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Friends of Dorothy salute great and powerful Oz in parade

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  • Friends of Dorothy salute great and powerful Oz in parade

    N A suburban backyard in Sydney's west, there is plenty of commotion. Above the buzz of electric drills and clatter of timber, a call for more gold fabric. The Wizard of Aus-themed float for Saturday night's Mardi Gras parade is chewing through metres of the stuff, with ''artistic director'' Glen Draper at its helm. But a vision is taking shape - Oz re-imagined as Sydney's skyline, topped with slinky Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion, and Dorothy in a minuscule blue skirt.

    When the parade kicks off at 7.45pm, the float will join 114 others, and 10,000 revellers, swaying like a peacock's tail feather from Hyde Park, along Oxford Street to Moore Park Road, while up to 125,000 people are expected to watch.

    It has been 35 years since Sydney's Mardi Gras parade was born of protest, a crowd having formed in Sydney's central business district to mark the 10th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.

    Branded one of the ''78ers'' - the pioneers of gay liberation in Australia - an 18-year-old Mr Draper marched alongside his then-partner and other friends calling for acceptance.

    Far from the vibrant festivities of this year's procession, the atmosphere in 1978 was heavy with menace and the unknown.

    ''It was spontaneous, there was apprehension in the air, a fear something might happen to us, and of course it did to many,'' Mr Draper said, recalling those who were arrested.

    The theme for this year is ''Generations of Love'', honouring a milestone that has seen ''veterans'' such as Mr Draper joined by new generations of marchers. For the first time, openly gay personnel from the Australian Defence Force will march in full uniform.

    Professional groups such as the health organisation ACON, City of Sydney and Bobby Goldsmith Foundation will also be represented. The singer Delta Goodrem will headline Saturday's Mardigrasland party. Joining her is last year's Eurovision winner, the Swedish singer Loreen, and a list of high profile DJs to keep the beat until the sun comes up.

    ''Nowadays, there is so much more acceptance, we're allowed to celebrate,'' Mr Draper said. ''For me, the parade has evolved into a family affair - my nieces join me in the march and my brother drives the truck,'' he said. ''It's a joyous day. The message is 'we're here, we survived and we're proud'.''
    A ruling by Roads and Maritime Services that the colours of gay pride be removed from the Oxford Street pedestrian crossing at the end of the month is being challenged by the lord mayor, Clover Moore, and the Member for Sydney, Alex Greenwich.

    Campaigners have an online petition aimed at making it a permanent tourist attraction.

    Either way, rising numbers of onlookers and participants annually ensure the love keeps flowing. Catching a glimpse of a sequinned derriere will mean having to attend the parade: the event is not being televised this year.