The QNews Guide to Mardi Gras in Sydney: The Parade

The hot Aussie summer sun is about to rise on yet another year of the Southern Hemisphere’s largest LGBTQIA+ festival, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

An event that defines so many moments in Australia. The fight and defiance of the Sydney 78ers, the tireless efforts of queer and trans activists and campaigners. And the freedom and safety to live as our authentic selves.

It is also three weeks of non-stop events, parties, singing, dancing, drag, performances, live music, activities, and adventures. Oh, and there’s also a BIG parade too!

Mardi Gras is such a size queen that there is almost too much to fit in! It’s a good thing you have the QNews 2024 Mardi Gras Festival Guide here to help smooth out your entry into the Festival. To help you have an iconic time!

Grab your best Judies and your favourite beverages and plan out your Sydney Mardi Gras with QNews. (your other best Judy).

For those unfamiliar with Sydney. We have also gone to the liberty of suggesting our favourite spots to Eat + Drink + Shop + Be GAY. There is even a generous sprinkling of Free Events and family-friendly All Ages events for every colour of our gorgeous rainbow family.

Scores of events, thousands of people, and millions of specks of body glitter; the 2024 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is the first year of a new era – let’s celebrate our past, and rejoice in our future.

2023 marked a significant moment in LGBTQIA+ and Sydney Mardi Gras History; the 45th anniversary of the first Mardi Gras and the 78ers, as well as Sydney playing host to World Pride.

These mark the start of a bold new era for our LGBTQIA+.We must reflect on those who have brought us to where we are today and also look forward.

Where It All Began

It was a chilly winter’s night in Sydney on June 24, 1978, when a group of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists took to the streets to protest LGBT discrimination in Australia.

Little did they know they would soon be marching from the gay bars and right into the Queerstory books to be immortalised as The 78ers. This group of courageous queers unintentionally formed what would become one of the world’s most famous LGBTQIA+ celebrations, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

As 11pm approached, this throng of queer pioneers walked, skipped and danced their way towards Sydney’s Hyde Park, chanting, “Out of the bars and into the streets!” All to the sounds of gay liberation anthems blasting from a small sound system fitted to the back of a single flat-bed truck driven by 78er Lance Gowland.

Police began rushing the parade goers, confiscating the truck and sound system, in an attempt to break up the protest. Seeing that Hyde Park was blocked, the parade continued towards Kings Cross, which is where the police saw their opportunity to violently move in and arrested 53 attendees, taking them to the Darlinghurst lockup.

Who Are The 78ers?

“You could hear them in Darlinghurst police station being beaten up and crying out from pain. The night had gone from nerve-wracking to exhilarating to traumatic all in the space of a few hours. The police attack made us more determined to run Mardi Gras the next year,” recalls Ken Davis.

The following morning, the Sydney Morning Herald sank to new editorial lows. By publishing a complete list of names and occupations of those arrested. This outed many and caused some to lose their jobs, accommodation and family relationships.

This was the authorities’ attempt to keep the queer community in line, but as we all know, we never stay down.

Little did the police and media know that this night of protest and brutality would thrust Australia’s own Gay Liberation Movement into the public spotlight, where we could no longer be ignored.

It was here, through pain, pride and protest, that the first Sydney Mardi Gras was born. This is a defining moment not only in LGBTQIA+ history but also in the cultural heritage of Australia.

The 78ers included Garry Wotherspoon, Kate Rowe, Peter Murphy, Julie McCrossin, Peter de Waal, Peter “Bon” Bonsall-Boone, Robyn Plaister, Robyn Kennedy, Ron Austin, Diane Minnis, Lance Day, Lance Gowland and many others who are still active in the community today.

The Parade in 2024

The shining jewel in the crown of Mardi Gras is, of course, the iconic Mardi Gras Parade, a celebratory expansion of the protest that started everything, which has become one of the most famous LGBTQIA+ parades in the world.

Before the parade begins, at 6.45pm a traditional Smoking Ceremony is performed by our First Nations elders to cleanse the route.

At 7.30pm, the parade then kicks off with a bang (literally!) as the rev of engines and firing of motorcycle cylinders roar over the eager crowd.

The beloved Dykes on Bikes take their place at the beginning of the parade, prepared to lead the way as they always do.

Following directly behind the Dykes on Bikes are the esteemed 78ers and the First Nations float.

Who Are the Dykes on Bikes?

In 1987, Kimberly O’Sullivan and her partner Sue Perry attended the San Francisco Gay Pride Day and were moved by the sight of a thousand Dykes on Bikes riding.

Inspired by their telling of that event, Deb Thompson and her friends went to all the lesbian venues in Sydney and left pamphlets on any motorbikes parked outside. Deb and Sue were starting a club to ride in the 1998 Mardi Gras Parade.

Eight bikes rode that year, and the next year, there were a few more, and then a few more – and then around 250 bikes hit the parade route for the 10th anniversary in 1998.

The Dykes on Bikes lead the parade for two reasons: One, logistically, motorbikes don’t travel well behind floats and people marching. The second is for safety.

The somewhat assertive sight of tough, leather-clad dykes is possibly the best possible way to clear the path of any potential agitators so that our fabulous parade can march on in safety. Also, let’s face it. The loud noise from the bikes is the perfect way to wake everyone up and get them pumped for the march ahead!

The 46th Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade is on Saturday, March 2, 2024.
Oxford Street, Flinders Street and Anzac Parade 6 pm – 11 pm | Free

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Mitch Broom

QNews, Brisbane Gay, App, Gay App, LGBTI, LGBTI News, Gay Australia

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