Qantas 747 Jumbo Float

 

Qantas 747 jumbo float

The Qantas 747 Jumbo Float of Gayviation from the 1997 Mardi Gras parade

There were many creative entries in the recent 2016 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade in Sydney. One that caught my eye was the Qantas #gay380 float which brought back memories from almost 20 years ago when the original idea of a Qantas 747 Jumbo float was first realized by the Qantas social group, Gayviation.

Gayviation’s 1997 entry (one of 200 that year!) was the forerunner of the later large marching entries in the parade with almost two hundred people doing an airline safety demonstration dance routine to the music of Paul Capsis singing “I still call Australia home”. The entry won “Best of Parade” at the 1997 Mardi Gras Awards Night.

This was a time before the ubiquity of digital cameras and social media so the only record of the time was predominately on film and VHS video. I went through my old negatives and scanned the photos taken in preparation for the 1997 parade and share them here with a brief narrative on the lead up to the parade. Click on any photo for the full size version.

The concept

Qantas 747 Jumbo front truck

The front truck of the Qantas 747 Jumbo was christened COCKATOO DREAMIMG.

Gayviation’s concept was very simple. Tony Baker, their president, told me they wanted a Qantas 747 Jumbo float consisting of a front truck, being the nose and cockpit of the aircraft, and a rear truck being the tail. It was to go up Oxford Street with a large marching troupe between the two floats, representing the passengers, doing an airline safety demonstration dance routine to a dance track produced by Tiger Recording with Paul Capsis singing “I still call Australia home”. There were to be generators on both trucks to power lighting for the marchers and a complex sound system.

Because of the length of the entry the marchers at the rear couldn’t hear the music from the front truck so a radio link was planned to feed the music from the front truck to the rear truck so those at the back could hear and stay in time with the music of the routine.

The Design

I set about designing a metal framework with the shape of a 747 fuselage that completely enclosed a tabletop truck. I was Head of Props at Opera Australia at the time and was allowed to use the workshop facilities in Surry Hills to build the float. It was built in five sections that bolted together to form the shape of the fuselage. All the metal frameworks and wooden fuselage side panels were built at the Opera workshop and fitted to the truck. Once this was completed everything was transferred to the Mardi Gras workshop in Erskineville.

Mardi Gras workshop 1997

Main cabin frame covered and painted in the Mardi Gras workshop

Full Mardi Gras workshop 1997

Top cabin section hanging from the Mardi Gras workshop roof

At the Mardi Gras workshop the steel frames were covered with chicken wire and then glued over with newspaper. Once it had dried it was painted white and had the signage applied. The tail section was built at the Mardi Gras workshop and consisted of a large inverted “V” shape made of plywood which would conceal the generator and sound system. The logo on the tail of the flying kangaroo in a stiletto heel was the brainchild of one of the flight attendants at the time. The rest of the tail truck was masked with black fabric to highlight the tail fin.

Parade Day

On the morning of parade day the front and rear trucks were assembled for the first time in the petrol station outside the Mardi Gras workshop and then driven to Jands lighting in Alexandria to have the lighting and sound systems installed. The installation of all the lights took a particularly long time which became quite stressful as the afternoon wore on.

Sound and lighting installation

Fitting lighting and sound systems to the front and rear trucks at Jands warehouse

Front truck Mardi Gras 97 stressing

My anxiety levels were beginning to show as time was running out to get to the parade start

The removable front nose cone was covered in an open mesh material so that the driver of the truck could see out when it was fitted to the front of the fuselage frame. The side passenger windows were also aligned so that those next to the truck cabin could be used to see out to the side.

Qanta 747 "Cockatoo Dreaming" leaving the warehouse

COCKATOO DREAMING being driven out of its “hanger” for the first time was an exciting moment for all.

Eventually all the lighting rigs and sound systems were finally connected up and tested. Qantas 747 Jumbo “Cockatoo Dreaming” was ready to see the light of day.

It was an exciting and memorable moment for everyone to see it being driven out of the warehouse at Jands Lighting for the first time.

The picture below is the only time that the front and rear trucks were set front to back to show how the complete Qantas 747 Jumbo float looked before being driven to the parade marshaling area in the city.

Qantas 747 Jumbo complete float

The front and rear trucks of “Cockatoo Dreaming” ready to go to the parade.

traveling to the parade

The two trucks on the way to the parade

Qantas 747 float in Redfern

Qantas 747 Jumbo Float passing through Redfern.

As is generally the case, the best laid plans of mice and men go oft awry. After the Sun had set we discovered it was difficult for the driver to see through the nose cone section so a segment of material had to be cut out to give a clear view. The radio link with the rear truck also failed on the night so the marchers at the rear had to rely on visual cues to keep in time with the front marchers during the safety demonstration routine.

Good luck kiss

Tony Baker and myself wishing “Cockatoo Dreaming” good luck just before the parade start.

Mardi Gras 1997 parade official video poster

Qantas 747 Jumbo featured on the Mardi Gras 1997 Parade Video promotional poster

The parade was a blur of colour and sound and a terrific time was had by all. All the effort was worth the once in a lifetime experience of taking a Qantas 747 Jumbo up Oxford Street. The video below shows the parade entry on the night. Great memory 🙂

Postscript

Buggery's Creek International Airport railway station - 1998 Mardi Gras parade

Buggery’s Creek International Airport railway station – 1998 Mardi Gras parade

The following year Gayviation did another parade entry. The Qantas 747 Jumbo float from the previous year was ressurected with new livery and I built another float consisting of an illuminated rainbow coloured control tower which led the entry up Oxford Street.

The float represented Buggery’s Creek International airport railway station and along with the illuminated model of the Sydney airport control tower featured a classic Sydney Rail railway platform built over the truck cabin. The power generator was concealed by several bushes behind the cabin. Two large power line towers, typical of Western Sydney, completed the picture and supported the lighting.

At the time there was hot debate about a new airport at Badgery’s Creek with a new rail link which is *still* going on as I write this post. I hope they end up putting in a fast rail link as it is “out to buggery” – an Australian colloquialism for a very long way away. Another one, “go to buggery”, is an impolite way to tell someone to “get lost” or “go away”.

Below is a video of the Control Tower and 747 Jumbo in the 1998 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras parade.

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