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.”
Very sad news has come through to us today. Mardi Gras 78er Ron Austin passed away this morning.
— Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras (@sydneymardigras) April 13, 2019
We are so sad to learn of the death of our dear friend, Ron Austin. Ron was an early member of CAMP, he had the initial idea for the Sydney Mardi Gras and was later a member of Pride History Group. A true community hero who we will miss greatly. pic.twitter.com/BTdPo6Dfjo
— Pride History Group (@PrideHistory) April 13, 2019
So sad to hear Ron Austin died today. Ron was a gracious man who originally suggested our often violent demonstrations in early Gay Lib should be transformed into a street party. My wife, Melissa and I once shared a car with Ron @sydneymardigras . May he Rest In Peace. ?????? pic.twitter.com/8Eqw2FwLmi
— Julie McCrossin AM (@JulieMcCrossin) April 13, 2019
The activist who had the idea of holding the first Mardi Gras – the protest that Australia’s modern LGBTIQ rights movement and entire community owes so much to – has died.
Vale, Ron Austin. We are so lucky to follow in your footsteps. pic.twitter.com/UY1WYXi10J
— Sally Rugg (@sallyrugg) April 13, 2019
Sad to hear of the death of longtime LGBTIQ+ campaigner and Mardi Gras 78er Ron Austin who died this morning. He was an early member of the Campaign Against Moral Persecution (CAMP) and is credited for coming up with the idea for a Mardi Gras in 1978. Vale Ron Austin #ronaustin pic.twitter.com/a2Vz4Cs8PU
— William Brougham (@WilliamBrougham) April 13, 2019
Fly high Ron Austin. 90 is an incredible innings and fitting of a life well lived. #mardigras #samelove @abcnews_au says: Mr Austin had a major role in the beginnings of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, which took place in 1978.#78ers #ronaustin pic.twitter.com/eb7KcTqtun
— Marcia Hines (@TheMarciaHines) April 14, 2019
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.”