reynardo: (equality)
[personal profile] reynardo
As some of you may know, I have gradually become more and more active in the QUILTBAG+ community over time. But it wasn't always so. I just wrote this for the Facebook group "Lost Gay Sydney", who have lots of lovely memories of older days. They asked for our earliest memories of Mardi Gras, and this is what I came up with.

I was a teenager in the late 70s, and rather sheltered. I'm afraid my first knowledge of LGBTQI+ was Mr Humphries on Are You Being Served, and Frankie Doyle on Prisoner. And my father telling my mother and I that every actor she liked was gay. (Scarily enough, an awful lot of them turned out to be gay or bi anyway! My Dad had a strangely well-developed Gaydar for a straight guy. But I digress)

Then, in the 1980s, people started talking about the Sydney Mardi Gras. (I know it started just before, but this was when the word started getting out)

And I was thinking "This isn't new - I remember Mardi Gras in Sydney years ago!"Mardi Gras Jan  78

So I've done some looking up tonight, and found it.

Back in the mid 1970s, before a certain glorious June Night in 1978, the City of Sydney was trying to launch its own Mardi Gras. They wanted people to come in magnificent costumes and sashay and party and dance from Martin Place down to the Rocks. They wanted Latin American floats with nearly-topless dancers with crowds watching and cheering. And they wanted people to come to the Rocks and spend lots of money.

At this time the Rocks was *still* a pretty rough area - "Against the Wind" (miniseries about our colonial past) hadn't even shown yet, and if you had a convict ancestor you didn't tell a soul. The Rocks, instead of being all about our heritage, was still the place where you watched your wallet. Even the recently-opened Pancakes at the Rocks was in the middle of a wasteland. The City of Sydney wanted that to change, and this was a way to do it.

The City of Sydney booked in this Mardi Gras, and liaised with one of the channels (probably 9) who set up cameras and commentators, and waited for the crowds to come. They were expecting a LOT of people - 25,000 with any luck (they'd run it the year before and it had been not too bad). But the 28th January started with light rain and then BUCKETED down. It was miserable. Wet. Soggy. And no-one went.

I didn't go (I was a sweet young thing of 13 then, so it was a couple of years before my wandering ways) but the memory that kept coming back to me years later was a drenched commentator trying to do a piece to camera about how popular it was, how many people were partying there. And while he and the people back at the studio tried to talk it up, there was no-one in his background but a bunch of drunken yobs making faces and a very few other people hurrying to shelter. No floats, no costumes, no music - all "It's marvellous down here" and "everyone's having a good time" and the proof being that everyone wasn't!

So I'd like to acknowledge that sometimes, it takes a particular bunch of people to make a Mardi Gras. In Latin America, it takes a glorious mixed community with some wonderful dances and a love of spectacle. In the UK, It's a pile of pancakes on the Tuesday before Lent.

And in Australia, it took this marvellous community of ours to stand up and say "We have a voice. We will be heard. And we're going to be heard through the best party EVER!" The lost ashes of the Martin-Place-to-Rocks fiasco will ever be forgotten, lost in the glorious flare of light and glitter and love and acceptance that is the true Sydney Mardi Gras.
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