Sydney Morning Herald

Saturday, February 27 1988


It's the black and white Mardi Gras

For the first time, an Aboriginal float will feature in Sydney's Gay Mardi Gras parade.


Photo of Malcolm Cole by Liz Dobbie
A woman shouted above the hubbub of the excited crowd at Sydney's Gay Mardi Gras Parade last year: "Oh, there's an Aboriginal! I didn't know there were gay Aboriginals."
This year there won't be any such doubts. For the first time in the Mardi Gras's ten-year history, there is an Aboriginal float.
It will be hard to miss the tall, striking figure of dancer Malcolm Cole dressed as Captain Cook with a black Sir Joseph Banks and two black sailors beside him in a boat pulled by white men.
What Captain Cook may have thought about being mimicked by an Aboriginal in a parade with a blue elephant, a condom over its trunk and the message that elephants never forget about safe sex is anybody's guess.
But the Aboriginal involvement in this year's Mardi Gras marks a significant step for the small and amorphous Aboriginal gay community. There are many community groups taking part in the 1988 Mardi Gras but the Aboriginal group is a good example of the social and individual gains that participants see arising from their involvement.
"It is enough trouble being black, let alone gay. That is why I am determined to put this float in the Mardi Gras," says Malcolm Cole.
He sees his very public statement of gayness as important in providing a role model to others who may follow him. For growing up black and gay means battling against two of our society's strongest prejudices.
Gay Aborigines have had to battle prejudice from within their own community, which traditionally does not recognise homosexuality as a lifestyle as well as fight for acceptance form the largely middle-class gay culture.
Many of them can relate to experiences of being refused entrance to gay clubs, ostensibly for being drunk, though no more so than their white companions.
Malcolm Cole, now 38, was 19 when he left his hometown of Ayr, near Townsville.
He came to sydney with $400 saved working in the local sugar mill. He never went back. Because of what he sees as the town's bigotry and stifling conservatism he advises and young man growing up gay in Ayr to do the same.
For Cole, as for so many other gay men and women, coming to Sydney was the liberating experience which forged him into the person he is today.
"When I left Ayr I was terribly frustrated. I hit the Cross and thought 'Wow, I'm free!'"
The Mardi Gras evolution into its present status as the biggest and best carnival event in Australia has been a turbulent one and reflects the rapid growth of an identifiable gay community and broader social tolerance of homosexuality.

copyright: Sydney Morning Herald


What was in our float?