Mardi Gras―Sydney’s Living Cultural Heritage
Gay Solidarity Group supporters march from Circular Quay to Hyde Park to protest the Briggs Initiative, which would effectively ban gay and lesbian teachers in the US state of California.
4 November 1978
From the collection of the State Library of New South Wales
The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival is underway and will culminate with the annual Parade and Party this Saturday 2 March. GML Heritage would like to acknowledge and pay tribute to this foremost cultural event that creates great excitement and joy in Sydney.
It is now a night of celebration, but wasn’t always. When several hundred people peacefully gathered in Taylor Square, Darlinghurst, and followed a truck down Oxford Street on 24 June 1978 to demonstrate their support for New York’s Stonewall movement, police violently broke up the protest, arresting and assaulting some participants. The response by police, government and the media transformed the event into one of national cultural heritage significance, shining the spotlight on injustice, discrimination and gay rights. It was clear there was an urgent need for law reform.
The following year, the event was held again, and at least 3000 people attended. In 1981 it started to be marked in February and was officially called the ‘Sydney Gay Mardi Gras’ for the first time. In 1988 the parade was renamed the ‘Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras’. In that same year the iconic ‘Dykes on Bikes’, who now open the parade, first rode down Oxford Street. The Mardi Gras has grown steadily in popularity—evolving and expanding each year, but always raising awareness for social justice issues. Despite this, the 78ers, founders of the Mardi Gras, had to wait until 2016 for a formal apology from the NSW Government.
On Saturday night, locals and visitors in their thousands will flock to Sydney’s Oxford Street to celebrate LGBTQI Pride, diversity and inclusion. We can’t wait. It’s exhilarating, colourful and visually dazzling.
The event marks a major milestone in the development of Australia’s history of LGBTQI rights and activism and is part of our living cultural heritage. We think it’s time to consider nominating the Mardi Gras Parade route to the State Heritage Register as an item of cultural heritage significance to the people of NSW.