• Images courtesy of W Wang, Black Mardi Gras (W Wang, Black Mardi Gras)Source: W Wang, Black Mardi Gras
In 1988, Aboriginal South Sea Islander Malcolm Cole re-enacted the arrival of the First Fleet in a boat of black sailors, pulled by a white man.
Samuel Leighton-Dore

27 Feb 2019 - 3:15 PM  UPDATED 10 Feb 2021 - 9:08 AM

While it has become tradition for the First Nations float to lead the Mardi Gras parade, it wasn't always the case. Back in 1988, when the float was first included, it was delegated a position later in the procession. The float, lead by Aboriginal South Sea Islander Malcolm Cole, was named 'The Aboriginal Boat' and saw Cole and his seamen re-enact the arrival of the First Fleet.

As described by J. Stapleton in the Sydney Morning Herald at the time, the float depicted “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 a white man."

"It is enough trouble being black, let alone gay," Cole told the publication.

"That is why I am determined to put this float in the Mardi Gras."

Quite fittingly, the float won the Special Parade Award for 1988.

For further information on past parade entries visit the Interactive history of First Peoples entries in the Sydney Mardi Gras Parade.

You can watch rare archival footage of the 1988 float below:

Follow the conversation on SBS Australia socials #WeRiseFor #MardiGras2021 and via sbs.com.au/mardigras.

The 2021 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras live Saturday 6 March 6pm AEDT on SBS On Demand or catch the full parade at 7:30pm on SBS and NITV.