At this year’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade, a group of twenty activists from the Department of Homo Affairs (DOHA) located an unauthorised float – that of the Liberal Party – and moved in to turn it back.
Not only was the Liberals float found to be unauthorised in its participation in the 42nd annual parade, but its members are behind a planned celebration of the invasion of this continent, which involves a replica ship docked at Sydney’s Maritime Museum.
The Department of Homo Affairs is standing in solidarity with First Nations people around the continent, demanding a stop to a replica of Captain Cook’s ship the Endeavour. It’s about to circumnavigate the country, re-enacting a voyage that never took place.
“The Liberal Party is celebrating invasion. At Mardi Gras, they are invading our celebration,” reads a Department of Homo Affairs communique issued on Saturday. “Unauthorised entries can, must and will be resisted”.
Mardi Gras’ radical roots
In pushing back the Liberal Party float, the DOHA officers were conjuring some of the original radical sentiment that the famed 78ers had invoked all those years ago.
However, in a scene reminiscent of the 1978 parade, NSW police officers took it upon themselves to move in and arrest three of the DOHA officers engaged in the parade control operation.
And while there was an attempt to erase the successful DOHA operation by blocking it from the live coverage of the event, social media platforms lit up with messages congratulating the demonstrators, as the Liberal participation had been much contested from the start.
Sydney Criminal Lawyers spoke with arrestee DOHA officer Caesar Central about what compelled the group to undertake its patrol of the Mardi Gras parade, why the Endeavour re-enactment should be ditched, and how the Morrison government has a complete disconnect from the people.
Firstly, at Saturday night’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade, the Department of Homo Affairs carried out a surprise action. It commandeered part of the parade route – right in front of the Liberals’ float.
So, DOHA officer Caesar Central, for those who didn’t catch your department’s action, what actually happened?
The Department of Homo Affairs were able to intercept the unauthorised entry of the Liberal Party float at Mardi Gras and turn it back down Oxford Street.
We were able to draw attention to their invasion of our celebration, as well as their wish to celebrate the invasion of this land through the Encounters tour of the replica Endeavour.
We thought, if the Liberals have made a replica boat, we’ll make a replica float. So, we did that. We made a replica Liberal Party float led by Scumo and Captain Cook dragging a replica Endeavour.
This replica Liberal Party float was able to get in front of the actual Liberal Party float. And it was able to jam some of their messaging.
Their signage went from saying, “The Liberal Party Team: Supporting the LGBTIQ Community” to a more accurate depiction of the Liberals, which was “The Liberal Party Team: Celebrating Invasion”.
It was as much about their participation in Mardi Gras, as it was about their celebration of 250 years of colonisation.
How did the Department of Homo Affairs infiltrate the Mardi Gras parade?
The DOHA officers at the event were holding a banner reading, “Turn Back the Float: Wreck Their Endeavour”.
This is in reference to the #Resist250 campaign, which is against the Encounters 2020 re-enactment of the Captain Cook voyage to Australia. Why are you protesting this event?
We are responding to the callout from the Gweagal-Bidjigal Sovereign Tribal Elders Council to join them in resistance of this racist colonial celebration.
We are a radical queer collective that focuses on Australia’s border policies and manifestations of white nationalism.
So, we hear that call and we want to conduct actions to amplify the callout, so that more people can join.
Three DOHA officers were arrested by NSW police. How would you describe the reaction of police on the night?
In 1978, the police violently arrested queers at the first Mardi Gras parade. Now, Mardi Gras is inviting police to regulate its parade?
The parade was highly policed. And our peaceful satirical protest was interrupted by them.
Obviously, this is just another way that the state regulates counternarratives via arrest. Policing affects marginalised people disproportionally and obviously, the people most harmed are the Aboriginal community.
It was good for us to be able to take the heat of getting the message out there this time.
Would you say that it was warranted to stop your protest and arrest DOHA officers?
And were you expecting to be arrested?
No, we weren’t.
Now, this isn’t the first time the Department of Homo Affairs has made a statement at Mardi Gras. You also took action at the 2018 parade. What was that all about?
At the 2018 parade, the Department of Homo Affairs appeared, with a banner stating, “Turn Back the Float: Justice for Refugees.”
That was about the hypocrisy of the Liberal Party’s participation in Mardi Gras, riding on the back of gay marriage coming through at the 40th anniversary of Mardi Gras.
We wanted to drawback on the radical roots of Mardi Gras as a site of protest. And we wanted to say, “Stand in solidarity with people seeking refuge and asylum in this country.”
And lastly, DOHA officer Caesar Central, Saturday night’s action was aimed at the Liberal Party’s float, which many would have preferred hadn’t been featured in the parade.
You were protesting the implications of the Endeavour re-enactment and you also referenced the ongoing offshore detention regime.
Right now, there are further concerns around government inaction on climate, and the government’s rights eroding Religious Discrimination Bill, which is about to go before parliament.
How would you describe the way the Morrison government is governing this country, as well as the way it’s addressing the real concerns of the people?
The Morrison government is being completely unsurprising, and true to its values in its care for corporate and capital interests. And it has complete disengagement from the calls of the people.
It has an inability to see that the nation’s way through the climate crisis is through First Nations leadership.
And the colonial project of the replica Endeavour is a hyperbolic representation of that white supremacist colonial mentality.
Credit for photos: Claire Conroy
Arrest photo: Alex Davies
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Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.