Tributes flow for Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras 78er Ron Austin

ron austin 78er sydney gay and lesbian mardi gras
Photo: Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras

Ron Austin, one of the pioneering Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras 78ers, has passed away in Sydney at age 90.

Austin was among the marchers in the first Mardi Gras parade along Sydney’s Oxford Street in 1978. That group is now known as “The 78ers”.

He was an early member of LGBTIQ rights group Campaign Against Moral Persecution (CAMP) and as the first march was being organised it was Austin who said, “Why don’t we have a street party?”

The street party, held on 24th June 1978, was a turning point in LGBTQI activism in Australia. Faced with brutal police violence, participants fought back as one in defiance.

The defiance became a unifying force across the following months, as activists continued to take to the streets in protest against the growing number of arrests.

Austin said of Mardi Gras more recently, “From the very first moment, I saw Mardi Gras as a celebration of happiness, of creativity, and of joyfulness,”

“Mardi Gras is about celebrating who we are.

“Celebrating our history, our survival, the achievements of many great people who are gay and lesbian.”

He marched proudly in every parade for decades, and each year the “Most Fabulous Parade Entry” award is named in his honour.

Fellow 78er Steve Warren said Austin will be “greatly missed” by the group and the LGBTIQ community has “lost a legend.”

“No-one could have predicted where that first 1978 Mardi Gras would take us, but it led to positive change that continues to this day with the much celebrated Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras,” Warren said.

“Ron was very active in the early years of our community. He wasn’t afraid to speak out. Ron will be greatly missed by many 78ers and members of our community.”

Mardi Gras board member Robyn Kennedy said Austin was “brave and committed” and she expects a tribute will be made at next year’s event.

“Ron was a person that lived his politics,” Kennedy said.

“As a strong supporter of feminism, he refused to comply with gender stereotypes. His courage in simply being himself in a time of widespread homophobia provided a role model for others, particularly the young people he worked with.”

Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore paid tribute to Austin as “one of the early heroes” of Sydney’s LGBTIQ community.

“[Ron] recognised the need to involve non-political LGBTI people in the campaign for equality,” Moore tweeted.

“To get the whole community to take part, he didn’t think standard protests would be the way to do it – it needed to be something fun.

“He proposed that the march planned for the day of gay solidarity in 1978 should instead look more like a street party.

“After the first bloody Mardi Gras of the 70s, by 1982, Mardi Gras had evolved into what he had always thought it should be – a celebration of our LGBTI community.”

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