EDGE’s Insider Guide to Sydney’s Gay Mardi Gras!
It’s hard to pinpoint just why Sydney’s Mardi Gras has become the world’s best-known and most-loved Pride celebration. It could be the weather, late Australian summer is hard to beat! It could be the Aussie boys and girls, toned and tanned by a life on the beach. Or it could be the stunning city itself, whose Harbour Bridge and Opera House are global icons. Whatever the reason, the buzz surrounding the month-long festival kicks up a palpable excitement all around Australia... that’s right there’s something in the air, and this time, that something is Mardi Gras fever.
I’ve been to three different Mardi Gras celebrations (you can read about my scandalous initiation in a past article), and after the most recent ’Gras, I decided it was time to share my experiences and provide some helpful tips on how to get the most out of the glitz, the glam and the grandeur of Sydney in March. After all, it’s never too early to start planning for 2010!
To fully appreciate Mardi Gras today, you have to understand how the whole thing started.
Back in 1978, gay life in Sydney was not the free-spirited anything goes world that it is today. Much like New York’s Stonewall stand in 1969, Sydney was a powder keg waiting to go off. Homosexuality was still a crime; political rights were still a distant hope; and police discrimination and brutality were common.
Nevertheless, despite the oppression, gays and lesbians were increasingly coming out of the closet, meeting up in bars and clubs, and organizing themselves in protest against the discrimination they faced, particularly at the hands of the police.
One night, a small group planned to take a truck and music to go down Oxford Street in protest. Having had the opportunity at the 30th celebration last year to speak to some of the original ’78ers, I can confidently say none of them could have predicted just what would happen next. The small protest, which had obtained a permit but then had it revoked, faced police hostility. The protestors called people out from the bars and cafes and the march enlarged to a group of hundreds, with a number of gay organizers being arrested. Those arrests sparked something in the community and Mardi Gras was born as a way to commemorate that protest and ensure the fight for equal rights did not fade away.
Over the years, the political and social climate has become more welcoming to the gay community, granting first legal protection and then greater legal equality. The police who were once the cause for protest now march in the parade and provide crowd control. Amid those changes, the tone of the parade has evolved as well into the mixed bag of celebration, entertainment, sexual expression, and, true to its roots, political protest that it is today. The parade, now part of a month-long festival of arts, culture and parties, incorporates 135 larger-than-life floats and attracts crowds of more than 300,000 to gay Australia’s main drag (pardon the pun) - Oxford Street.
This year’s official Mardi Gras festival ran from February 14-March 7 (I say official because there are a plethora of events post-Mardi Gras not officially sponsored by the organization, but part of the experience nonetheless). That means three full weeks of foreplay before the main event, and plenty of reason to take an extended holiday Down Under.
Those planning to get in on the pre-climax action should consider taking out a New Mardi Gras membership to receive special promotions and ticket discounts.
Flight of Fancy
Having made the flight a good dozen times, I can tell you it’s a long-haul from America to Australia. Which is all the more reason to consider booking a Pink Flight with Air New Zealand.
In 2008, Air New Zealand went high glam and higher altitudes on a Pink Flight from San Francisco to Sydney. D-lister extraordinaire Kathy Griffin and some of the finest drag acts from the Southern Hemisphere entertained passengers. Add to that gay movies and pink cocktails, and well, as Pink! herself would say, "let’s get the party started!"
In 2009, Air New Zealand changed the Pink Flight format and instead of a long-haul option from San Francisco, they opened a shorter Pink Flight from Auckland to Sydney allowing for a free stopover in New Zealand. While there is no word yet as to what 2010 will hold, be sure to visit www.airnewzealand.com (including their dedicated Gay and Lesbian Travel section) for fun flight options.
A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
This year, for the first time ever, EDGE was front and center on Oxford Street, Sydney, as the Mardi Gras Parade and Party rolled into town. A gay pride celebration without rival, we captured it in all its glory in our photo album.
Up Next - more festival foreplay, plus the parade, the party and the recovery!