedy was all the more clever because it steered clear of punch-lines, and William Yang mixed performance with photography and unabashed personal history on both the stage of the Belvoir Street Theatre and on the walls of Stills Gallery. Then there were Lucas Grogan's tongue-in-cheek bark paintings, showing naughty scenes mythologizing drunken Saturday nights at the gay clubs, exhibited in the new Iain Dawson Gallery in Paddington. And with those boats bobbing right behind the deejay booth, no-one can ever knock the view at the Harbour ’11 With 100% Added Daywash, especially the guy in full Native American costume, unsuccessfully doing a rain-dance up on the rocks at sunset.
We viewed the Parade from our annual Memorial Fruit Stand, a platform nailed together on Flinders Street with the help of my handy mate Lachlan (and this year featuring a disco ball and a cordon-rope from Bunnings manned by two black "security" guards). With guests visiting from Italy, Bali, Berlin, Trinidad, Jordan, Chicago, Nigeria, Amsterdam, Laos and even Redfern, we threw streamers at our marching friends and saw the Muslims Against Homophobia dancing to Bosphorus pop music with their neighbouring participants in the Jewish GLBT group, Dayenu’s float, an example of inspirational integration if ever there was one. (Last week, a halal butcher working at The Golden Horn in Marrickville surreally wished me a happy Mardi Gras, when I drove over to his shop to buy goat chops for a barbecue).
The thing that made me happiest, though, was one of those brilliantly unscripted, unbeatable Mardi Gras moments. After the all-night party dancing to Yinon Yahel, Kate Monroe and the crew, we were sitting with early morning coffees, wearing sunglasses on Oxford Street. We watched as the post-party buses dropped off the last of the dishevelled revellers from the Entertainment Quarter. From nowhere, this snazzy girl with two cute smiling blokes on a happy planet all of their own making, meandered up to the bus stop. As each passenger got out, one of the guys greeted them by saying: "Hi – we think Oxford Street is a bit whiffy this morning". In the true spirit of Mardi Gras, and of their own volition, they'd first gone to the chemist and then taken it upon themselves to improve the odour of Darlinghurst. In a dizzy voice, Ms Snazzy then said, "I'm Miss N.R.G. – the New Rexona Girl", and offered a generous spray of underarm deodorant to all willing participants. Everyone obediently held up their arms to expose their armpits and grinned. Pffftt and scream! Pure spontaneous aerosol genius. The new smell of success.
Rome-based writer Jonathan Turner is a veteran of many Mardi Gras seasons, having curated several exhibitions as part of the Mardi Gras Festival at some of Sydney’s most important galleries. He also worked as guest-editor for the Mardi Gras issues of Blue, produced the 1995 Mardi Gras poster and won a prize in 2001 for his controversial, anti-bullying St Trinian's Woodwork Class float. In 2009, Turner organised Matthew Mitcham’s Chief-of-Parade float in the Mardi Gras Parade, as well as an exhibition by 15 international artists based on images of the Olympic gold medal-winning diver.