If you’ve never attended Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras before, never fear: we’ve put together this handy guide to help you out, whether you’re participating in the parade, watching from the sidelines, heading to an after-party, or looking for other ways to get involved. Let’s crack on!
First things first, Mardi Gras in Australia is not the same as the Mardi Gras in New Orleans with the beads and public drunkenness, although our Mardi Gras tends to involve a bit of that too.
Mardi Gras dates back to 1978, when a group of protestors commemorated the 1969 Stonewall Riot in New York by organising a protest in the morning, and a street party/parade in the evening. Unfortunately, during the evening parade, marchers were targeted and assaulted by police, and 53 protestors were arrested, held without charge, and outed when their names were published in the pages of the Sydney Morning Herald.
The protestors who marched in 1978 march in the parade every year, and are known as the ’78ers’.
Now that we’ve got that brief history lesson out of the way, it’s on to the survival guide!
Participating in the parade
If you want to participate in the parade, you’ll need to get in early. The kinds of floats found in the parade range from corporate floats to political floats to government floats to community organisation floats. So there are floats from companies like ANZ, Holden, Sydney Dance Company, SBS and AccorHotels alongside floats from ACON, Rainbow Families, the Greens, Fire & Rescue NSW, and several different sports teams.
If you’re already involved with an organisation that has a float, that makes things much easier. If not, some floats let members of the public sign up, or sell tickets to participate; Heaps Gay and GIRLTHING are two examples of floats you can buy tickets for a couple of months in advance, and groups like Bi+ Visibility often put calls out on Facebook for parade participants.
If you’re not that prepared, you might have to resign yourself to watching from the sidelines this year, and just remember to get in early for next year’s parade.
If you’re participating in the parade, I cannot stress this enough: wear comfortable shoes. They may not complete your outfit, but your feet will thank you after the walk down Oxford Street.
In addition, have water with you, but don’t drink too much, because once you’re locked inside the park before the parade, bathroom options are limited.
And my last piece of advice, because nobody told me about this and it was a surprise my first year: know how you’re getting home from the park at the end of the route. You finish inside a giant park and the nearest taxis and public transport options are a bit of a walk away, so figure something out in advance. And take a phone charger so you aren’t stuck in a giant park, alone, with a dead phone.
Watching the parade
Presumably, if you’re watching from home, you don’t need advice from me on that. Sit on the couch, turn on SBS, and enjoy. It’s pretty straightforward.
Take something to sit on, as well as water and snacks, and be prepared to get there early and never leave, lest you lose your spot.
Or, if you’re happy to walk, a hot tip is to start at the end of the parade route and make your way towards Hyde Park. That way, you see everything, and aren’t stuck in one spot the whole night!
Attending an after party
When it comes to Mardi Gras after parties, you’re spoiled for choice. There’s the official Mardi Gras Party, with tickets selling for over $180, that features Pnau, Kim Petras, Jake Shears and Courtney Act.
For the more budget-conscious, there are heaps of other options. Heaps Gay and GIRLTHING are two popular choices, but they aren’t the only parties out there! Max Watt’s is having one, as is Klub Koori. In fact, most bars and pubs have things planned for Saturday night, but many of them require tickets, so get in early!
If partying isn’t your thing
If large, loud parties aren’t really your thing, I see you. And the people behind Mardi Gras do too, because there’s actually an entire festival program beyond the parade itself!
There are thought-provoking panels at Queer Thinking, lots of art exhibitions, a film festival, plays and performances, and even a Zoo Walk. Plus, there’s Fair Day, which includes musical performances, food trucks, over 200 stalls, and a dog pageant.
While a lot of these events take place throughout February, there’s still a bunch of events you can catch before the Mardi Gras Festival finishes on Sunday, so check out the program here.
However you choose to celebrate, I hope you have a fantastic time, because your first Mardi Gras is something you aren’t likely to forget any time soon.