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The History of Sydney's Mardi Gras

The History of Sydney's Mardi Gras

The world's biggest LGBTQI+ festival

Celebrating 46 years this February 2024

In what began as a protest march to call for an end to discrimination against gays and lesbians is now renown as one of the best and biggest LGBTQI+ pride festivals in the world. Read how it all began below. 


History of Sydney's Mardi Gras Festival

1978 | The First March

“I think 1978 was Australia’s time to stand up and say, ‘no more – we’re not going to be treated this way anymore'. At a certain point people get tired of being pushed to the brinks and pushed to the edge and treated less equally than everyone else around them.”
-  Michele Bauer, CEO of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. 
The marchers – today affectionately known as the 78’ers – danced, skipped and walked behind a truck with a small sound system, playing gay liberation anthems such as Meg Christian’s “Ode to a Gym Teacher” and Tom Robinson’s “Glad to be Gay”.


Arrests made during the first Sydney Mardi Gras march. Photo: Fairfax Media
Arrests made during the first Sydney Mardi Gras march. Photo: Fairfax Media

Police arrested 53 of the marchers

“It was basically all finished and about to be dispersed, then we realised police were surrounding us from both ends – that’s when it all turned nasty,” 

Steve Warren, an original 78’er

Despite having a permit for the march, 53 people were arrested. Most charges eventually were dropped, however The Sydney Morning Herald published the names, occupations and addresses of those arrested in full, outing many and causing some to lose their jobs and livelihoods.


History of Sydney's Mardi Gras Festival 4 

1979 

Following the arrests, a series of protests made the New South Wales parliament repeal the original legislation in April of 1979 that allowed the arrests to happen in the first place.  People can now assemble on the streets of Sydney without a permit, they simply need to notify the police. 

Incident Free March

1979 then saw the first incident-free Mardi Gras in Sydney with about 3,000 people in attendance. 

 

History of Sydney's Mardi Gras Festival

 

1981

The Sydney Mardi Gras was moved to summer for better weather which in turn saw even more people attend the festival. 

 

1993

Half a million people attend the Sydney Mardi Gras getting interstate and international attention. 

 

2002

Post the September-11 terrorist attack that rocked the world, the Sydney Mardi Gras went into receivership as tourism dropped and prices spiked.

However community organisations joined to fund New Mardi Gras and continue tradition – with over a 100 different arts events, a 70,000-person daytime picnic called Fair Day, the Parade Post-Parade Party. 

 

2006

Conde Nast named it as one of the world’s top ten costume parades in the world, Planetout named it as the best gay event in the world.

 

2016 

NSW Government, Fairfax Media and Police apologised to 78’ers.

 

History of Sydney's Mardi Gras Festival

 

Today

Sydney Mardi Gras has evolved into a 17 day extravaganza around the city, with its crowning jewel being the Mardi Gras Parade and Post Party. 

History of Sydney's Mardi Gras Festival

Post Parade Party

The post parade party is one of the largest ongoing party events in the country, having been attended and performed over the years by countless local and international artists. 

Spot your favourite names below from over the years: 

Sam Backo, Marcia Hines, Tina Arena, John Paul Young, Boy George, Trudi Valentine, Thelma Houston, Chaka Khan, Village People, Jimmy Somerville, Kylie Minogue, Dannii Minogue, Marcia Hines, Erin Hamilton, Jimmy Barnes, Vanessa Amorosi, Sheena Easton, Christine Anu, Human Nature, Bardot, Deborah Cox, Lorna Luft, Suzanne Palmer, Joan Rivers, Brandon Gaukel, Tina Arena, Nicki French, Darren Hayes, Courtney Act, Baby Marcelo, Jimmy Somerville, Mary Kiani, Xenza, Young Divas, Boy George, Dannii Minogue, Log Log Binks, Cyndi Lauper, Walter Hanna, Olivia Newton-John, Alison Jiear, Tina Arena, Miami Horror, George Michael, Kelly Rowland, Adam Lambert, Amanda Lepore, Wynter Gordon, Calvin Harris, Alexis Jordan, Frankie Knuckles, Larry Tee, Bob Downe, Kylie Minogue, RuPaul, Sneaky Sound System, Shauna Jensen, Sam Sparro, Loreen, Delta Goodrem, Heather Small, The Presets, Jake Shears, Tina Arena, Courtney Act, Samantha Jade, Marcia Hines, Nathan Mahon, Adam George, Dannii Minogue, Nick Jonas, Jessica Mauboy, Jake Shears, Betty Who, Rufus Wainwright, Courtney Act, Conchita Wurst, Deborah Cox, Courtney Act, Client Liaison, The Veronicas, Steve Grand, Nat Conway, Greg Gould, Cher, Starley, Seann Miley Moore, Kim Petras, Jake Shears, Leiomy Maldonado, PNAU, Courtney Act, Paul Capsis, Dua Lipa, Kesha, Pabllo Vittar, Sam Smith, Rita Ora, Darren Hayes, Vanessa Amorosi, Sugababes, Agnes

 History of Sydney's Mardi Gras Festival attending 2024

Planning your trip for this year
or next? 

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