Bear Essentials Festival

(7.40pm, Royal Automotive Club of Australia)

Hello, Bears - and all of the Bears' friends and admirers!

This celebration of all things "Bear" is now firmly established on Sydney's GLBTI calendar. Helping to launch your Festival is for me a highlight of February in Sydney.

This year's Bear Essentials theme, Fifty Shades of Bear, also reminds us that there are more than fifty shades of gay. Since you were established in 1995, Sydney Harbour Bears has challenged the perceptions and stereotypes of gay men. Not all gay men are smooth gym bunnies. There are also gay men who delight in being burly and hairy. And you celebrate this diversity.

Bear Essentials also helps display Sydney as a welcoming city. Your Festival is now internationally recognised and attracts visitors from interstate and overseas. And you welcome them into the Harbour Bears family.

And your Festival program certainly provides many opportunities for people to get to know each other, make new friends, and perhaps more. I note that one of your key events is Wet Fur, your pool party at Cook and Phillip Park. I also encourage you to try out our fabulous new pool at Prince Alfred Park. And don't worry - our pool filters can cope with a little extra fur.

And explore the rest of our city. If you just happen to be in Oxford Street you should look in on creative spaces shopfronts. They're great places to shop for gifts, or a unique memento of your visit. And take a walk up to the Paddington Reservoir Gardens. They're reminiscent of the Baths of Carraculla, which of course would have been popular with the Bears of ancient Rome.

I'm sure there's much about Sydney you will enjoy.

I wish you every success with the rest of Bear Essentials.

Happy Mardi Gras!