Inside a secret facility, in a lonely corner of Sydney, something magical is taking place for this weekend's festival. But a Mardi Gras staple has almost disappeared.

It may be less than 10 kms from the colour and bustle of Sydney's Oxford Street but it feels a lot further away than that.

On a nondescript business park, near a muddy hole that will one day become a motorway junction and beneath sodden skies growling with the din of planes, there's is a commotion.

Behind a metal shutter a clanging and clattering can be heard as a Bunnings-worth of materials — from polystyrene to pool noodles — is slowly being turned into something far more fabulous: huge floats for Saturday's Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade.

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Nondescript from the outside, full of fabulous on the inside. Photo / Benedict Brook
Nondescript from the outside, full of fabulous on the inside. Photo / Benedict Brook

Welcome to the Mardi Gras floats and props workshop — a secret facility of fabulousness.

With some 12,500 participants and 250,000 spectators lining the route, the parade has become one of Sydney's biggest events pumping an estimated $40 million into the state's economy.

Amid, the feverish activity in the workshop, Mardi Gras' creative director Greg Clarke explained to news.com.au what made the perfect flout.

"Something that has height because there's people 10 deep watching the parade and it has to be an incredible idea that's unique and no one has seen before.

"It's got to sparkle, it's got to be spectacular and grab attention."

The organisation used to have a permanent workshop, in the inner west suburb of Petersham, until the insatiable demand for new apartments saw it demolished. Now the workshop bounces around various large empty Sydney sheds.

But they have to be large, there's a lot to pack in. Big enough for, say, a replica of an aeroplane, mythical gods, giant headphones and a sparkly rainbow reaching to the roof.

GLITTER

Around 25 people spend six weeks in the workshop building the floats from scratch. When Mardi Gras is done, they'll go back to their day jobs as carpenters, welders or set designers for theatre and TV.

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Coming back year after year, they build only a tiny fraction of the 200 plus Mardi Gras floats. The space is reserved for the sponsor floats, around 10 for the likes of Qantas, Fat Yak, Facebook and Woolworths, and three huge builds for Mardi Gras itself.

Sydney's Mardi Gras are phasing out glitter. Photo / Benedict Brook
Sydney's Mardi Gras are phasing out glitter. Photo / Benedict Brook

However, this year something key is missing — or at least in short supply: glitter.

Previously a Mardi Gras must have for any float, it's gradually being ditched on environmental grounds as it's non-recyclable and invariably ends up down the sewers and into Sydney's waterways.

"We are phasing glitter out and in the three official Mardi Gras floats there is absolutely none."

But Mr Clarke says Mardi Gras will cope without its staple material:

"It's a night time parade so one float is entirely made up of lights, another of incredible sparkly material we can use for many years after and another is all fluoro paint.

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"We're looking at different materials that are spectacular and stunning and everyone will look and say wow."

YOGA MATS AND HULA SKIRTS

The bigger floats go on a journey through the workshop, from fantasy to reality. On one wall are concept drawings, in another space they are constructed.

Some trundle off to spray painted. At a far end of the workshop, polystyrene letters daubed with glue are dipped in deep tubs full of purple sparkles.

Props from Mardi Gras' past including effigies of Bob Katter (left) and Fred Nile (right). Photo / Benedict Brook
Props from Mardi Gras' past including effigies of Bob Katter (left) and Fred Nile (right). Photo / Benedict Brook

Two of the crew are laboriously sticking plastic champagne glasses to a huge multi-tiered fountain which, on the night, a drag queen will pop out of surrounded by bubbles.

"I reckon we'll have to stick 2000 glasses on there, but my colleague here reckons it'll be closer to three," says a staff member.

In another corner sit notable Mardi Gras props of the past including large effigies of Fred Nile, Bob Katter and Pauline Hanson — politicians whose views have sometimes not exactly been in step with most of the LGBTI community.

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Unexpected materials are cleverly used in the floats to make them not just stand out but also move with ease given much of the parade route is an uphill slog.

Almost complete - the fat yak taking shape. Photo / Benedict Brook
Almost complete - the fat yak taking shape. Photo / Benedict Brook

"Some of the things you will see look quite solid and heavy but they are light because it's a long way people are carrying it," said Mr Clarke.

A huge multi coloured yak puppet hides a skin made from yoga mats while its multi-coloured hair is actually plastic hula dresses you might find at a two dollar shop.

BLOW EVERYONE'S MIND

This year's Mardi Gras theme is "fearless" which Mr Clarke has said he's working into many of the official floats.

"Last year's 40th anniversary was about looking back at all those incredible people who made Mardi Gras; this year it's about looking forward, about being strong and courageous and standing up for who you are."

We're all in the glitter at Mardi Gras time. Photo / Benedict Brook
We're all in the glitter at Mardi Gras time. Photo / Benedict Brook

Mardi Gras has teamed with three LGBTI community organisations for its main floats, he said.

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"Trans Pride Australia are making a float called gender galaxy, that's going to be incredible; Selamat Datang, an Indonesian marching group, have a beautiful float looking at a country where LGBTI people don't have the same rights we have and there is a float where we have worked with Twenty10, a group that works with young people between 15 and 25."

But Mr Clarke insisted you didn't need a mega budget and A 20 feet high float to have an impact on the night.

"Sometimes a float is just one person in an incredible costume that everyone remembers. It's not about the cost; it's about the amazing ideas."

A float begins to take shape. Photo / Benedict Brook
A float begins to take shape. Photo / Benedict Brook

After six weeks of sawing, spraying and glue gunning, what does Mr Clarke hope the reaction to his creations will be on the night?

"I want it to blow everyone's minds. I want the audience to applaud and just go wow, that's incredible," he said.

"But I also want them to take in what the floats are about. That's what makes Mardi Gras important — it's a platform to highlight who people are and what they want to achieve."

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