Before the parade passes by
ADULT: Barry Lowe reflects on the Mardi Gras parades of yesteryear, during his time as editor for the now-defunct gay rag, Campaign.
In 1978, I was either overseas or madly planning that first ever trip off shore with my boyfriend of six years. It was a first for both of us, the longevity of the relationship and the trip. We were headed to the bright lights of New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Las Vegas. So we missed a pivotal moment in Sydney’s gay history.
We’d been participants in many of the lesser moments together or solo: the demonstration outside the Department of Education in Bridge Street, outside the church in sedate, leafy Mosman, on the steps of the Town Hall when The Skull turned up with a suspicious package that turned out to be a tub of Vaseline, not a bomb.
I joined later Mardi Gras parades when they began at the Showground and marched to the Town Hall, scaring parents into covering their children’s eyes as we marched past. Would their kids turn to stone if they saw us? Or just ask awkward questions?
When the route was reversed and began in Elizabeth Street, floats lining up outside the Art Gallery while men changed into their outfits, casual nudity ignored, I was working at Campaign, the gay newspaper, taking shots of the marchers and floats as I ran alongside. In those days it was all very casual, ending with fireworks, in more ways than one, at the Showground.
The fireworks, of course, were on a much more modest scale than those on New Year’s Eve, but they felt more personal somehow.
The other fireworks were those between boyfriends who were arguing vociferously because, even before the party had begun, the lure of all that semi-naked flesh, the hedonism, the availability (at least for the moment), the instant gratification of all sorts of appetites, exposed cracks in some less secure relationships. I comforted many a young man who’d been brought to tears by the realisation that love was not necessarily exclusive or the fact their boyfriend was as fickle as the stock exchange.
I usually managed to fall in love several hundred times as I photographed the happy participants of the parade: only a fetishist would want a photo of a gorgeous twink throwing up in the gutter. At the party, it wasn’t the looks so much that survived hours of dancing mixed with booze and party drugs, it was the gym-toned bodies. It seems most men can forgive ugly or plain, even plain ugly, if it’s perched atop abs, pecs and biceps of steel.
Among the floats parked temporarily outside the Showground, it was easy to find a dark spot with some of the marchers, and I spent many a happy hour down on my knees helping prepare a partygoer or dozen with their problem erections. I usually got a pat on the head and a mouthful of gratitude for my troubles.
As the parade became more commercial, necessary safety restrictions were brought in. Happy amateurs such as myself no longer had access to the parade. I was content to stand on the sidelines as the raucous rainbow-bedazzled melee passed by. Finally, my attendance was curtailed the year I was treated for cancer, undergoing debilitating chemotherapy. I was simply too ill.
Perhaps the parade and the party are for the young and the young at heart, although I may go next year if the rumored safe dance space for those with arthritis and gout is given the thumbs up!
[Images] The Mardi Gras Parade in the 1980s as captured by Barry Lowe.