‘roos and all

Memories made of mardis gras

Sydney, Australia, 1995

As the 747 jumbo jet turned into position at the start of LAX runway 25 R, I giggled when I saw my seatmate Dan Brodzik’s fist clenched, grabbing the armrest as if he were trying to prevent it from getting away. Slowly the ponderous bird began its take-off roll, but she’s not quick getting to the rotate threshold.
To a novice, as Dan was on this occasion (unbeknown to me he had never before been on a Jumbo jet), the time must seem like an eternity; it’s perhaps 45 seconds, but the big bird took almost every inch of runway until, suddenly, she’s airborne. Dan breathed out, audibly.
It was 15 hours to Sydney, and we lost a day crossing the International Dateline. My brother Rodney and his two sons, Kevin and Jono, were at the airport to greet us, and drove us to the gay-oriented Chelsea Guesthouse in Darlinghurst where we had a double room reserved.

On the balcony at the Chelsea Mardis-Gras-Chelsea-hotel3

It was the only street-facing room in the bed-and-breakfast, with a balcony the entire length, two doors leading out to it, and ample space for the two of us. We shared a bathroom in the hallway.
Kevin’s late February, 1995 bar mitzvah was the initial impetus for the trip, but after I discovered it was just a week or so before the legendary Sydney gay Mardi Gras, I persuaded Dan to join me.
It really was wonderful to catch up with the Australian branch of the Swil family; they had been there since 1978, but this was my first visit.
After the bar mitzvah service, the reception was held in a tent in the garden of their West Pymble home, a ranch style, three bedroom to which they had added a master suite. It was adjacent to a national park, which apparently saved it and neighbors from the devastating fires of 1994.

A few days later, my real adventure with Dan began. We picked up our rental car, and left Sydney heading down the coastal route towards Melbourne. Since Dan had never driven on the left side of the road, I had to drive most of the way, except for a stretch of deserted highway between Melbourne and Canberra on the way back.
I was quite proud I didn’t screw up the driving – until we arrived back in Sydney and, at what seemed like a six-way intersection downtown, I turned into a one-way street facing the wrong way. Oops.
Our first night we spent at a beachfront motel in Wollongong, then drove along the coast southwest into Melbourne.
We had reservations at the gay
Laird Hotel, its rooms above the well-known leather bar on the first floor.
It’s on Gipps Street, but this was long before GPS. On the outskirts of town I began noticing the name “Gipps” with increasing frequency. I had no idea then that he was a governor of New South Wales in the early 1800s, but his name seemed to be on far too many thoroughfares: there’s Gipps street, of course, but also Gipps Avenue, Gipps Drive, Gipps Boulevard …. omigosh, were we ever lost.
We stopped at a call box (oh, how quaint) to discover we were a couple of blocks away from our destination.
During our stay we were entertained like royalty by our friend, Des Westhead, whom we met a couple of times at the Satyrs’ Badger Flat motorcycle run in the High Sierras.
When he invited us home to visit his ‘family,’ we had scant advance warning that they lived in a greenhouse at the rear of his property. They were his 6-foot tall marijuana plants, bumping up against the glass ceiling, bursting with buds ready for the plucking. Needless to say, much of our stay in Melbourne is a mere fog now.
Des and another couple we knew also from Badger Flat were members of the Jackeroos (sic), a Melbourne gay motorcycle club, and it was in Melbourne they inducted Dan and me as “honorary” members…. “septic tank yanks,” they called us, affectionately. I also got laid by one of their members.
To this day, their membership patch is securely fastened to – and proudly displayed – on the leather overlay that I wear to all community functions.
Back to Sydney via the fast, inland route, and we tried to check into our reservation at the Marriott Hotel, conveniently located just off Oxford Street, the heart of the gay ghetto.
Alas, they had overbooked and didn’t have a room for us. We were not entirely happy with our consolation prize: a 24th floor room at the five-star Four Seasons Hotel at the Circular Quay. While an upper class, mostly business oriented lodging, it was a long way from the center of our action, in Darlinghurst.
With no choice, we checked in. Dan swore he heard muffled guffaws when we left a few days later for the Mardis Gras parade, him with a naked butt dressed

We march in the Mardis Gras parade 95 Mardi Gras smal

only in a fabulous leather harness and codpiece. No matter; we hosted our friends to a wild party in the room, managing to suitably trash it.
With an advance introduction from our friends in Melbourne, we were feted by members of the local leather/motorcycle club, the South Pacific Motor (sic) Club (I still have and treasure the sweatshirt they gave me, to check the spelling of their name.)
We met them at their clubhouse and got to know some of their members; they also affectionately called us ‘septic tank yanks,’ but treated us like royalty. I found their accent deliciously sexy.
They invited us to march with the club in the parade, and we gladly accepted. Participating was a far more exciting way to experience the affair, we learned, than standing on the sidewalk amongst the half-million spectators watching it go by.
It was raining cats and dogs when we left the hotel by cab on the evening of the parade. It was a summer tropical storm, so it wasn’t cold, just drenching. Many revelers that night stripped to swimsuits or even nothing at all, to let the water just run off. I let my leather protect me.
The evening dark made this gay parade like no other I’ve ever experienced, before or since. A wild party atmosphere pervaded the entire city, especially intense among both participants and spectators on the route. Many floats played loud party music, and we danced gaily down the street surrounded by the hot men of the SPMC, blowing kisses to the hooting and hollering crowd as we passed by.
The end of the route found us just outside the
Sydney Showgrounds, an exposition park with several large halls.
There were at least three separate venues for the all-night party that ensued, the largest of which must have accommodated more than 10,000 for a glittering live show by Kylie Minogue and Boy George.
We danced the night away as if there were no tomorrow; it at least equaled or exceeded any party I had ever been to stateside. And, it kept going, the next day and into the evening.
We wandered aimlessly around Oxford Street bars waiting for the drugs to wear off, as did hundreds of others. We finally made up the sleep on the fight home, when we arrived in L.A. technically before we left Sydney, thanks to the magic of the International Dateline.

For pictures of the people and places mentioned in this story check out the Gallery of Mardis Gras in Sydney.