Friday, March 19, 2010

The Night I was King of the Sydney Gay Mardis Gras

There was a night, many years ago, when I was King of the Sydney Gay Mardi Gras, not that anybody voted for me, I just inadvertently barged in and took my place, possibly to the ire of the elite who had taken-over to ride the growing shlemozzle that had grown out of this gay protest/festival. It was about 1991 and I'd just finished my rock opera film, "Virgin Beasts" and wanted to somehow publicize it. When I went to the Gay press like the Sydney Star Observer with my flyers they turned up their noses, "an ugly broken-arsed queer anarchist, great, get out of here!", those days in Sydney things were vicious.

I was hanging around the Gunnery Squat in Woolloomoolloo, their punk alternative, chaos driven art-space and theatre attracted me like a cuckoo to a crows' nest, I participated in their shows and was with them the day the cops came, axed in the barricades and threw the squatters out. For a few years they had booked their Squat as an entrant in the parade as a kind of queer anarchist artists' float, they had a huge workspace in their covered drive-way where they parked a beat-up truck they'd hired, glitzing it up with tinsel, loading the back with abandoned drunks, driving furiously into the city and jumping on the end of the line at the 11th hour, usually being the last ragtag item in the endless line of entrants hopefully connected with "Friends of Queerdom."

Many of the Gunnery crew had worked on my film with me, making props, painting animation cells, I even shot some of the special effects in their gallery, so they were eager to see the project finished and exhibited. We were lying around the workspace wondering what to do with the truck that year, madmen, anarchists, wannabe artists and revolutionaries, junkies and lotus eaters, all worked up into some restless rebellious ennui. Suddenly Ian the Ice-rose had an epiphany, "Let's do the truck up as "Virgin Beasts" and show-off the movie during the parade!" I'm kind of a shy guy and cringed at the audacity of what would be self-promotion, even tho the film was queer in most aspects, queer writer/director, half the crew and actors were queer, but there were no poofs in the storyline, just loaded with "gay sensibility", maybe I wouldn't be a proper fit for the parade.

"No way, they'll come down on us like a ton of pricks! Everyone will stare at us!" I moaned. "That's the point, baby. It'll be total fun. We're doing it! Get off your arse!" He was mad and speedy, and too much effort to argue with, I acquiesced, always up for an adventure no matter how spontaneous. On two long sheets of plywood I drew the huge outlines of a whale and of a dragon, painted them in psychedelic colours, then clever dick Ian cut the vivid shapes out of the plywood with a handsaw. We put the whale on one side of the truck and the dragon on the other, and atop the truck's cabin-roof we put the bright cut-out words, "VIRGIN BEASTS". I also had printed up 2000 small flyers raving about the movie, "if you DON'T see one film this year make sure it's Virgin Beasts, a piece of shit, it STINKS! etc etc" and I girded my loins at the imagined fracas to come.

The disparate Gunnery gang piled into the back, wild-eyed Ian driving, we nearly got wrecked against a tree outside the squat, then shot-off thru the skyscrapers to crash the end of the parade's line in Macquarie Street. More of our grunge punk alienist friends showed up and hopped aboard, there were bottles, cans, joints passing back and forward, everyone pissed, stoned and hilariously high before anything had actually happened. Then the parade laboriously snaked forth, grinding onwards like a medieval penitents' procession.

Wendy and Annik, two of the busty girl performance act "Butchered Baby", dressed up like Las Vegas Showgirls and marched in front of the truck, blowing kisses and lifting their skirts. At one stage Annik, the brunette, jumped up onto the bonnet and danced lasciviously upon it but when the truck came to a sudden halt because of the float in front of it, she got shot from her perch like a bullet and splattered upon the road. The crowd thought it was part of the act and screamed their tits off, but poor Annik had to be helped limping into the back of the truck where she got breathlessly stoned with the rest of us.

At the very last second one of the artists from the Gunnery rushed up and attached his latest art-piece to the back of the truck with ropes that looked like entrails, his sculpture getting towed behind us. It was a huge blubbery lump of rubber and foam, pinkish with red and blue blotches, all of it on wheels that he was able to sit inside of and steer, it looked like an alien monster infiltrating humanity and hitching a free ride on the tail of the queer procession. Or it might have been an aborted foetus being dragged along by its umbilical cord, the crowds' frenzied screaming hushed into stunned silence when they espied it creaking out of the night as the final eye-sore, the parade's afterbirth.

We trundled forth down Elizabeth and around into Oxford Street, the crowds getting thicker and more raucous with every yard travelled, searchlights piercing the heavens, a wall of flashlights exploding our eyeballs, a deafening roar of ebulliation, hysteria, surprise and admiration greeting us, catcalls, wolf-whistles and howls for the last crazy freak-mobile. A vast, uncontrollable sea of 200,000 lost souls screamed and cheered for what they didn't quite know but squeal they did, and I felt it was all for me, the great artist. We threw the flyers to the baying mob, eagerly clutched and read, people reading over shoulders, 2000 leaflets seemed to cover the whole 200,000 and I figured, if nothing else, Sydney would hear about my film.

At that moment I thought I knew what super-stardom must feel like, all humanity screaming for my attention, for my presence, faces melting, gobs open like black holes, countless hands clawing the air, blinding lights and deafening growl as if some huge beast was about to devour me, I virtually lifted out of my body, it was exilarating in the extreme, I flung my arms wide like Barbara Striesand singing "Don't Rain on My Parade", only I was shouting "Sydney, I'm surfing you!"

We rolled on, more deviants jumped aboard, punks, grunge-bunnies, hookers, junkies, squatters, swilling grog and yahooing, after a long line of freaks we were possibly the freakiest. When we got to Taylor Square where the crowd was thickest and the media waited like vultures, I noticed the spotlights drooped, the TV cameras swivelled away, the reporters' mikes fell from grim mugs, "Virgin Beasts! What the fuck! Beasts hunting for virgins, who are these deadbeats?" (What I was really talking about was the innocence of the animal kingdom/nature and how we humans were fucking it over.)

The party was quickly over for us, eternity squeezed out of a few minutes, glory and notoriety for fifteen nano-seconds dissolved, we cruised into Moore Park and got glum, post-climax mopy faces from the left-over queens roaming the shadows. It didn't take long before paranoia set in, I imagined the poof and dyke elite sitting in plush lounges hissing and spewing over my egregious self-promoting deadbeat truck, "Beasts after virgins, how offensive! Who is that fuckwit?" A cone of silence descended over me and my smashing movie, NOBODY said a word about it in the ensueing months. I certainly got shunned/excluded from all gay happenings hence forth. When I entered my film in the next Mardi Gras Film Fest, I not only got rejected, THEY scratched my one and only print for good measure, like claw-marks down my back, Sydney sure can be a bitchy city.

All this had me ecstatic and drained, brave and fearful. About a year later the Gunnery Squatters got kicked out and went their various, seperate ways. As a side-theatre in the Worldwide War on Drugs, some of the artists went into drugs as a full-on lifestyle, till their brains shrank, too boring for me and so we parted company, including the madman who'd convinced me to go into that Gay Parade, and this left me feeling more of a fool than ever. I have long been the simpleton who gets involved in outlandish events without quite realizing what was going on, and this particular saturnalia made me feel like Quasi Moto, mishapen and idiotic, made 'King For a Day' by the baying mobs then sacrificed on the public pillory. But it was a lot of fun, A LOT OF FUN!

If you enjoyed this story please go to the WEB address above and consider buying my book of tales about growing up anarcho-queer, rock and roll punter and mystic adventurer in Australia and India of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s.