Mardi Gras is one of Australia’s most famous and well-loved events, bringing tens of thousands of visitors to Sydney to join in the celebrations. It all began on a chilly winter's night in 1978, when the police descended on a street festival bravely celebrating gay rights when homosexuality was still illegal.
This timeline reveals over four decades of Mardi Gras passion, protests and pride - with each year’s heroic moments creating Australia's unique life-affirming kaleidoscope of LGBTQIA+ self-expression.
24 June 1978 Protest (1978-06-24) by Campaign magazine, courtesy Australian Lesbian & Gay ArchivesSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
SATURDAY 24 JUNE 1978
Sydney's newly-formed Gay Solidarity Group developed a day of events culminating in the first Mardi Gras street festival. They intended to raise local issues such as decriminalisation of homosexuality, mark the anniversary of the Stonewall uprising in New York, protest the Australian visit of homophobic Festival of Light campaigner Mary Whitehouse, and promote the forthcoming 4th National Homosexual Conference.
1978 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Poster (1978) by Chris JonesSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
The first Mardi Gras march ended in violence, but the police crackdown fired up a community who would no longer be silent.
On Saturday 24 June 1978 at 10pm, several hundred gay and lesbian people and their supporters – some in fancy dress and some simply rugged up against the cold – gathered at Taylor Square and followed a truck with a small music and sound system down Oxford Street to Hyde Park.
"Out of the bars and into the streets!” they yelled. “Stop police attacks on gays, women and blacks!”
As more revellers joined in along the route, the police harassed the lead float. Then when the march stopped in Hyde Park, police confiscated the lead float truck and arrested the driver Lance Gowland.
Angered by this, 1,500 revellers diverted up William Street to Darlinghurst Road in Kings Cross, where the police swooped and violently arrested 53 men and women, many of whom were beaten in cells at Darlinghurst Police Station.
Peter Murphy remembering Sydney's First Mardi Gras (2016-09-07) by William BroughamSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Peter Murphy was 25 when the first Sydney Mardi Gras parade took place on 24 June 1978. He recalls the events of that night and how he was one of 53 people arrested.
Dennis Scott and Eddie Hackenberg in gay rights march (1978-07-15) by Geoff Friend, courtesy Geoff Friend and Australian Lesbian & Gay ArchivesSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Later that week, the Sydney Morning Herald printed the names, occupations and home addresses of those arrested, outing them and leading some to lose their jobs.
But the authorities' attempts to keep Sydney's gay and lesbian citizens in line backfired hugely. Mardi Gras had become a defining moment in the nation's gay rights history. Our people were out of the closets and into the streets.
1979 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Poster (1979) by Sydney University Fine Arts WorkshopSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
1979 | POWER IN THE DARKNESS
For its second year, Mardi Gras expanded from a one-night march to a full-week festival which included a Gay Alternative Fair Day in Hyde Park, a collection of film screenings and the beginning of a great tradition – the fundraising dance party.
The first Mardi Gras dance party filled Balmain Town Hall at the beginning of the week’s festivities, generating the cash needed to fund the licenses and permits for the parade.
At the time, membership of the Mardi Gras Task Group was open to "any gay man or lesbian who supports the idea of a gay festival in the streets of Sydney either for political reasons or because they think it could be a lot of fun."
Gay Solidarity March (1979-06-20) by Robert FrenchSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
On the morning of 20 June 1979, the Gay Solidarity March set off from the Town Hall on George Street, marking the 10th anniversary of New York's Stonewall riots.
Mardi Gras march with pink triangle banner (1979-06-30) by Robert FrenchSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
1979's Mardi Gras organisers were prepared for another possible police confrontation. Planning included an emergency bail fund for anyone arrested for the still-illegal act of male homosexuality.
3,000 people attended on the night, and despite a large police presence, no one was arrested.
1980 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Poster (1980) by Prue BorthwickSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
1980 | OUTRAGEOUS GAY MARDI GRAS!
Mardi Gras expanded in 1980, introducing Parade marshals and revising the Parade route – gathering at Bathurst Street, going down George Street, left onto Liverpool Street, up past Hyde Park South and onto Oxford Street, finishing at Paddington Town Hall for the post-Parade Party.
It was a bitingly cold evening, so attendees were rugged up rather than glittered up. As a result it was decided the festival would move from winter to summer. Separating itself from the anniversary of Stonewall signalled a broader move away from the activism of the 1970s gay rights movement and towards a more community-based celebration.
Village People float (1980-06-28) by Robert FrenchSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Based on the Village People, this is one of the first-ever large dressed up Mardi Gras floats.
By 1980, disagreements among Parade marchers had emerged - some said the event had become too political, while others believed it was too frivolous.
"What is the goal of Mardi Gras?" the Mardi Gras Task Group asked itself. "Is it a political demonstration to demand Gay Rights, or is it a celebration of COMING OUT, with its only political goals being to demonstrate the size and variety of the gay community and to establish its right to be?"
1981 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Poster (1981) by Sheona White, courtesy Australian Lesbian and Gay ArchivesSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
1981 | WE ARE THE PEOPLE OUR PARENTS WARNED US AGAINST
Mardi Gras decided to move the Parade to summertime, but torrential rain on the original date of Saturday 21 February meant it was rescheduled to 21 March – the first and only time terrible weather has made Mardi Gras postpone its showcase event.
A group of marchers had been confused about the date and gathered in Moore Park a day early. The Sydney Star reported that they were forced to flee when fired upon by a man with a rifle from a nearby balcony!
Mardi Gras Parade (1981-03-21) by William YangSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
The crowd at 1981's Parade neared 5,000, a sizeable increase on the 2,000-3,000 of previous years.
"It started around the barracks in Paddington, wound down Surry Hills near Belmore Park, went up George Street and ended in Hyde Park," photographer William Yang remembers.
The move to a warmer month, along with the creation of an independent and elected organising body, and the efforts to enlist non-activist groups, were landmark changes that shaped the Mardi Gras Parade and Festival as we know it today.
Peter Tully (1981-03-21) by William YangSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Peter Tully at Mardi Gras 1981. Tully was to become a huge influence in the early Mardi Gras with his creative flair building and shaping the visual spectacle of the Parade.
1982 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Poster (1982) by Andrew ShortSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
1982 | ON OUR WAY TO FREEDOM
1982's Mardi Gras theme reflected the ongoing struggle for homosexual law reform. The Parade was a spirited challenge to the New South Wales’ government, after a Bill by Labor MP George Petersen to decriminalise homosexual acts was defeated.
An important victory was won later in the year however, when the Wran government passed an amendment to the Anti-Discrimination Act, making it illegal to discriminate against gays and lesbians.
Gay-owned businesses became more involved in Mardi Gras and organised the first Sydney Showgrounds based post-Parade Party.
Route of Parade Map (1982) by Sydney Star's Mardi Gras Guide, courtesy Australian Lesbian and Gay ArchivesSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Among 1982's Parade participants was Narrandera man Roger McKay, who marched alone with the Aboriginal flag. This is acknowledged as the first time the flag representing Australia's First People appeared in the Parade.
Guidelines if Police action occurs (1982) by Sydney Gay Mardi Gras, courtesy Australian Lesbian and Gay ArchivesSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Shown here, Mardi Gras handed out guidelines to 1982's Parade participants on what to do if they were arrested.
"I still hear people who criticise the Mardi Gras and gay rights organisations for being too vocal and too visible," said Gay Rights Lobby co-convenor and 78er Robert French, who launched the Parade from a truck in Whitlam Square.
"The argument goes that if we do nothing to draw attention to ourselves then straight society will leave as alone. If gays keep to the shadows that they will escape attention and persecution. I believe this argument is tragically wrong, and has proved wrong in the past. Hiding away has never solved anything. Oppression does not just go away. It has to be struggled against and defeated. Oppressors have the be faced up and overthrown.
"So tonight we should process and enjoy ourselves and stand up and tell this city that we are no longer going to be put down. That we are standing up proud to be gay."
The First Sleaze Ball Poster (1982-09-18) by Bill MorleySydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
The success of the Mardi Gras Party led to the establishment of the renowned Sleaze Ball fundraiser. Held at Paddington Town Hall, the event was inspired by the infamous Sleaze Balls held in New York and Berlin.
It was an immediate runaway success – over 500 potential partygoers were turned away at the door when tickets ran out. Sleaze Ball took its place as a major annual fundraising event for Mardi Gras.
1982 was the first year Mardi Gras made a profit: $4,000.
1983 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Poster (1983) by Allan Booth, courtesy Australian Lesbian and Gay ArchivesSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
1983 | NEW GAY DAWNING
1983 was the first year the Sydney City Council placed Mardi Gras flag decorations along the Oxford Street Parade route.
The Parade was launched by out gay Californian politician Harry Britt, who'd been appointed to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors after the assassination of Harvey Milk.
The Australia Council supported the Parade with funding of $6,000, which was used by artist and committee member Peter Tully to establish the Mardi Gras Workshop.
Albury Hotel Parade Float (1983-02-26) by William YangSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
The 1983 Parade included some of the biggest and best floats to date, including giant puppets of ET and Yoda, plus the controversial AngGays float depicting Jesus' mother Mary as a lesbian. Here's the extravagant Albury Hotel float.
Mardi Gras Party ticket (1983-02-19) by Bill Morley, courtesy Australian Lesbian and Gay ArchivesSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Sleaze Poster (1983-10-15) by Bill MorleySydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
The Sleaze Ball of 1983 was the first big one to be held at the Showgrounds.
Sleaze Ball dancefloor (1983-10-15) by William YangSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Photographer William Yang recalls the 1983 Sleaze Ball: "It was a time when gay men were still being arrested; there were police raids on sex-on-premises venues like Club 80. Activists battled for gay law reform but the decriminalisation of homosexual acts was yet to happen.
"So against this backdrop, revellers at the Sleaze Ball let down their hair. One felt part of a subculture under threat and people were definitely having a good time. The Sleaze Ball was sleazier then - there were spaces where you could have sex. This picture was taken in the morning when the crowd had thinned out and the first shafts of light illuminated the dancers."
1984 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Poster (1984) by Allan BoothSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
1984 | WE'LL DANCE IF WE WANT TO!
The Mardi Gras festival now had its own program guide - which included a brief history of Mardi Gras, a map of the Parade route, and a do-it-yourself guide to dressing up!
In May 1984, homosexuality was finally decriminalised in New South Wales. In the months up until that time, the NSW Police had made over 140 arrests for consensual gay sex - an offence which carried a penalty of up to 14 years imprisonment.
But by then the dark shadow of AIDS had fallen over Sydney's gay community. 38-year-old Bobby Goldsmith was a popular figure in the local scene, and his decline and death from AIDS-related illnesses was sudden, sad and shocking. During Goldsmith's bedridden last weeks, the community rallied to buy him a television. The initial fundraiser held at the Midnight Shift was the dawn of what we know today as one of Australia's most significant support organisations for people living with HIV: The Bobby Goldsmith Foundation.
Cold Chisel - Saturday Night (1984-02-25) by Cold ChiselSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Footage from 1984's Parade famously appeared in the music video for the Cold Chisel song ‘Saturday Night’.
"At the time it wasn’t so accepted for straight guys to go there," remembers the video's director Richard Lowenstein.
"It was brave at the time to have the gay Mardi Gras in a video on Countdown. But Cold Chisel lapped it up."
Colourful Mardi Gras (1984-02-25) by William YangSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
"Colour, movement and abstraction from the early Mardi Gras, circa 1984," says photographer William Yang. "The workshop in Boundary Street greatly contributed to the creativity of Mardi Gras in the 80s."
Ron Muncaster Costume (1984-02-23) by Jenny TemplinSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Michael O'Halloran in a colourful Ron Muncaster creation made out of glowsticks, which was the winner of the 1984 Best Costume competition.
Sleaze Ball Poster 1984 (1984-10-06) by Ian BarbourSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
With its two major fundraising events the Mardi Gras Party and Sleaze Ball a raging success, Mardi Gras delivered a record $42,000 surplus in 1984.
1985 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Poster (1985) by Peter TullySydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
1985 | FIGHTING FOR OUR LIVES
Now that homosexuality was finally legalised in New South Wales, Mardi Gras turned up the volume for its 1985 celebrations.
The number of festival events was a huge increase on previous years, with everything from theatre and poetry readings, to a film festival and the Gay Business Association Fair.
But the now three-week Mardi Gras Festival was held against the backdrop of increasingly hysterical media reporting of HIV/AIDS. There were calls for Mardi Gras to be cancelled, with the Reverend Fred Nile suggesting it be replaced by compulsory public lectures about AIDS. Undeterred, the Parade went ahead bigger than ever before, with the theme 'Fighting for our Lives'.
Peter Tully's Rosella Float Design (1985-02) by Peter Tully, courtesy Australian Lesbian and Gay ArchivesSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Parade Creative Director Peter Tully's design sketch for the Rosella Float in 1985.
Rosella Float at Parade (1985-02-23) by William Yang, courtesy Australian Lesbian and Gay ArchivesSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Jack Allen, Peter Tully and Carlos Bonicci with the Rosella float at the 1985 Parade.
"Some people think the Mardi Gras is something to watch - it's not," said Tully. "The pleasure you get from it is commensurate with what you put into it. Or, to put more bluntly - YOU ARE IT! Welcome to Mardi Gras."
Gay Mardi Gras Party Poster 1985 (1985-02-23) by Allan Booth, courtesy Australian Lesbian and Gay ArchivesSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Sleaze Ball Poster 1985 (1985-10-12) by David McDiarmidSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
1985's Sleaze Ball was conducted in truly decadent style, transforming the Hordern Pavilion into a brilliant fantasyland complete with a Mayan, a Roman and a pagan temple. Revellers were invited to choose their preferred place of worship!
1986 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Poster (1986) by David McDiarmidSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
1986 | MARDI GRAS INC.
An increasing number of social groups were getting involved in the festival, as well as entries from interstate and regional areas.
Homosexuality was still illegal in more than half Australia’s states. Mardi Gras was becoming a beacon of gay and lesbian visibility and pride across the nation.
The AngGays group Parade entry was particularly provocative – taking on the Anglican Church with a float shaped like a Monstrance (the phallic-shaped device used for displaying bread on the altar) and signs saying 'AngGays just adore the sacrament'. It was a clear protest against the decision made by the Anglican Church to refuse openly gay members of the church from holding positions of office.
Peter, Philip, Ron and Jeff in the Mardi Gras Workshop (1985-02) by Campaign image by John Jenner, courtesy Australian Lesbian and Gay ArchivesSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Peter Tully, Philip Mills (Doris Fish), Ron Smith and Jeff Hardy at the Sydney Gay Mardi Gras Workshop in February 1986.
ACON's First Mardi Gras Float (1986-02-22) by Star ObserverSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
The AIDS Council of New South Wales' first-ever Mardi Gras Parade float was in 1986, encouraging gay men the 'Get Bold About Safer Sex'. ACON's participation in the Parade has continued every year for over three decades.
1987 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Poster (1987) by Michael FenaughtySydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
1987 | AUSTRALIA'S LARGEST NIGHT-TIME PARADE
"Ten years on and there's still nothing like it," said the Mardi Gras crew in the official 1987 Festival Guide. It featured 35 events, including car and motorcycle rallies, a bush dance, a chess tournament and a floral arrangement competition.
1987 cemented Mardi Gras' place as Australia's biggest night-time parade. It was now also a tourist attraction – a large group of New Zealanders crossed the Tasman to march officially under a Kiwi banner for the first time.
Gay Mardi Gras Turns Ten (1987-02-20) by Sydney Morning HeraldSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Bigger, better and even more inclusive, the 10th Mardi Gras continued the festival's massive growth, culminating in an estimated 100,000 people attending the parade - doubling the previous year's crowd.
Sleaze Ball Graffiti (1987-09-05) by Leonardo Da VinciSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
The poster for 1987's Sleaze Ball featured a simple reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, cheekily supplied with black textas so people could graffiti on the image.
Star Observer Tax Headline (1987-05-01) by Sydney's Star ObserverSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
The Star Observer's splash headline in 1987 spelled out a serious threat to Mardi Gras financial stability. The Australian Tax Office later decided to grant the organisation tax exempt status.
1988 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Poster (1988) by David McDiarmidSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
1988 | 'CELEBRATING A SAFE SEX SUMMER'
On the Monday after the big Mardi Gras Parade and Party, Channel 10 in Sydney ran a telephone poll asking ‘Should the Mardi Gras be banned?’ 47,980 calls were received – with 57 percent saying "NO"!
The First Dykes on Bikes at Parade (1988-02-27) by Dykes on BikesSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
1988's Parade was the first to include the Dykes on Bikes, led by Kimberly O'Sullivan and Deb Thompson, who had been inspired by seeing a contingent of lesbian motorbike riders at San Francisco's Pride Parade the previous year.
The increasing involvement of women at Mardi Gras in the late 1980s had by 1988 reached the point where lesbians represented 25 per cent of the membership. Following a Special General Meeting in December, the name of the Sydney Gay Mardi Gras Association was officially changed to include the word ‘Lesbian’.
Malcolm Cole as Captain Cook (1988-02-27) by Kendall Lovett, courtesy Australian Lesbian and Gay ArchivesSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
1988 was Australia’s Bicentenary year. The first-ever First Nations float featured Aboriginal dancer and activist Malcolm Cole dressed as Captain Cook, standing in a long boat drawn by white men.
"It is enough trouble being black, let alone gay," Cole explained to the Sydney Morning Herald. "That's why I am determined to put this float in the Mardi Gras."
Jayar Leather Float at Parade (1988-02-27) by Bob Buckley, courtesy Australian Lesbian and Gay ArchivesSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
"The Only Brand For Your Hide" said the cheeky Jayar Leather Float at the 1988 Parade.
Diana Ross Chain Reaction Show (1988-02-27) by Unidentified photographer, courtesy Australian Lesbian and Gay ArchivesSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
The most memorable show at 1988's Mardi Gras Party featured ten drag queen Diana Ross's to mark Mardi Gras' tenth anniversary. They shimmied their way across two stages to the song 'Chain Reaction'.
Sydney Gay Mardi Gras at San Francisco Pride (1988-06-26) by Papers of David Wilkins, courtesy Australian Lesbian and Gay ArchivesSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Fanny Farquar (Ron Handley), Dot Dingle (David Wilkins), Greg Williams and Doris Fish (Phillip Mills) advertised the 1989 Sydney Gay Mardi Gras at San Francisco Pride 1988.
1989 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Poster (1989) by Phillip McGrathSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
1989 | THE BATTLE FOR OXFORD STREET
An estimated 200,000 people watched the Parade and a record 15,000 attended the Party. Mardi Gras was now a loud and proud all-encompassing celebration of sexual diversity.
Also in 1989, Mardi Gras got its first lesbian leader. Cath Phillips team won seven seats on the committee and she was elected President.
The Sleaze Ball expanded to fill the Royal Hall of Industries and the Hordern Pavilion, and was the first Mardi Gras party to sell out. 9,000 tickets were sold.
Fred Nile Head on Platter (1989-02-18) by William YangSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Christian fundamentalist MP Fred Nile was the most outspoken opponent of gays and lesbians. In one of the most memorable Parade entires ever, Fred's giant head was served on a platter of fruit carried by Parade officials - with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence surrounding him as his ‘handmaidens'.
I Am What I Am Show at Mardi Gras Party (1989-02-18) by Sydney Mardi GrasSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
A highlight of the 1989 Mardi Gras Party in the Government Pavilion at the RAS Showground was the 3am show.
"The hall looked like Rio after a hurricane," wrote Jim Jenkins. "There's movement on stage as the lights dim. A lone drag queen appears as that heart-tearing anthem 'I Am What I Am' begins. Seconds later she shares the stage with another hundred entertainers. Men and women in tulle, leather, feather sequins and heavy-duty cotton, stilettos and monkey boots.
"A tightly choreographed number unfolds and reaches its crescendo. The hall erupts. The cheers are deafening. Thousands of arms are in the air. Tears blind."
Fred Nile anti-gay march on Oxford Street (1989-10-02) by National 9 NewsSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
In October 1989, Fred Nile woke from hibernation to gather several hundred of his followers in a bizarre ‘Cleansing March of Witness for Jesus’ up Oxford Street.
The Reverend warned his flock: "The Mardi Gras sadly emphasises fallen sexuality, characterised by selfishness and promiscuity and the destruction of intimacy by exhibitionism."
Nile’s rally got a reception they’d never forget when they encountered several thousand LGBTQI community members counter-protesting on the streets. Organised by Mardi Gras, Fred Nile masks were handed out to the counter protestors. They chanted "2-4-6-8, are you sure your priest is straight?"
1990 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Poster (1990) by David McDiarmidSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
1990 | READY OR NOT, RAIN OR SHINE!
"The 1990 Festival offers the best of gay and lesbian cultural, sporting and community events – more than 60 of them – including world premieres, comedy, cabaret… the list goes on and on," said the Mardi Gras festival guide. "Celebrate with pride and have the time of your life."
The first Mardi Gras Fair Day held in Glebe’s Jubilee Park attracted 1,000 people and featured the first Dog Show plus touch football, mud wrestling and a meet-and-greet with the Dykes on Bikes.
Sydney Star Observer Rain on Parade (1990-02-23) by Sydney Star ObserverSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
It bucketed down rain on 1990’s Mardi Gras Parade, but still 115,000 people showed up to cheer on the thoroughly drenched procession, led by a sequin-clad bunch of Rio dancers, and a really Big Wig!
Mardi Gras Party Government Pavilion Dancefloor (1990-02-17) by Rob DavisSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
15,000 tickets were snapped up for the sold-out 1990 Mardi Gras after-party.
"1990 was the first Mardi Gras party that I DJ’d at, and my first song 'Free Nelson Mandela' got a huge reaction from the crowd," recalls Rob Davis. Here's his photo of the sea of dancing people in the Government Pavilion.
The music suddenly had to stop at 3am when one reveller got too high - he climbed up a girder and the venue was briefly cleared out while he was deftly and safely rescued.
Marcia Hines performed the party’s closing song at 10am - and she later described the crowd ovation she received as her most pleasing audience reception ever.
Sleaze Ball Poster 1990 (1990-10-20) by Steven VellaSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
1990's Sleaze Ball had an ‘Angels and Devils’ theme and was bigger than ever before, with 12,000 tickets sold.
1991 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Poster (1991) by Geoffrey GiffordSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
1991 | 'WE CAN'T WAIT. AIDS DRUGS NOW!'
Mardi Gras was officially blessed by the newly-formed Gay & Lesbian Choir, who sang for the first time to welcome the festival.
By 1991, over 1,500 Australians had died from AIDS-related illnesses. With advances in combination therapies getting results in clinical trials overseas, the year’s Mardi Gras Parade was an urgent call for access to treatment meds. Activists held up placards with messages to the health authorities: “We Can’t Wait”, “We Haven’t Got The Time You’re Taking”, “Red Tape Kills” and “AIDS Drugs Now!”.
1991 was Tina Arena's first time performing at the official Mardi Gras Party, singing along to a dance mix of her hit, I Need Your Body.
46 licensed ‘Mardi Gras Rangers’ completed a training course to provide security for the festival and other major gay and lesbian community events through the year – including the ‘Bent Over’ party in August and Sleaze Ball in October.
Fast Forward - Straight Mardi Gras (1991) by Fast ForwardSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Gina Riley and Jane Turner bring news from Melbourne's 'Straight Mardi Gras' in a memorable 1991 episode of TV comedy show Fast Forward.
Gingham Woman (2002-02) by Peter ElfesSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Pictured at the 1991 Sleaze Ball, Brenton Heath-Kerr as the Gingham Woman was featured in a poster for the 2002 season designed by Norman Edwards.
1992 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Poster (1992) by Phillipa PlayfordSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
1992 | MARDI GRAS BRINGS CULTURE, CROWDS AND CASH TO SYDNEY
Designed by Phillipa Playford, 1992’s Mardi Gras festival poster was the first to include a Rainbow Flag in its design.
The festival lasted for four weeks, making it the longest and largest gay and lesbian festival in the world at the time. An Economic Impact Study estimated the entire festival drove $38 million into the local economy.
Drawing over 8,000 people to Glebe’s Jubilee Park, Fair Day featured a fabulous Dog Show, Chocolate Wheel, various sporting events and the inaugural ‘Mardi Gras Decorative Umbrella Contest’ after it had been postposed due to rain.
Several NSW MPs marched in the Parade for the first time, a sign of how important Mardi Gras had become. The procession halted briefly at 10pm to observe a minute's silence as a mark of respect for the many people in our communities who had died from AIDS-related illness.
Also in 1992, the ban on gays and lesbians serving in the Australian Armed Forces was lifted.
Party ad in Sydney Star Observer (1992-02-07) by Sydney Star ObserverSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
The Mardi Gras Party was now extremely popular - and not just with gay people. Many voices in the queer community spoke up to question the number of heterosexuals attending, and were getting worried the Mardi Gras Party and Sleaze Ball were losing their identities as LGBTQI events: "Every ticket sold to a straight meant a gay man or dyke missed out. That makes us angry."
In response, the Mardi Gras Board decided to limit sales of Party tickets to members of the Mardi Gras organisation, and a full-page ad in the Star Observer described the Party as "17,000 sweaty, screaming poofters and dykes dancing till 10am... they're all coming to the greatest gay and lesbian party in the world."
Julian Clary and Mark Tewskbery (1992-02-29) by C.Moore HardySydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Visiting UK comedian Julian Clary sang Somewhere Over the Rainbow with the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir at the 1992 Mardi Gras Party for the 10am closing show.
Sleaze Ball Poster 1992 (1992-10-03) by Mark ForrestSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
1992's jungle-themed Sleaze Ball was attended by a crowd of 14,000, and featured a dedicated 'lesbian friendly' space plus three lesbian DJs.
1993 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Poster (1993) by Kendal BakerSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
1993 | LOVE IS IN THE AIR
In February 1993, Mardi Gras rejected a $33,000 condom sponsorship deal which would have tied Playboy Magazine’s bunny trademark to the LGBTQI festival!
The 1993 Mardi Gras Party, said by many to be one of the best ever, took place over five pavilions at the Showgrounds: the RHI, the Hordern, Dome and the Cabaret and Drag Bars.
The Albury Hotel Mardi Gras Decoration (1993-02) by Jamie JamesSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
The Bobby Goldsmith Foundation's ‘Shop Yourself Stupid’ promotion activated on Oxford Street during Mardi Gras 1993. Here's how the Albury Hotel looked during the festival!
Koori Celebration (1993-02-21) by Gays and Lesbians Against Racisim and Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, courtesy Australian Lesbian and Gay ArchivesSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Among 1993's Mardi Gras festival events was a Koori Celebration in support of the United Nations International Year of World Indigenous Peoples.
It Takes Balls To Be A Queen (1993-02-27) by Jamie JamesSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
On a hot evening in 1993, the Mardi Gras Parade attracted a record crowd of 500,000, who witnessed 118 float entries in an elaborate 2-hour, 2.5km spectacle.
Starting the Parade (1993-02-27) by Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi GrasSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
1994 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Poster (1994) by Glenn A MoffatSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
1994 | WE ARE FAMILY
1994's Mardi Gras festival included a myriad of community events. Among them were ‘Pride and Prejudice’, the first gay and lesbian exhibition held at the Australian Museum; and ‘Looking Good’, the first Aboriginal gay and lesbian visual arts exhibition, held at Boomalli Aboriginal Artists’ Co-op.
"This is one of the most entertaining, eclectic, risk-taking and successful community arts festivals in this country, and probably in the world," said Mardi Gras President Susan Harben.
The 1994 Mardi Gras Party was packed, with a whopping 19,000 tickets sold. The star attraction was Kylie Minogue, who sang her hit 'What Do I Have To Do' at 3am in the RHI.
We Are Family Float (1994-03-05) by C.Moore HardySydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
1994's Parade theme 'We Are Family' was a nod to the International Year of the Family.
ABC First Parade Video (1994-03-05) by ABC TelevisionSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
In 1994 the Parade was broadcast on television for the first time, beaming the audacious event into millions of homes - and earning the ABC enormous ratings. The program was later released on VHS.
The broadcast stirred a national debate embroiling state and federal politicians, churches, business and media, antagonists and supporters alike. The Cadbury Schweppes company withdrew advertising from ‘Hey, Hey Its Saturday’ when it heard there would be a live cross to the Parade.
A petition signed by 90 Federal MPs in an effort to re-schedule the ABC telecast of the Parade failed – the historic telecast went ahead at 8:30pm Sunday night (the night after the Parade), easily winning its timeslot with 45% of the Sydney TV audience.
Lesbian Brides on Parade (1994-03-05) by C.Moore HardySydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
"There is nothing quite like being in Mardi Gras," wrote float producer Liz Bradshaw. "The Parade thrills and exhausts, and makes you brave and shy at the same time.
"Once you get a taste for it... the larger-than-life closeness of something so big, that can still offer you a smile and an anonymous 'Happy Mardi Gras' from someone gorgeous, and the unlikely but inevitable meeting with everyone you know."
1995 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Poster (1995) by Pierre et GillesSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
1995 | FAIRY TALES & LESBIAN LEGENDS
Acclaimed French artists Pierre et Gillies were chosen to design the fabulously floral 1995 Mardi Gras festival poster.
A double-CD compilation of Mardi Gras party anthems was released, including dancefloor fillers like It’s Raining Men, Tainted Love, The Only Way Is Up, We Are Family, Everybody’s Free (To Feel Good) and RuPaul’s Supermodel. The tracks were selected by Stephen Allkins, who was the only other DJ besides Bill Morley to have been appointed to the SGLMG Hall of Fame for his influence on the music at Mardi Gras and Sleaze parties. 20,000 copies were sold and Mardi Gras' discs were number one in the compilation charts for five weeks.
Boy George was the headliner at the 1995 Mardi Gras Party, performing his hit Bow Down Mister and Love Hurts. The Pet Shop Boys were spotted in the crowd.
Mardi Gras Fundraiser (1995-02) by Jamie JamesSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
A Mardi Gras fundraiser for the 1995 season at Sydney Town Hall.
Traditional Chinese Wedding Costumes at Parade (1995-03-04) by Jamie JamesSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Rain marred the Parade, but over 150,000 people still turned out to watch 100 walking entries, more than 4,000 marchers and a record number of 90 floats.
The first float was a giant mirrorball, and other entries paid tribute to Absolutely Fabulous’s Patsy Stone, Uma Thurman, singer Nana Mouskouri, Pope John Paul II with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and the most memorably camp characters of 'Melrose Place'.
'Sleaze Parade' newspaper letter (1995-03-09) by Daily Telegraph MirrorSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
The ABC's coverage of the Parade attracted great ratings, but not everyone was a fan. The broadcaster set up a dedicated 'Mardi Gras Hotline' "to avoid switchboard overload" with so many people phoning in to compliment or complain about the program. 750 calls were received. The most controversial float was a phallus-shaped 'Thomas the Tank Engine' design.
The coverage was ably presented by Elle McFeast and Julian Clary, assisted by commentators Julie McCrossin. Angela Cattems and David Marr. Madonna filmed a special message dedicating the world premiere of her music video for Bedtime Stories to her friends in Sydney’s gay and lesbian community.
1996 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Poster (1996) by Glenn A MoffatSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
1996 | FREE, GAY AND HAPPY
Mardi Gras' 1996 Festival added 'The Great Debate' in front of a packed State Theate crowd - a cheeky discussion of whether it was better to be lesbian than gay!
The festival's first significant corporate partnership was with iconic Australian brand Telstra, which came on board as a major sponsor of the Parade. 1996 was also the first year the complete Mardi Gras festival event calendar was available online.
The Chief of the Australian Defence Force gave his approval for a support group for gays and lesbians in the ADF to have a float in the Parade for the first time.
Fred Nile threatened to sue participants of Parade float which depicted him as a caged animal complete with artificial genitalia.
The Party headliners were Sydney drag icon Trudi Valentine and Don’t Leave Me This Way singer Thelma Houston.
Bob Downe on Sydney Opera House Steps (1996-01) by Mazz ImageSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Bob Downe launched Mardi Gras 1996 on the steps of the Sydney Opera House, with tens of thousands of people cheering “HAPPY MARDI GRAS!"
The Sparkling Aboriginal Flag (1996-03-02) by Jamie JamesSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
A new record crowd of 650,000 turned out to watch the 1996 Parade, which included a very special double-sided lamé Aboriginal flag.
It was a tribute to Matthew Cook, who had passed away the year before, and had wished his mob could carry a huge Aboriginal flag along the Mardi Gras route. His wish was granted. Here's the float organisers Louise Bell and Sue Pinkham with other float participants in Taylor Square.
Sleaze Ball Poster 1996 (1996-10-05) by Richard HughesSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
October 1996's 'Voodoo Circus' themed Sleaze Ball featured Pete Burns on a cartoon skull-adorned stage with his band Dead Or Alive performing You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) and Sex Drive.
1997 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Poster (1997) by Suzanne BoccalatteSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
1997 | CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC
The Mardi Gras Festival was again launched on the steps of the Opera House, this time with a crowd of 32,000. Speakers included first out gay NSW MP Paul O’Grady and a 17-year-old student named Gilbert, who both called for an equalised age of consent.
The Party guests were Chaka Khan who sang her hit I’m Every Woman, and the Village People who performed Can’t Stop the Music. 21,000 tickets were sold.
Mardi Gras Attacks (1997-02) by Jeff AllanSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras Parade Video Ad (1997-02) by Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi GrasSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
The Parade coverage moved from the ABC to Channel Ten. Christian MP Fred Nile called for a boycott of the channel and its advertisers, but the telecast went ahead anyway, watched by half a million viewers in Sydney alone, easily winning the timeslot.
Very popular at the Parade was the grand debut of a giant Pauline Hanson puppet head!
Lea DeLaria at the Mardi Gras Festival (1997-03-01) by C.Moore HardySydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
American Comedian Lea DeLaria, now best recognised for her role as 'Big Boo' on 'Orange is the New Black', shows off her t-shirt protesting John Howard's government during her stand-up show at the 1997 Mardi Gras festival.
The Lemonheads on Parade (1997-03-01) by C.Moore HardySydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
The Lemonheads were Mardi Gras' memorable all-female choreographed and costumed Parade float entry in 1997, and was later recreated in 2013.
Sleaze Ball Poster 1997 (1997-10-04) by Ricahrd HughesSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Tina Arena was the star performer at 1997's 'Atlantis' Sleaze Ball, singing her hit Burn at 2am in the RHI.
1998 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Poster (1998) by David Corbet, Andrew Medhurst and Bryce Tuckwell, Design NationSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
1998 | 20 YEARS OF (R)EVOLUTION
In an emotional moment to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first Mardi Gras, 220 original 1978 marchers were invited to lead the Parade. 1998 was also the first year that Police marched at the event, forming up near the 78ers in a symbolic gesture of respect and support. The Police's banner read: "We're here because we care."
The entire 20th anniversary Mardi Gras festival was estimated to have contributed $99 million to Sydney’s economy.
Pam Ann at Fair Day (1998-02-08) by C.Moore HardySydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Fair Day 1998 was a huge hit, attracting 40-45,000 people in its new home of Victoria Park, having outgrown Jubilee Park in Glebe.
"We don't only come out at night," said Mardi Gras. "Fair Day is fun, frolicsome and completely essential. See the breathtaking diversity of our community - and our community's pets - at our largest daytime gathering."
Workshop in Erskineville (1998-02) by C.Moore HardySydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Inside the Mardi Gras Workshop on Erskineville Road as preparations continue for the 1998 Parade.
Queers for Reconciliation Float (1998-02-27) by Jamie JamesSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
The Queers for Reconciliation float at 1998's Mardi Gras Parade featured a giant goanna which came down from Moree, a large group of dancing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTQI people, and an outback Windmill with 'smell-o-rama' - pumping eucalyptus spray into the air!
"The sheer numbers of people who participated in Queers for Reconciliation on the night are testament to the fact that reconciliation and indigenous rights are important issues for queer communities," wrote the float's organiser Gina Laurie.
78ers at 20th Anniversary Parade by Bob Downe & Julie McCrossinSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
The glittering Parade was not only watched by an estimated 700,000 strong crowd, but also a huge TV audience and 20,000 internet users enjoying the first webcast of the event.
Kylie's Devils Backstage at Party (1998-02-28) by Markham LaneSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras Party attendance peaked in 1998 with a whopping 27,000 tickets sold. It was the Minogue effect – sisters Kylie and Dannii were both on stage. Here's Kylie's back-up dancer 'Devils' backstage at the Royal Hall of Industries.
Sleaze Ball Poster 1998 (1999-10-03) by Megan OliverSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Almost 15,000 people attended the ‘WEIRD!’ Sleaze Ball in October 1998, which tried a 'Sexperiment' with segregated male and female spaces in the Hordern.
Pauline Pantsdown in the Mardi Gras Workshop with Pauline Hanson head (1998-10-03) by Simon Hunt, courtesy Australian Gay and Lesbian ArchivesSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
There was an incredible Sleaze Ball moment when Pauline Hanson’s puppet head exploded on the RHI stage during the final show. It was the federal election night and the crowd cheered when Pauline Pantsdown revealed that Hanson had lost her seat!
After the last dance at Sleaze Ball (1998-10-03) by C.Moore HardySydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Partygoers at Sleaze Ball danced until dawn and beyond. Here's the scene at the end, outside the Royal Hall of Industries.
1999 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Poster (1999) by Wendy Neill and Tanja Dunster, 10 DesignSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
1999 | EQUALITY IN DIVERSITY - CELEBRATE THE FUTURE
By now over 4,000 volunteers were involved in making Mardi Gras happen – including 1,400 Parade marshals wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan ‘Gays and Lesbians Demand Equality’.
Dykes on Bikes, Bears of Australia and Queers for Recognition each had a major presence in the Parade, as did elder groups marking 1999 as the International Year of the Older Person.
Our Mardi Gras has many fans across the globe – inspired by our festival, our friends in the UK even changed London Pride’s name to ‘London Mardi Gras’ for 1999.
AIDS Quilt at Fair Day (1999-02-14) by C.Moore HardySydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
The AIDS Memorial Quilt was on display at Fair Day in Victoria Park on Valentine's Day 1999.
AIDS Remembrance Float (1999-02-21) by C.Moore HardySydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
The most memorable and moving moment at 1999’s Parade was the HIV/AIDS Remembrance Event, involving more than 1,000 people from community health groups and organisations carrying a sea of soaring red flags promoting the message: ‘Remember, It’s Not Over’.
Dannii Descends at Mardi Gras Party (1999-02-21) by C.Moore HardySydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Dannii Minogue was back on stage at the 1999 Mardi Gras Party, descending from a glittering crescent moon to sing Everlasting Night.
Dannii Minogue Stuck on the Moon (1999-02-21) by C.Moore HardySydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Dannii's dress got a little bit tangled on the way down!
Other 1999 Party shows included Jimmy Barnes donning leather gear for a very masculine and energetic performance of You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real), and everyone’s hands were in the air when Marcia Hines sang I’ve Got the Music In Me.
2000 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Poster (2000) by Marita Leuver, Leuver DesignSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
2000 | 2000GETHER
Mardi Gras 2000 was officially launched with the lighting of an Olympic-style ceremonial flame in front of a hushed crowd on the steps of the Opera House.
The festival celebrated the new millennium with a five-hour outdoor concert in Centennial Park, starring Deborah Conway, Bluehouse, the Topp Twins, Tiddas, Shauna Jensen and her daughter Bek, and a finale by Helen Reddy with a massed chorus of I am Woman.
A drag king 'Tom Jones' performed Sexbomb at the Mardi Gras Party, which featured separate women’s and men’s tents and cabaret numbers by Samantha Leith, Joyleen Hairmouth and Tina C.
2000 Mardi Gras Parade (2000-03-04) by Venatus DeusSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
The 2000 Parade featured almost 8,500 participants. There were multiple ways to watch - it was broadcast on Channel 10, pay per view channel Main Event, and online on Telstra.com.
2001 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Poster (2001) by Marita Leuver, Leuver DesignSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
2001 | OUT THERE, EVERYWHERE
The extravagant Mardi Gras Parade continued to emphasise contemporary political issues – the lead float ‘Beyond the Pink Picket Fence’ featured same-sex parent families with their children, and the ‘Sweeties for a Treaty’ float advocated for Aboriginal rights.
The co-operation between the Jewish float and the first-ever Lebanese float was an emotional highlight. In addition to marching together, the two groups created their floats together in the Mardi Gras workshop.
The Party featured spectacular aerial performances in the RHI, with singers Vanessa Amorosi, Sheena Easton, Christine Anu, Adeva and Shauna Jensen.
Sleaze Ball Poster 2001 (2001-09-29) by Photography Jeremy Park, designer Richard HughesSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
13,000 partygoers went to the ‘Beast’ themed Sleaze Ball in 2001. The RHI stage became a giant beast’s head with lasers beaming from its eyes and pouring smoke from its nostrils. Singer Chrissie Amphlett performed I Touch Myself on stage with 24 dancing lesbian vampires, and Pleasure and Pain with 24 demonic male beasts!
2002 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Poster (2002) by Photographer C.Moore Hardy, Designer Norman EdwardsSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
2002 | HAPPY MARDI GRAS!
In 2002 the Mardi Gras Parade became recognised by the city as a Hallmark Event, exempting it from paying police, ambulance and Roads and Traffic Authority fees in future years.
Over 19,000 people were at the Mardi Gras Party, involving 7 venues, 22 DJs, 5 live shows, jelly wrestling, state-of-the-art laser lighting, a 3m bucking penis, and shows by Deborah Cox, Bardot and Human Nature.
2002’s vibrant festival was a big success by many measures with a packed Fair Day, Parade and Party, but sharp increases in insurance premiums plus drops in sponsorship and tourism dollars meant the festival posted a dramatic $500,000 loss. In mid-2002, the community was shocked to learn Mardi Gras had to move into voluntary administration.
Muscle Mary Cathedral (2002-02-28) by Richard HughesSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
When George Pell became archbishop of Sydney and Australian cardinal, he was rumoured to have brought with him from Melbourne a number of young priests who were collectively referred to as the ‘Spice Boys'.
This inspired 2002 Parade’s lead float, titled ‘St Muscle Mary Cathedral’, which featured an ‘Archbishop’ surrounded by disco-dancing Spice Girls plus stilt-walking angels and devils.
Here's how it looked on the Star Observer's cover, illustrated by Richard Hughes.
Welcome from the Co-Chairs (2003-02) by New Mardi GrasSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
2003 was to be Mardi Gras' 25th anniversary year, but with the organisation under administration, the community had to act urgently to save the festival. ACON, the NSW Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby, Pride and Queer Screen each stepped up, along with generous funders and thousands of volunteers.
"We had nothing. But we thought 'bugger it, we're going to do this,'" remembers New Mardi Gras Co-Chair Michael Woodhouse.
"We spent time on stage at the Imperial shaking donation buckets, asking for funds to put the events on. It was quite amazing to see so many people raise their hands to help create the festival. Every night there would be new people showing up to give jobs to and organise into teams which would make things happen.
"Through so many people's efforts and generosity, Mardi Gras rose again."
The 'New Mardi Gras' was born.
2003 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Poster (2003) by trigger design (Greg Anderson)Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
2003 | NEW MARDI GRAS
The revived grassroots Mardi Gras festival enjoyed significant success, making a profit of almost $350,000.
"At the Party (Co-Chair) Stevie Clayton and I gave a short speech, which concluded with 'Together we created a new Mardi Gras' and the roar from the crowd was enormous," remembers Michael Woodhouse.
"We'd all seen this event we cared so deeply about dying, and coming back. It was a lovely Party. The 10am show's backdrop were the posters of the past 25 years. The Board, volunteers and everyone who'd made this happen came together for one last dance. Lots of them, including myself, were bawling their eyes out at the sense of relief and completion that it had all happened. It was a profound experience."
2003 was an election year in New South Wales, so Mardi Gras volunteers donned t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan "We're Here, We're Queer, We Vote". Parade floats included the satirical anti-war ‘Madame Saddam and her Weapons of Mass Seduction’.
In a major win for gay rights, a bill in New South Wales parliament passed in May to reduce the age of consent for gay men from 18 to 16, bringing it in line with the heterosexual and lesbian age of consent.
Dykes on Bikes at 2003 Parade by Linden DavidsonSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Chief of Parade in 2003 was Ian Roberts, who was the first high-profile Australian sportsperson and first rugby league player in the world to come out as gay.
As always though, the first thing Parade viewers saw were the Dykes on Bikes, with the roar of their engines revving up the crowd.
Sleaze Ball Poster 2003 (2003-10-04) by Photographer Jamie Dunbar, designer Andrew FaithSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
The 2003 Sleaze Ball began with a stage full of dancers - then six aerialists in glittering body paint soared above the dance floor using hoops and trapeze. A Russian former Olympic gymnast swung out into the crowd in a stunning display of strength and showmanship.
2004 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Poster (2004) by Brett BushSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
2004 | METAMORPHOSIS
Leading the 2004 Parade was former nun Monica Hingston, who’s the cousin of the then Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal George Pell. Highlights included the ‘marriage’ of George Bush and John Howard, plus a three-way ‘drag kiss’ between Madonna, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.
Fair Day attracted 75,000 people and included a family-friendly ‘Kidzone’ for the first time, plus no less than four stages around Victoria Park offering live entertainment.
All 17,000 Party tickets sold out. The RHI was themed with video screens as the ‘Cinemorphosis’, the Hordern Pavilion’s look took inspiration from Spartacus, there was an Austin Powers’ themed Retro room, and the Dome was a chill-out zone featuring scenic elements from the set of Barbarella.
Ron Muncaster at 2004 Parade (2004-03-06) by Mazz ImageSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
2004's Parade theme was ‘The Movement For Equality Is Unstoppable’.
With heavy rain on the night, participants of the soaked procession shared a spirit of triumph over adversity.
Sleaze Ball Poster 2004 (2004-10-02) by Photographer Fiona Sacco, designer Propeller GraphicsSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
2004's Sleaze Ball included many real-life porn stars, a show by the ‘We Will Rock You’ cast, a women’s space and a retro space. Attendees were given dog-tags stamped with the theme ‘PORN’, and were able to stamp them with their individualised ‘porn name’.
2005 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Poster (2005) by Guy CampbellSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
2005 | OUR FREEDOM, YOUR FREEDOM
An estimated 450,000 people lined the path of the Parade, which was structured around four themes – Freedom, Family, Passion and Joy. An Aboriginal Float was leading the Parade for the first time, with a banner saying 'WELCOME TO COUNTRY'.
Also in the Parade were Vicki Harding and Jackie Braw with their daughter Brenna. The family had been featured on a ground-breaking episode of the ABC’s 'Play School'.
Another float acknowledged our LGBTQI families in over 80 nations where homosexuality remains illegal – and in many cases punishable by death.
Float entries included a giant green serpent with the face of John Howard, 146 Fran Dreschers dancing to the Nanny theme song, and a show-stopping finale production of Believe by Cher impersonator Candi Stratton. The Bobby Goldsmith Foundation’s new Glamstand took its place on Flinders Street, and three massive video screens along the Parade route – nicknamed Kylie, Britney and Madonna – projected all the action to the crowds.
Nicki French, Darren Hayes, Tina Arena and Courtney Act were on the massive multi-level stage at the Party. An air bridge and podium brought the performers down into the cheering crowd!
DJ Sveta at Sleaze Ball (2005-10-01) by Ann-Marie CalilhannaSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
DJ Sveta was the closing DJ at the Hordern for the 'Sinsuality' themed Sleaze Ball 2005.
2006 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Poster (2006) by Guy CampbellSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
2006 | DANCE · LOVE · RADIATE
A $1.5m sponsorship deal with Gaydar meant the entire 2006 festival season was officially titled ‘Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras presented in partnership with Gaydar.com.au’!
15,800 attended the Party at Moore Park, with shows from Jimmy Somerville performing the Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy, Therese singing with the StoneBridge mix of Put ‘Em High, and Mary Kiani’s song I Imagine. Buses then took partygoers direct to Luna Park for the Toybox Party where dancing continued all through Sunday.
Kissing at Opera House (2006-01) by Ann-Marie CalilhannaSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Launched with a kiss at the Opera House, 2006’s season included plenty of new events and activities: a Short Story Competition, a Festival Bar, a Generation Youth Festival specifically for young people, and a Kylie exhibition cocktail evening at the Powerhouse Museum.
Bears at Fair Day (2006-02-20) by Ann-Marie CalilhannaSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Bears picnicked under their flag at Fair Day 2006 in Victoria Park.
Ship of Fools Float (2006-03-04) by Markham LaneSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
The 2006 Mardi Gras Parade was led by the Ship of Fools float, a satirical comment about 10 years of LBGTQI inequality under the Howard government.
You're Not the Only Gay in the Village (2006-03-04) by Markham LaneSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
City of Sydney's slogan was 'City of Villages' and its 2006 float spread the message 'You're Not the Only Gay in the Village'!
Portia Turbo and Brokeback Boys (2006-03-04) by Markham LaneSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
The film Brokeback Mountain was huge in 2005, inspiring this cowboy-themed float for 2006's Mardi Gras Parade, led by Sydney drag queen star Portia Turbo.
2007 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Poster (2007) by Francisco FisherSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
2007 | OBJECTS OF LOVE
2007's festival included a Red Carpet Showcase of cabaret at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and a particularly memorable cheeky chat with visiting guest Chief of Parade Rupert Everett, who was quizzed by Bob Downe and Mitzi Macintosh on his most salacious Hollywood gossip.
Mardi Gras’ lead float in the Parade was ‘WE LOVE MOTHER EARTH’. A huge globe was divided into halves, with the first hemisphere reflecting how destructive the lack of equality is, and the second reflecting where we want to be – in a beautiful planet of love, diversity and respect. The Parade also featured the largest and most complex float Mardi Gras has ever produced – an internally lit-up 4-metre high Trojan horse, with Greek Gods dancing in formation around it.
The Party featured a strong DJ line-up led by Boy George and including The Freemasons and Paul Goodyear. On stage were Dannii Minogue and the Young Divas doing It’s Raining Men and Searchin’.
Rainbows in Circular Quay (2017-02) by Ann-Marie CalilhannaSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras 2007 launched with a flash mob on the steps of the Opera House. Bob Downe and Auntie Mavis led a brightly-coloured, maraca-shaking conga line of diversity, all dancing along Circular Quay down to Customs House.
Pool Party (2007-02-24) by Ann-Marie CalilhannaSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
The Mardi Gras Pool Party was back in 2007, filling Victoria Park Pool on a sultry Saturday night.
Mardi Gras Beach Poster (2007) by Jozef SzekeresSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Illustrator Jozef Szekeres painted this beach scene to promote Mardi Gras 2007 to international travellers.
2008 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Poster (2008) by Joel Wassermann, GwarshSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
2008 | BRAVE NEW WORLDS
The 30th anniversary Parade was the largest yet, featuring 9,500 participants and 134 floats, led by those who had started the struggle for LGBTQI equality with the first-ever Mardi Gras.
Visiting comedian Margaret Cho was the Chief of Parade. Among the marchers were two men who had been brutally assaulted in a homophobic attack, and 100 Reverends who were apologising for Christianity’s past and present treatment of gay people. Nearby was Fred Nile’s giant head on a platter once again!
The NSW Government had drawn the ire of Sydneysiders when it spent $142 million on World Youth Day, which was roughly the size of Mardi Gras. In the aftermath, the Government decided to fund Mardi Gras for the first time, with a cash injection of $400,000. Our LGBTQI festival was also added to the state’s Master Events calendar.
Harbour Party View (2008-02-24) by Ann-Marie CalilhannaSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
The weather was stunning for the staging of the Harbour Party at the Royal Botanic Gardens, featuring spectacular views out onto the world-famous Sydney Harbour, with the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria cruise ships passing by.
Mardi Gras Party Poster 2008 (2008-03-01) by Joel Wassermann, Gwarsh designSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
The 30th anniversary Mardi Gras Party included live bands in the Dome, a women’s space, a karaoke bar and a 3am 'Laser Man Show' in the Hordern.
Olivia Newton-John - Xanadu live at Mardi Gras Party (2008-03-01) by Olivia Newton-JohnSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Star power at 2008's Party included Olivia Newton-John performing Xanadu, Cyndi Lauper singing Same Ol’ Story and Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, plus an I Am What I Am show with Carlotta and David Campbell, and Shauna Jensen’s rendition of Free Gay and Happy.
2009 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Poster (2009) by Lewis Oswald (Season Creative)Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
2009 | NATIONS UNITED
Mardi Gras 2009 was full of colour, variety and humour. Festival guests included comedian Joan Rivers, cabaret star Alan Cumming and singer-songwriter Amanda Palmer.
The ‘Nations United’ theme drew attention to the plight of LGBTQI people across the globe. For example, that year’s Moscow Pride Parade was labelled "satanic" by its mayor and banned. It was hoped Mardi Gras could act as a life-affirming beacon of pride and solidarity for our queer family around the world.
15,200 tickets were sold to the Party, which had 26 DJs, 23 live performances and 4 live bands. The RHI stage was made to resemble classic Disneyland ride ‘It’s a Small World’ and the midnight show set the crowd wild with thousands singing along to Alison Jiear’s signature track I Just Wanna Fucking Dance. Natalie Bassingwaighte was the last performer of the night, singing Heart of Glass and her #1 hit Supersensual.
Matthew Mitcham at Parade (2009-03-07) by Ann-Marie CalilhannaSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Olympic gold medal-winning diver Matthew Mitcham was Mardi Gras' Chief of Parade in 2009.
Mardi Gras Parade on Foxtel (2009-03-07) by FoxtelSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
The Parade returned to TV in 2009, with Charlotte Dawson, Julie McCrossin, Ruby Rose, Joan Rivers, Mitzi Macintosh, Alex Perry and Pam Ann all popping up in Foxtel’s coverage.
2010 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Poster (2010) by Scott Elk (Season Creative)Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
2010 | HISTORY OF THE WORLD
For the first time in Mardi Gras’ history the Parade and Party were on different Saturday nights – the Party had been accidently booked for the wrong weekend!
The festival featured the first Queer Thinking day of talks at the Seymour Centre, an evening with Tipping the Velvet author Sarah Waters, dinner at Taronga Zoo, and Drag Races on Bondi Beach with Vanessa Wagner.
Chief of Parade was New York transgender fashion icon Amanda Lepore. 10,000 Parade participants and Mardi Gras members partook in a special outdoor carnival event in Moore Park after the procession. George Michael, Kelly Rowland and Adam Lambert were the star headliners at the 2010 Party. George loved Sydney so much he stayed for several weeks after Mardi Gras season ended.
2010's 'Decadance' Sleaze Ball in October attracted almost 5,000 people and was the last one staged to date. It had become ‘the fundraiser that didn’t raise funds'. The final Sleaze filled the Forum and the Dome at Fox Studios, with shows by Zoe Badwi and Mary Kiani.
Spencer Tunick at the Opera House (2010-03-01) by Spencer TunickSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
5,200 people kicked off their 2010 Mardi Gras festival by stripping down on the steps of the Opera House for visiting American photographer Spencer Tunick’s stunning nude installation.
Reclaiming Genius Float at Parade (2010-02-27) by Markham LaneSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
2010's Parade theme was 'History of the World', highlighting how LGBTQI people have influenced all of human experience through the ages.
This 'Reclaiming Genius' float shows Leonardo da Vinci, Sappho, Oscar Wilde, Dusty Springfield and Alexander the Great as queer icons.
Lifesavers With Pride (2010-02-27) by Markham LaneSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
The Speedo-clad Lifesavers With Pride get huge cheers from the crowd at each and every Mardi Gras Parade.
2011 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Poster (2011) by ethel yarwood (design concept)Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
2011 | SAY SOMETHING
2011's season theme was simple: Say Something! The festival provided a platform for diverse voices to draw focus on their culture, creativity and causes.
Mardi Gras members voted unanimously to formally include intersex into the organisation and adopt the LGBTQI acronym. The festival crew also sought to change the festival’s name to simply ‘Sydney Mardi Gras’ to make it more inclusive, but many of the organisation’s members argued the words ‘Gay and Lesbian’ were vital to retain.
Women Say Something (2011-02) by Ann-Marie CalilhannaSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
New events for Mardi Gras 2011 included a Women Say Something discussion night (pictured), a Harbour Cruise, TOP party at Sydney Tower, and a Beach Party at Bondi.
Destiny Haz Arrived (2011-03-05) by Markham LaneSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Here's drag queen Destiny Haz Arrived with her First Nations rainbow flag. In 2011 there were eight Chiefs of Parade instead of just one. Among them were Hannah Williams and Savannah Supski - who had recently protested against the ban on same-sex couples at Hannah's Melbourne school formal.
Also leading the Parade were actress Lily Tomlin, LGBTQI rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations director Don Baxter, Bobby Goldsmith Foundation CEO Bev Lange, and Campaign Against Moral Prosecution's first Co-Presidents Lex Watson and Sue Wills.
First Australians Survivor Float (2011-03-05) by Markham LaneSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
2011's First Peoples float featured captions with various slogans and statements of identity, in keeping with the 'Say Something' festival theme.