The Hero Parade’s Seven Fabulous Outings

Auckland’s popular lesbian and gay Hero Parade debuted along Queen Street in 1994. Around 10,000 spectators enjoyed the mardi gras-style floats and costumes including drag acts, leather men in jockstraps, and a couple writhing suggestively in a large see-through balloon. However, not everyone was happy. Deputy Mayor David Hay was outraged to have bare-breasted women and transvestites in the main street. “It’s not what the silent majority want to see in our city,” he said. Not everyone in the gay and lesbian community was happy with the parade’s sexually explicit content, either. The Gaily Normal group formed to encourage a more inclusive view. Spokesman Neil Stephenson wanted to see more intimacy presented in future. “[The] general public see us as sexual creatures flaunting sex, but really we aren’t. We are just average people and what we do behind closed doors is our business,” he said.

Ref: Julia Durkin. A scene from the final practice for the Marching Boys outside the Hero Workshop at the Auckland Railway Station. 1997. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, 835-21.

Evangelist Julian Batchelor organised a letter-writing campaign and over 200 letters arrived at Auckland City Council protesting the parade’s partial nudity, simulated sex, and a float displaying the words “Fuck Lucy.” As it happens, that phrase did not appear on any floats but “Fuck Safe – Party Hard” did. Hero Trust Chairman Bruce Kilmister said this phrase was appropriate in the context of a parade promoting safe sex. The parade grew out of the NZ AIDS Foundation’s Hero initiative to celebrate lesbian and gay identity, and to raise funds for HIV/AIDS education. On average, two young gay men in this country were being diagnosed with HIV infections each week. 

Mayor Les Mills had agreed to a $5000 waiver of council’s service fee for the 1994 Hero Festival because of the focus on AIDS prevention. After the parade, he said he would not “support the promotion of a homosexual lifestyle as an individual or by the Auckland City Council from city rates.” He proved true to his word. When council staff recommended a $10,000 grant for the second Hero Parade, he refused. Parade advocates pointed out that gays and lesbians had long supported the Mayor’s lifestyle as members of the Victoria Street gym that bore his name - the Les Mills World of Fitness.

Ref: Julia Durkin. A scene from an Auckland City Council meeting about the Hero Parade,
October 1997. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, 835-8

Council also received a petition to ban publications like Hero magazine from Auckland Libraries. The magazine was pulled from shelves while this was considered. City Librarian Barbara Birkbeck said libraries existed for a broader group of patrons than the petitioners - and that libraries would keep the Hero magazine longer than originally planned because the controversy showed its value as a reference resource.

The parade shifted from Queen Street to Ponsonby Road in 1996. Hero project director Scott Johnston said, “Ponsonby and Grey Lynn are where the majority of gay people live, work and party, so we want to bring a sense of gay pride and enjoyment to the area.” A survey of Ponsonby Road businesses found 78% were for the parade, while the local Salvation Army branch opposed to it.

The number of floats grew to more than 60 for the 1997 parade with crowd favourites the Hero Marching Boys, the new Dr Martens Marching Girlz, a truck-sized smoke-breathing dragon and Xena Warrior Princess lookalikes. Drag act Miss K (aka Wayne Otter) won the best float award for a gold chariot drawn by musclemen.

Ref: Pages 14-15 from express magazine, 18 February 1999.

The parade attracted up to 150,000 people and the large crowds presented safety issues. Awnings along the parade path collapsed after people climbed them for a better view. One of the awnings belonged to Milly’s Kitchen and people on top and beneath the awning were injured. A policeman fell through another awning after encouraging spectators to come down, and a policewoman was injured when a truck float caught her in the face. 

Parade organisers requested $15,000 from council to go towards crowd control barriers, more marshalls and toilets for the 1998 parade. Council officers agreed but Mayor Les Mills and Deputy Mayor Mr Hay voted against their recommendation. Councillor Bruce Hucker challenged that decision, as did about 50 Hero Parade supporters who took over a council meeting to argue their case. They claimed the Mayor was part of a Christian caucus on council that was discriminating against Auckland’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities. Up to 70,000 gays and lesbians lived in Auckland according to Gay newspaper Man to Man’s publishers – about 7% of the city’s population at that time. Auckland Central MP Judith Tizard said council was going against the spirit of the Human Rights Act. “The job of government, both central and local, is to provide services to all citizens who make up the community, not to pick and choose according to personal prejudices.”

Ref: Hero Festival programme, 1999. Ephemera Collection. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections.

The Mayor used his casting vote to quash the second attempt for the $15,000 grant; and Metro magazine contributed this amount to the parade. The Mills-led council then gave an extra $15,500 to the Santa Parade - on top of the $70,000 it had already given. In response, Miss K (aka Wayne Otter) revamped her gold chariot float and it led the 50th Santa Parade adorned with a sign advertising its triumph at the lesbian and gay Hero Parade.

Sexual discrimination complaints against council resulted in the Human Rights Commission interviewing those who had voted against funding for the Hero Parade. The Commission warned that councillors with strong views about homosexuality should reconsider whether it was appropriate for them to be involved in decisions on applications from such groups.

Prime Minister Jenny Shipley cut the ribbon to start the sixth parade in 1999. “If we could all celebrate our sexuality with as much confidence as the gay community we would be a much healthier community,” she said. express magazine columnist David Herkt wrote, “We got to see the whole range of Pacific Rim cultures that make up modern New Zealand’s queer communities. There were fa’afafine and fakaleite. There were huge traditional Thai costumes. There were Māori. There were queer parents with kids in strollers and Quakers with pink-dyed toi-toi spears.” 1999’s Hero – billed as the acceptable parade - was a little too acceptable in his opinion. “The punters aren’t there to watch the Farmer’s Santa Parade, after all. They want a bit of queer raunch…”
Ref: Hero Festival programme, 2001. Ephemera Collection. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections.

Although the parade was a huge success, organisers were left in debt and had to cancel the next one in 2000. Council – under Mayor Christine Fletcher - contributed $30,000 to the 2001 parade and draped Aotea Square with pink Hero flags in support of the festival. Parade organisers hoped to raise $100,000 for the Hero Charitable Trust and organisations helping HIV positive people; Herne Bay House, the Burnett Centre, Body Positive, the Quilt Project and Treatment Actions Group.

Ref: Julia Durkin. A Hero Parade float in Crummer Road, Ponsonby, 1999.
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections 835-18

2001 Hero Parade artistic director Warwick Broadhead said the toned-down nature of the previous parade would be replaced. “It’ll be sexy, it’ll be slick and it’ll display our sexuality,” he said. Lyndah E and Maree Sheehan wrote the theme song “Love Who You Are” and drag acts drove Mini’s along the parade route teaching spectators the dance moves. Up to 200,000 people attended the event. However, this was the last Hero Parade. Organisers made a significant loss and were unable to continue. The parade returned twelve years later, in 2013, as part of the Auckland Pride Festival.

Murray Savidan’s photographs of the early parades can be found in his book “Out There: Portraits of the Hero Parade.” Author Witi Ihimaera wrote that these portraits showed “the triumph, beauty and dangerous subversions that are lurking within our blossoming society. [Savidan’s] images… fall between realism and fantasy. Perhaps that’s where all our images of Hero should be positioned.”



Photographs by Murray Savidan and text by Witi Ihimaera. Out There: Portraits of the Hero Parade. Auckland: Savidan Productions, 2000.


Auckland City Harbour News: 6 September 1995, 1 and 15 October 1997, 12 and 21 November 1997 and 28 January 1998

Central Leader: 18 August 2000 and 9 February 2001

express: new zealand’s newspaper of gay expression: 18 January 1996, 18 February 1999, 18 January 2000 and 8 February 2001

Listener: 26 November 1994

Man to man: New Zealand’s Gay Community Newspaper: 15 November 1991, 17 September 1992, 16 September 1993, 3, 17 and 31 March 1994

Metro: June 1994, “Hay fever” by Nicola Legat

Sunday Star Times: 14 February 1999

Author: Leanne, Research Central