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On a cold winter’s night on 24th June 1978, several hundred gays, lesbians and straight supporters gathered at Taylor Square in Sydney. Led by a truck with a small sound system, the group made their way along Oxford St to Hyde Park, where they planned to read telegrams of support towards the international Gay Solidarity Celebrations.
Unexpectedly harrassed by police officers along the way, despite a permit being issued for the march, the supporters and revellers of Sydney’s first ever Mardi Gras saw the night culminate in the violent arrest of 53 people, many of whom were beaten in police cells.
Following further protests and arrests, in April 1979 legislation was changed so that Sydneysiders no longer required a permit to hold a demonstration. They simply needed to inform the police. Later that year 3,000 people marched peacefully in Sydney’s second Mardi Gras parade.
Forty years later, Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras has developed into a 17-day festival attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the world, and ending with a colourful three-hour parade along Oxford Street in which the police, along with many other establishments, take part in support.
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2018 is not only the 40th anniversary of Sydney’s Mardi Gras Parade, but the first Mardi Gras following the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Australia, so I have a feeling spirits will be high! The theme this year is ’40 Years of Evolution’, and between 16 February and 4 March 2018, a huge range of events will take place in Sydney, from workshops to cabaret nights to pool parties (even Cher is headlining a party!).
Highlighting many human-rights issues alongside those of the LGBTQI community, the Sydney Mardi Gras Parade is much more than the opportunity to wear your best feather boa and douse yourself in glitter. If you’re thinking of attending, here are my favourite pics from last year, along with a few tips to help you enjoy the night.
Finding a Viewing Location
The Mardi Gras Parade runs from 7pm until 11pm on Sat March 3rd 2018, and includes over 200 groups and floats. As you can see, it draws a huge crowd, so it’s best to arrive early to find a spot. I got there about 6pm last year and walked about halfway along Oxford St to find an area with a bit of space. I was still a few rows back, but managed to creep forward as people left throughout the evening.
There are accessible viewing areas for those with disabilities. Click here for a map and further information.
Many people also gather on the balconies of overlooking apartments to watch the parade.
Bring a Milk Crate to Stand On
Lots of people come prepared and bring a stool or milk crate to stand on to get a better view. There are quite a lot of these around and my friend managed to grab a free one after some people left. I’d recommend bringing some water too as it’s a long time to stand in one spot, and you’ll probably be cheering a lot!
Do note that you can’t cross from one side of the road to the other because of the barriers. Some of my friends arrived on the opposite side, and we didn’t get to see each other all night as they couldn’t get across! I’d advise meeting your mates somewhere else beforehand and travelling to the parade together.
The Start of the Mardi Gras Sydney Parade: Dykes on Bikes!
The parade begins in style as the famous Dykes on Bikes rev and beep their way along Oxford Street with their rainbow flags held high. This was my absolute favourite part of the night as the crowd was getting impatient and the roars of the engines and beeping of horns suddenly livened up the atmosphere!
Here come the boys!
40th Anniversary of Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras
Next come the 78’ers, those who took part in the very first Mardi Gras Sydney parade back in 1978.
Sydney Mardi Gras Supporters
Along with fun floats and corporate sponsors, marchers include the police (in blinged-up patrol cars!), the armed forces, Aussie lifeguards and Australian sporting teams to name a few.
Same-Sex Marriage in Australia
While the 2017 parade had a heavy focus on the ‘Say Yes’ campaign, 2018 will be the first Sydney Mardi Gras following the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Australia. I can’t wait to see what this year has in store!
Feathers & Fun
Serious issues aside, the parade at Mardi Gras Sydney is an unforgettable night of music, dancing, feathers and fun with a wonderful atmosphere, and reminded me of a mini version of the Rio Carnivale. So if you’re in Sydney on 3 March this year, put on your most fabulous outfit and show your support to the LGBQTI community at one of Australia’s most notorious events.
For more information on the events and history of Mardi Gras Sydney, visit the official Mardi Gras website. Enjoy!