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Sister Olympia de Barkle of the Five Rings

Beware the Aides of March

In a controversial move, that has the blessing of the NSW Government, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are to establish Australia's first legal marching room in Darlinghurst.

The NSW Premier, Bob Carr, played down the significance of the move. "This is not going to be a solution to our Olympic marching band problem," he said.

"If you want a solution to this fiasco you better go to a crossword puzzle. We are only trying to manage the problem in a sane, mature way. People are always going to want to march around beating a drum, we just want to ensure the streets are safe for the Australian community".

Mr Carr also agreed that some of the State's Olympic games laws will have to be overhauled if the trial was to work.

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, no strangers to controversy, had been quietly negotiating for the right to operate a legal marching room in Sydney. After secret deliberation with their most senior advisers, where all the moral and ethical ramifications where discussed, the Sydney Sisters decided to establish the marching gallery.

Now that details of the move are being made public, the movers and shakers of the Sydney establishment are clamouring to be part of the initiative.

The Sisters declined to be interviewed, but put out a strongly worded statement on their position. The Sisters argued their moral obligation to affirm harm-minimisation was appropriate. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence believe they need to show compassion and respect for marching band users.

"These people need to march", said a spokesperson for the Sisters. "No one in Sydney wants so see them on the streets, and the Sisters feel they have a moral and Christian duty to provide sanctuary for marching bands".

"The Sisters have always had a relationship with marching boys, but they do not condone marching band trafficking or the use of illicit marching bands, they believe that there are those marchers who must be given every possible chance to help them recover and rehabilitate".

The Government, as well as some people in SOCOG, see this latest development as a political godsend to get them out of the doggy-do they have stepped into.

"For God's sake, its going to be run by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence --- the nuns no less", said a senior Government insider.

Michael Knight, chief baton-twirler for the Olympics was positively relieved when he announced the deal on national television. "We have to accept these people have rights too, we are just trying to manage the problem in the best possible way," he said, basking in the glory of this widely acclaimed initiative. "This is the ideal marriage of sisters and sport".

The NSW Government is going to have difficulty selling the idea to the public.

The Reverend Fred Nile is planning a candle-lit protest vigil, and threatening to mobilise his rent-a-prayer supporters to blockade any route the marching bands take.

"How much more ABBA music do we have to tolerate?" he asked. "We all know the effect ABBA music has on the young men of Sydney, especially during Mardi Gras, and now we have to put up with it during the Olympics as well".

Opposition leader, Kerry Chikarovski, keen to bang her own little drum, attacked the move. "I am still concerned about the message sent to children that loud, marching bands can be seen as safe in anyway. We should not be condoning this brassy, unacceptable behaviour".

The Police Commissioner bought into the fray too. He appeared to support the opposition by voicing concerns over the criminal element. "This sort of marching gallery is sure to attract the wrong crowd. All sorts of Olympic officials and other criminals are going to be drawn to these rooms like moths to a flame. We do not have the resources to police the bribery and corruption that the Olympic entourage seems to encourage".

The Prime Minister, John Howard, was forced to admit that, while he was not happy with the idea of encouraging foreigners to behave in this manner on Australian soil, it was a state matter and he would not interfere.

Jeff Kennett, was not so reticent. He is keen to set up a legal marching room in Victoria and is interested in the NSW trail.