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Sydney's Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras celebrated by 450,000 people

Saturday, March 4, 2006

Nearly half a million people celebrated Sydney's Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras on March 4 2006

Nearly half a million people packed into Sydney's "Golden Mile" on Saturday night to applaud the city's 28th annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade. Parade organisers estimated the crowd at over 450,000. They lined Oxford St - along the parade's route - in Sydney's unofficial gay district, cheering the 6,000 participants and 120 floats.

The Mardi Gras event was the culmination of a month of gay-pride festivities. Many parade participants adopted the theme of the film Brokeback Mountain. The parade was led as usual by the motorcycle group, Dykes on Bikes. Amongst the frivolity and colour, onlookers saw "Kate Moss dancers" snorting 'cocaine', and the gun-wielding - apparently gay-friendly - Dick Cheney. A lampoon of Prime Minister John Howard - a pirate ship carrying "Captain Crook" was also featured.

A Mardi Gras participant, Filipino Fyljoy Volefdico, 25, said: "I think within Australia there is really a lot of culture and it's great when the whole community comes together and celebrates it."

Jay Lynch, who met his partner at the event two years ago, said: "It has become a meeting ground for gays from around the world and as discrimination continues it's important we can connect on this level, and continually redefine what it means to the community."

Chair of the New Mardi Gras board, Marcus Bourget, said the event is about providing a powerful voice for the lesbian and gay community. Describing the parade as "a great Aussie tradition", Bourget said he was proud of the event. "We've run a fairly sophisticated marketing campaign this year, which has led to gradual growth internationally," he said.

Newcastle woman Donna Newella said Mardi Gras had become many things to many people, "It is not just about gays and lesbians," she said. "It's about all different issues that have arisen," she said "freedom of speech, being able to represent one's identity and being able to put a political point across."

The first Mardi Gras took place on June 24, 1978 as a protest against a ban on homosexuality in Australia. It began as an improvised street party following a gay-rights rally. However when a city official interrupted the festivities, things turned ugly. On that night there were 53 arrests and many allegations of police brutality. Homosexuality was later decriminalised in Australia in 1984.

Local businesses realise the economic importance of the event, which is a huge money-spinner, they say. Visitors to Sydney for last year's Mardi Gras contributed an estimated $46 million to the State's economy. Organisers say about 6000 international visitors, the majority from Britain and the USA, attended this year's event.

A float at Sydney's Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras on March 4 2006

"We came all the way from America to see this," Mrs Phyllis Drucker 67, from Los Angeles, said. "We were told it's the best in the world, and we're going to have a ball."

A float entitled "Love Between the Flags" highlighted the need for racial harmony and cultural acceptance following last year's Cronulla riots. Creative director Graham Browning said the theme of the parade, "I believe", aimed to reflect political and social issues. The NSW Police service, with 45 members also marched in the parade.

Mardi Gras parade chief Deborah Cheetham, an internationally renowned soprano, rejected suggestions the parade was passe. "Maybe we're just in that period of transition. It's not tired," said Cheetham, who led the parade with her partner and 14-year-old daughter. "There will always be a need for Mardi Gras."

Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore said the parade was a celebration of Sydney's diversity. "When you're a child the thing that really excites you is either Christmas or the Royal Easter Show and I think as an adult Mardi Gras is the only equivalent," Ms Moore told reporters.

"I didn't want to miss any of this," said 17-year-old Jennifer Mackay from outer Sydney, who arrived with three friends 10 hours before the start.

"It's like Christmas for the gay and lesbian community," said the parade's creative director, Graeme Browning.

Sources