Sydney Morning Herald

Monday, September 1, 1997

    Leaping lizards: the giant goanna of peace
Bridging gaps ... the seven-metre goanna created for Moree's reconciliation festival


Goanna on reconciliation float Photo by Nick Moir
For an hour on Saturday the road trains which day and night rumble along the main street of Moree were diverted while the town took a step forward in the name of reconciliation - and tolerance.

 With the help of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras organisers, a town trying to live down the racial tensions of the past put on a parade, the sun-kissed highlight of a week-long cultural festival.

 Balo Street is a long way from Oxford Street - a sequin-and-boa free zone. But that didn't stop Newtown's Sue Reynolds, Jam Dickson and Jade Kemety - artist/youth worker, blacksmith/welder and sculptor respectively, all of whom work for the Mardi Gras - from bonding with the Aboriginal male volunteers.

 Together, they spent six days constructing the parade's lead float, a giant goanna (the local male totem), at the Nindethana workshop.

 Apart from the two floats - the second being a TAFE-produced replica of a Philippine hut - the parade featured veteran and vintage cars, a Welsh choir from Newcastle, six bagpipers, a pair of Chinese dragon dancers, a Japanese couple in traditional costume, a car towing a trailer full of flags, and a clutch of Harley-Davidson riders bringing up the rear.

 But it was the goanna which got 'em in. Preceded by five children holding up ornate letters which spelt the word "solid" (meaning "good" or "strong" in local Murri parlance), the seven-metre-long construction of plywood, steel, chicken wire and hessian was of more than passing interest.

 Made to last, unlike most of the Mardi Gras floats, it's destined for a long life sunning itself in community celebrations throughout the Kamilaroi region. It may even inspire other creatures to be created by the Nindethana workshop's crew, which is more used to mowing lawns, mending fences, building furniture and decorating coffins with Rainbow Serpent motifs.

 Moree Plains Shire Council's manager of community services, Tony Baxter, who persuaded the council to approach the Mardi Gras for assistance, now would like the men to gain further experience and hone their skills with a secondment to the Mardi Gras workshops.

 Sue Reynolds saw the project as an opportunity for exchange, between city and country, black and white, male and female.

 "There has been a push from some of the guys to get the women at Nindethana involved in float construction - so I suppose we're seen as role models," Ms Reynolds said.

 But it's a two-way street, she added. "We have been enticed out of our comfort zones of just working within the gay and lesbian community. We've had a great time actually."

copyright: Sydney Morning Herald