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Last weekend was the annual Sydney Mardi Gras Gay and Lesbian Street Parade, which for several years now has been held on the first Saturday in March. The parade is the culmination of a gay and lesbian festival, and combines political protest with a celebration of gay cultures and lifestyles, then ends with one enormous shindig that proves nobody can party like Sydney.

Recently-out Magda Szubanski was in attendance, looking pleased and slightly nervous, and the guest of honour at the post-parade Mardi Gras Party was pop diva Kylie Minogue, who last appeared at Mardi Gras fourteen years ago. Kylie waived her $16 000 appearance fee and performed for free.

Kylie began her career as a child actor, failed to join the Young Talent Time cast, as her sister Dannii did, then shot to fame playing teenage mechanic Charlene Edna Mitchell on soap opera Neighbours. Her wedding to Scott Robinson, played by Jason Donovan, attracted 20 million viewers in the UK. This was enough to take her to Britain to begin her career as a pop singer.

At first she was treated scornfully by the critics, and disdainfully labelled “the singing budgie” for being small and chirpy. However, she has become one of the British pop industry’s great survivors – constantly re-inventing her image to become a sex symbol, and from early on appreciatively embraced by the gay community as one of their icons.

She has overcome breast cancer, and at the age of 43, is regarded as Britain’s most powerful celebrity, and been named one of the 100 Hottest Women of All Time. She currently lives in London’s once fashionable Chelsea.

According to baby name books, the name Kylie means “boomerang” in an Aboriginal language, and if you are prepared to dig a little deeper, we are told that the word kylie comes from the Nyungar language from south-west Western Australia, and there are place names ending with -kylee to indicate that (for example, that a river is shaped like a boomerang).

However, a rival theory is that kylie refers not to a boomerang, but to the hunting stick, which isn’t curved and doesn’t come back, being used to bring down prey. I have certainly seen these hunting sticks being identified as kylies in texts over a century old, so this idea is hardly a new one.

Unfortunately for both these theories, when I consulted a Nyungar dictionary, the word kylie isn’t in it. A boomerang is called a kirli (KEER-lee), and a throwing stick is called a dowak. It would seem that kylie was a non-Indigenous slight corruption of the word kirli, which is very similar to the word for boomerang in the Walpiri language of Central Australia – karli.

I’m not sure how settlers confused dowak for kylie though; perhaps they misunderstood what the Aborigines were telling them, or lacked the cultural context to see that a boomerang and a throwing stick were two different tools.

It’s easier to understand why Australians of British descent latched onto it as a personal name in the 1950s and ’60s. It fit in so well with the trend for similar-sounding names of Irish origin, such as Kerry and Kelly that were also growing in popularity – a trend that is still going strong, as names such as Keeley, Keira, Kirra and Kirrily attest. Kylie just had that familiar “Australian sound”. It also seems to have increased the popularity of the male name Kyle.

The name Kylie first hit the charts in the 1950s, was Top 100 by the 1960s when Kylie Minogue was born, and peaked in the 1970s as the #2 name of that decade. By the 1990s it had left the Top 100, and in the last year or two has left the charts altogether.

The plummeting popularity of the name Kylie in the 1990s must surely owe something to comedienne Mary-Anne Fahey’s iconic character Kylie Mole from The Comedy Company sketch show. This befreckled, hoydenish schoolgirl, stuck in the permanent bad mood of adolescence, not only popularised the word bogan, but her second-best friend Rebecca appeared with her on the show, played by Kylie Minogue. Although she struck a chord with us youngsters, she gave the name Kylie a certain image that parents probably didn’t wish to bestow upon their daughters.